Michelle Madden, 41, has been cooking all her life.
“As a child, I watched Julia Child on TV. I would rather watch her than cartoons,” she said. “Then I found Martha Stewart and fell in love with her. From age 10 and up, I made the cakes for my grandma at the holidays.”
When she was 18, living in Chicago and cooking meals for her young son and his father, she often found herself with leftovers she wanted to share.
“I don’t know how to cook small,” she said. “I guess I was made for this.”
So she started handing out plates of food to people in her neighborhood. It didn’t take long until she was getting requests, and people were even giving her money to buy groceries for the food they wanted.
“I do it because I love it, I love serving people food,” she said. “Food is something I’m passionate about, because it brings people together and makes them happy.”
In 2000 she and her children moved to Cedar Rapids, where she currently works at Transamerica. She kept cooking, but it was mostly for family and friends until a few years ago, when she decided to try catering again.
Her twin daughters were graduating high school, and she needed a little cash to throw them a graduation party, so she baked a batch of butter cookies to sell to customers at two local barbershops.
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“I was so nervous,” she said. “At first I only sold a few bags. Then my phone started blowing up, and I ended up selling out.”
People kept asking for cookies, and she kept baking. In 2015 she started catering officially under the name Tastefully Made Creations. Working out of the kitchen at Living Waters Kingdom Church, she bakes up cakes, cookies, cupcakes and more.
She aspires to take her home cooking to the next level. Last year, she auditioned for MasterChef, a Fox competition for home cooks, hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. She said that even though she didn’t make the cut, she got positive feedback from the judges at the audition for her Zuppa Tuscana recipe, her take on Tuscan-style soup made popular by Olive Garden. If MasterChef holds auditions in the Midwest again, she plans to give it another try.
In the meantime, she has taken on more local home cooking competitions. Last year she won a cake decorating contest hosted by the Cedar Rapids Public Library during the Freedom Festival.
“The competition bug has bitten me,” she said with a laugh.
She also hopes to share her what she’s learned with others, working on plans for a cookbook and YouTube show.
“I want to pay it forward. I want people to succeed. There are so many people who believe they can’t. That was me,” she said. “But I just decided I wouldn’t go through life feeling like the victim. I want to do big things. I want to make an impact on people.”
Recipe: Zuppa Toscana
This Zuppa Toscana recipe is Madden’s take on an Olive Garden favorite. It makes a sizable pot of soup, serving 15 or more people.
- 1 pound pork sausage
- 1 package bacon
- 32 ounces chicken broth
- 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- half pint heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 Vidalia onion
- 1 bunch kale, collard greens, spinach or turnip greens
- 2-6 russet potatoes, depending on size
- Italian seasoning
- Red pepper flakes
- Tablespoon minced garlic
- Lemon pepper-seasoned salt
Cook bacon and set aside, reserving the grease and pan. Season ground pork and form into meat balls. Fry in bacon grease until browned, then saute diced onion in bacon grease 1 to 2 minutes. Cut potatoes into medium chunks and simmer in chicken broth (add water and bouillon for extra flavor), for about 10 minutes. Add greens, onions, garlic, juice of one lemon, chopped bacon and meatballs and cook for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix heavy cream and cornstarch until there are no lumps. Add cream mixture to the pot and season to taste. Cook five more minutes. Stir and enjoy.
— Michelle Madden
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