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Side Dishes: Chef branches out with holiday project


For three and a half years, Courtney Contos has been the executive chef in charge of Cook Academy at The Essex Resort & Spa. When that job went to part-time status, Contos — who used to work at Chicago’s famed Charlie Trotter’s and is chef for the Vermont Cheese Council — wanted to put her 15 years of culinary experience to work in new ways. She created a website,, to tout her services as a culinary consultant.

Online readers can find recipes — including ones for lemon ricotta gnocchi and pho — submit cooking questions and learn about the types of assistance Contos offers home cooks. She’ll help a customer plan a dinner party, cook local foods on a budget or decide which kitchen tools to keep and which to chuck. “I want to help a lot of people,” says Contos, who tries to price flexibly so clients can pool their resources (for instance, by sharing a lesson with two friends).

To attract new readers, Contos is about to launch a holiday project: She’ll bake a new batch of cookies each day in December and blog about the results. “The house is loaded with cookbooks, cooking magazines and notes,” she says. “There’s hardly room on the kitchen table.” Although she’s found plenty of exciting recipes — including a couple from the first December issue of Gourmet — Contos is most jazzed about an eggnog- flavored version and a Grand Marnier sandwich cookie.

With 31 batches of cookies in the offing, how does the trim 35-year-old plan to stay in shape? “I do Bikram yoga twice a week,” she notes. “I might increase it to three.”