A third-generation Texan, Chef Ellen Schwartz grew up in Houston in a family of grocers. Her father and grandfather constantly arrived home with widely varied ingredients for the dinner table. They were both well-versed in butchering, too—hello, hog jowls, rabbit and beef tongue! Despite this, Schwartz admits to having rather particular tastes. (Always welcome on her plate: fried chicken, good barbecue and Thai food.)
Nevertheless, food has been a through-line in Schwartz’ life, beginning with young Ellen spending ample time in the kitchen with her mother, grandmother and housekeeper. “I cannot remember a time when I was not in the kitchen,” she says. “I thought that was where people played. It was my playground.”
The Houston chef—now a seasoned culinary instructor—recalls watching as her housekeeper rolled out dough and peeled apples for homemade apple pie. Her family would go crabbing in Galveston, coming home to clean the blue crab claws to indulge in all night. Visits to her grandmother’s home often included delicious, scratch-made chicken salad, a recipe Chef Ellen makes regularly.
Before making this favorite pastime a profession, Schwartz pursued other careers, including as a bridal consultant, an elementary and middle school reading specialist and a school counselor. It wasn’t until attending a bridal shower one day that inspiration to change course took root.
Observing all the new kitchen equipment bestowed upon the bride-to-be, Schwartz was surprised to learn that the young woman didn’t know how to cook. “I remember telling my husband that day that when I retire, this is going to be my new career.” recalls Chef Ellen. “And at that moment, I began to work on this idea, and it’s been growing ever since.”
Through encouragement from a friend, Schwartz began teaching classes through Leisure Learning when an opportunity opened. It turned out that blending her teaching experience and training in customer service with her passion for cooking seemed like a no-brainer.
She taught for several years at Central Market and Rice Epicurean, as well. To recreate the cooking experience students would have at home, Chef Ellen began leading lessons in her own kitchen, first with Leisure Learning and eventually on her own.
Decades later, Chef Ellen has provided chef demonstrations on FOX 26 Houston and been featured by numerous media outlets. She’s taught countless cooking classes in Houston for students of varying skill levels, including with several youth programs, and provides private catering and cooking parties.
Attuned to the needs of students, Schwartz is sensitive to each’s unique food concerns or quirks, from preferring different foods don’t touch to shuddering at the sound of steel spoons scraping against a pan: “I just try to accommodate them in any way without judgment.”
We are thrilled to have Chef Ellen’s kitchen savvy and teaching expertise available for you to hire with a few clicks through Cookery. She offers several hands-on cooking experiences for you to book and enjoy in your own home for kids, teens and adults, all of which are skills-based lessons. Rather than simply providing a recipe to memorize, Chef Ellen’s philosophy instills core culinary knowledge that serves as a foundation for preparing all kinds of dishes.
She hopes to help each of her students become more confident in the kitchen and enjoys the feedback she receives when someone has created a successful meal with their new skills that impressed family and friends.