Blerita Kaba, who was born in Albania and raised in Macedonia, started learning her way around the kitchen when she was 12, helping out in family members’ restaurants in New York after coming to America.
Since then, the 31-year-old has worked in restaurants in Arizona and Alaska before moving to Washington state a couple of years ago. She took the helm at Three Peaks Kitchen and Bar at the Spokane Tribe Casino in November. The restaurant opened in early January.
Here, she shares her go-to ingredients – garlic, garlic and garlic – as well as a recipe for mascarpone cheesecake (without garlic).
What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? Chicken Parmigiana. Both my daughter and I love this comfort dish.
Where do you eat when you eat out? I try little mom-and-pop places. There’s only a few places that I haven’t tried yet but that’s my goal this year: to try each restaurant and check out the unique food items different chefs put out.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef, and how? My uncle. He’s been a chef for years, and he’s the first person I worked with when I was just 12. He taught me so much and helped me become the chef I am today.
What are your go-to ingredients? Garlic, cooking wine, thyme, basil, any spicy pepper. Did I say garlic?
What was the first dish a customer ever sent back to you, and how did you handle it? It was a spaghetti with meatballs. I was working at my uncle’s Italian restaurant, and they called me out there to tell me that the meatballs tasted like I thawed them out and refroze them a few times and then a few more times. I laugh about it now but I was offended at the time only because those meatballs were what we were known for and I knew for a fact we never froze them. Either way, I didn’t argue with the guest. I just asked him if I could make him a different dish to make his experience better.
What’s a dish you’ve never made but would like to, and why? Turducken! The technique on this is very precise and making sure all proteins are cooked evenly sounds like a challenge and that’s exactly why I want to master it.
What dish or ingredient best represents you? Honestly, any Albanian dish. Brings me back to my roots and my childhood.
2 pounds cream cheese
1 pound mascarpone
2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Add cream cheese and mascarpone to bowl of a stand mixer, and whip on med-high until very well incorporated. Add sugar and vanilla extract and incorporate well with the cream cheese mixture. Turn speed to low and add an egg at a time, scraping the sides and bottom. Do not over mix once the eggs are added.
Apply nonstick spray to a cake pan and the pour cheesecake mixture into it. Cook in a double boiler in the oven for 35-45 minutes.
Note: I use a Kitchen Aid mixer for this with the paddle attachment, but feel free to use a hand mixer.