Kate Squibb is a badass. Simply put. She has that endearing type of personality that causes you to want to be her best friend after she speaks one sentence to you. She glows with exuberance and has a zest for life. And that’s not the only thing she knows about zest. Kate happens to be one of the best chefs that I’ve ever had the privilege to have cook for me. And you don’t have to take my word for it; she’s got quite a few high-profile notches on her belt. One of which you might already be aware: her recent appearance on the Food Network’s hit show Chopped, where she was the runner up. But don’t think she’s going to take that lying down. I caught up with Kate recently on her home turf for some beers, some whiskey and some new-school lessons on her old-school homestyle cookin’.
We pulled up together in a taxi to Pat’s Meat Market on Stevens Avenue, right near Deering High School in Portland. The blue building had a rustic feel, with chipping paint and old school awnings. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we walked up the driveway to the service entrance, but I soon found out. We stepped into what looked like an olde tymey deli, stocked with fresh produce and classic meat cases, emptied for cleaning. The deli and market have been owned by the same family for years, and even has a picture of all the sons (whom still participate in the family business) above the doorway leading to the meat and beer freezer. Kate leads me through this Spitfire Grill look-a-like and we head up the back steps into the prep room of The Café at Pat’s. Immediately, Kate cracks a PBR for herself, and offers me one.
“Cooking’s supposed to be fun, right? Let’s loosen up,” she said. Can’t argue with that.
I got the tour of the most beautiful kitchen I’ve ever seen, which leads directly into the dining room. There is only one booth surrounded by a dozen and a half tables, as the owner feels it has better feng shui. Everything is wood. Everything. There are amazing heart statuettes hanging from the ceiling with wires and accents sticking out. The whole place is set up for service, even though the restaurant is closed and we have the café to ourselves. We see the bar, stocked with everything you could possibly need to wet your whistle, and the attached porch for smoking, where they hold solstice parties 4 times a year.
On to the cooking. As I had never seen Kate in action except on Chopped, I was stoked to see how it’s done in her kitchen. We decide on a pan-seared duck breast, laid over a bed of fresh lettuce and bok choy, tossed in a homemade ginger soy dressing and topped with diced pear and pomegranate seeds. “I’m a new wave grandma-style chef. I love cooking like, reinventing the old family classics. My grandma’s smiling down at me.” Kate said. Her family is big on cooking. They sparked her love for the kitchen. And she must love it something fierce, ‘cause trying to teach me how to cook was sure to be a daunting task as I’m the guy who burns Spaghetti-O’s. But her way around the kitchen was so accessible that things really started running on all cylinders. And that’s why Kate was made for television. From the perspective of the viewer, her appearance on Chopped was full of grins and a blunt but unabashedly silly disposition, but there were other aspects to it behind the scenes.
“I actually cussed one of the contestants out. She was standing behind me at the back of our line just before we went out to cook for the first time. All I could hear was her talking about how nervous she was, and finally I yelled back, ‘yo, I don’t need to hear your stupid shit. I’m trying to focus up here. Shut the fuck up.”
Other stuff that wasn’t aired was Kate pep-talking herself in the bathroom, a memory that she shared in between bursts of laughter.
“I was looking at myself in the mirror just before we started to cook, and I was hyping myself up big time, y’know? ‘You got this, Kate. Get out there and cook your ass off.’ I was grunting and making intimidating faces at myself, and finally exited the bathroom… and there was the entire production crew laughing at me, ‘cause they’d heard the entire thing in their headphones. Next time, I’m gonna take my microphone off before I get pumped.”
A lot of people feel like Kate was shafted. She watched her episode air with local food legend Rob Evans (Hugo’s | Duckfat) whom was also a contestant on Chopped and took the crown. Kate, however, wasn’t so lucky. Vinson Petrillo, whom many believe shouldn’t have made it through the appetizer round, edged her out once he caught his stride.
“I don’t know if I got shafted necessarily. Vinnie is a great chef; he had more refined taste. I regret pulling him aside after the first round and giving him I pep talk. I said, ‘Vinnie, man, what are you doing? You got this! Do you want to win? ‘Cause I came here to cook, so bring it on. You can do this.’ That’s the last time I help somebody out in a competition that big. There were definitely a couple hours between each course, so the judging took a while and they would prompt us with questions with a hidden video camera. It was really intense. I tried to stay positive."
After the food was done cooking, the two of us cracked yet another PBR and sat down by the window to taste what she had created (and I helped!). I can’t begin to tell you how fantastic every component on this dish was. The flavors jumped off the plate and were married together with my taste buds in holy matrimony. And this salad is on the menu every night. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t run to The Café at Pat’s and order it. Seriously.
I digress. We had a chance to discuss Kate’s personal life outside of the kitchen. I asked what kind of girl Kate’s interested in. It was clear that she wants her woman to be a woman. Very lipstick.
“I want her to be in a cute dress, and I’d maybe take her out on my boat. Then I’d definitely bring her here [to the restaurant] and cook for her. I just want a girl that I can share experiences with. I don’t want some girl that’s gonna latch on to me. I’m not about that. I may be pretty butch, but there are still girly-girl parts of me, and I need to be with a girl that’ll balance that out, y’know?”
When asked if she feels like she’s ever been treated differently in the kitchen because she is a lesbian female in a male-dominated industry, Kate just sort of shrugged, then a smile came across her face.
“Y’know something? You’d think that maybe that’d happen, but here we’re all a family. [The owner] picks and chooses everybody that he has working here based on whether they’ll fit into our family. Around here, they call me ‘Princess’. I haven’t run into anybody treating me like a second-class chef because I like women.”
Ever since appearing on Chopped, Kate has been appearing on plenty of different local shows on TV and radio, quickly implanting her name into the public’s head.
“The ultimate goal would be to have my own cooking show, where I could travel and see other kitchens. I have a theater degree from Plymouth State, so I’ve always been sort of an entertainer. If I had to pick a specialty, me and the pig have a love affair. Anything slow-cooked, like barbeque is my thing. We actually used to bottle and sell my grandmother’s barbeque sauce.”
When asked if she’d be interested in the more time-consuming contest show such as Top Chef, Kate paused and tilted her head slightly.
“It sounds really interesting, but I’d have to compromise my current situation. Who’s gonna walk my dogs, y’know? You’re there for 12 weeks, and you’ve got to live with other people. It’d be great material for a stand-up act, but I dunno if they really want me on that show. I liked Chopped because it was all in one day, and constantly challenging me. Top Chef is so drawn out.”
Regardless of what endeavor Kate decides to focus on, rest assured that this whiskey-chugging karaoke all-star and all-around fantastic chef is gonna be in the public eye. Her smoky voice and bubbly surfer chick attitude, balanced with a top notch sense of humor, is a winning recipe for a successful TV career. Stay tuned, as Kate is in the works of going back for Chopped: Redemption, the second chance that she deserves based solely on the incredible meal she so graciously cooked me. Get to the Café at Pat’s and experience just how badass Kate and her culinary expertise is, before she gets a contract with the Food Network and leaves us for greener pastures!