According to Wikipedia, a polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”) is “a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.” And there couldn’t be a more perfect description for La Brea-Hancock resident Barbara Savage.
Most neighborhood residents, and others in the larger Greater Wilshire community, recognize Savage as a longtime neighborhood advocate, president of the La Brea-Hancock Homeowners Association and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.
But fewer know that last spring, she stepped out onto a much more public stage as one of the top 20 finalists on the FoxTV series “Master Chef.” To those who know her, however, it wasn’t a surprising move – she’s a great cook and loves working in the kitchen. And she does have a history of making rather big career pivots.
Savage, who has a degree in chemistry, is also a huge football fan – and when she first moved to Los Angeles from Denver, Colorado, it was to audition to be an LA Raiders cheerleader…a gig she got and held for several years. Later, after her marriage, three kids and a divorce, she went back to another older career…as a private investigator. But after several years of investigative work and neighborhood activism, she heard well-known chef Bruce Kalman needed volunteers to help with his booth at the Los Angeles Beer and Wine Festival. And because she’s always been passionate about food and loves to cook, she thought it would be a great way to learn more about Kalman, cooking, and the restaurant business…so she signed up.
It turned out that Savage loved working with Kalman, and while she was volunteering, someone suggested she audition for Master Chef…and she decided to take the plunge. “It was pretty brazen,” she says now of the decision. But the show specializes in “home cooks” (people who are wonderful, creative cooks but have never actually worked as professional chefs)…and she definitely met the criteria.
To her surprise, after the auditions, Savage wound up as one of the 20 contestants featured on the seventh season of the show, which aired from June 1 through September 14, 2016. Savage did great in the first cooking challenge, winning immunity from one round of eliminations…but on the show’s fourth episode, in which contestants divided into competing teams to feed guests at a big outdoor wedding, she was blamed for a bad vinaigrette and eliminated. (Savage reveals now that she actually didn’t make the vinaigrette – she was working on a lamb dish instead – and the show was simply edited to make it look like the vinaigrette was hers.)
Despite the early exit from the Master Chef kitchen, however, the experience pushed Savage into a new career. She returned to Kalman, and went to work as a pasta chef at his Knead & Co. Pasta Bar at Grand Central Market. Although she had to leave the restaurant after just a few months because of a flour allergy, she loved the work and it confirmed her dedication to her new calling. She says she can tell that after several very diverse careers, this one will stick. How does she know? Because she says she learned that she can cook all day professionally, and then go home and still have the energy to whip up creative, gluten-free (because of her allergies) meals for her family. “That’s how I know I love this.”
These days, although she’s not behind the counter at Knead any more, Savage is going full steam ahead on her new career. She still works on catering jobs and at special events with Kalman, and does some private catering on her own. You can also find “Chef Barbara” teaching cooking classes at least once a month at the Whole Foods at Third and Fairfax.
“Whole Foods has always been a big supporter of me and my projects,” she says, referring back to yet another career in which she used her chemistry background to develop a line of personal care products. “They were the first store to carry my all natural body care line back in 2006.” (Although Savage’s products are no longer in stores, she does still sell them privately – “mostly to repeat customers” – through firstname.lastname@example.org.)
And she has plenty of other new food-related ventures still simmering…several of which mix ingredients from her diverse previous careers. “I have some plans for pop-ups in the LA area between the holidays,” said Savage. And “I’m doing a tailgate party with the Oakland Raiders Black Hole Fan Club November 6th, and some events in Indian Wells in early January.” Also, combining her roots in chemistry with her new career in the kitchen, “I created The Attainable Weight Loss Solution and Sustainable Weight programs, which will be available in February 2017.
“The AWLS/SWMP are Weight Loss and Maintenance programs designed for realistic weight management. The introduction to the brand is a 7 day retreat in Indian Wells. Participants will learn how to prepare delicious meals and tools for real life maintenance.”
Finally, if that’s not enough, she’s planning to self-publish a cookbook early next year. “Yet untitled,” she said, “but it will feature some fun easy recipes with twists and additions to keep things interesting!”
So given the outcome, how does Savage feel about her Master Chef experience these days? “I feel that the real Barbara Savage wasn’t able to shine through” [on the show], she says. But “I’ll take that experience and remember to follow MY vision and not let someone tell me who they think I am or should be!
“The good part is now I can be myself in this new culinary journey of mine. Since I only got about 35 seconds of total camera time [on Master Chef], I’m not recognizable as having been on the program at all! This works well for me. I get to pick and choose how to use the “White Apron” story.”
And how she wants to use it is for something she takes from another well-known production – her favorite movie, “Like Water for Chocolate.” “I’d like to create dishes that make people feel passionate! That’s my food goal!”
Oh, and you can still find her at La Brea-Hancock and Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council meetings, too.