Chef Nancy Vendetti cracked her first egg at the age of 3. Coming from Italian heritage, most of her baking is influenced by the Italian countryside and warm summer nights of cooking and baking with her mother and grandmother. “My mom is the cook, but I am the baker!” she laughs. Teaching herself at her mother’s Italian restaurant through high school, Nancy challenged herself with cookies and Wandi for wedding parties. She continued improving over the years as a stay-at-home mom with 4 daughters making ends meet with cake and cookie orders. This led her to attend Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science, summa cum laude, in Baking and Pastry/Food Service Management. Eventually, she took the same love of challenging herself and competing, appearing on the Food Network, taking 2nd in Cupcake Wars and 3rd in Cake Wars! Here she caught national attention making eye-catching pieces, such as a yellow Labrador and an Aston Martin sports car reaching upwards of four foot tall! She is a 4-time winner of the Retail Bakers of America Cake Decorating Competition, the California National Raisin Bread Contest, the Rhode Island Apple Pie Festival, and several other competitions over the years. Now she finds a new challenge in instructing others and sharing her love of baking with The Culinary Center of Kansas City®.
We sat down with Chef Nancy and talked a bit about her culinary background and some experiences she’s had.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started cooking?
“I grew up in an Italian family. Life revolved around food! My mother was a great cook, everything made from scratch. Every Sunday she’d make a big pot of “gravy” (red sauce) and a batch of meatballs. I was the official taste tester! I would grab the fresh loaf of Italian bread, still warm from the oven, and break off the heel (the end of the loaf) and dip it into the gravy. Yum! My mother loved to cook BUT I loved to bake!”
What dish or moment let you know that you wanted to be a professional baker?
“There was no one dish in particular that was my ah-ha moment but more of a cumulation of moments. I started baking my Nonni’s sweet bread when I was 19. Every year for Easter, I would make this traditional sweet bread with icing and sprinkles. It did not come out exactly right the first several times but after a LOT of practice and tweaking of the recipe, I finally got it right!”
You’ve competed a lot on the Food Network and other events, any particular stories or experiences you’d like to share?
“I have competed in Cupcake Wars and Cake Wars and too-many-to-count cake competitions. There was one competition though that I will never forget, the National California Raisin Bread Contest. I entered with my Nonni’s sweet bread and I added golden raisins to it. In a nationwide contest, I was one of the 35 semi-finalists chosen to compete at the American Institute for Baking in Manhattan, Kansas. The first day, the contestants stood up one by one and introduced themselves. Many of them owned large bread bakeries where this is all they did! Some from Chicago, Florida and California. I sat there listening and thought, “Oh my gosh, I am totally out of my league! I only make ONE kind of bread!” Long story short, I was one of the 13 winners! Take my Sweet Bread class to hear the rest of the story!”
We know you love Italian food and baking, what’s the one meal you simply can’t go without?
“Pasta! Or in my house, “roni’s”, short for macaroni. I remember when I was sent to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, in Georgia, for my job (another good story), there were no Italian restaurants ANYWHERE! After 3 1/2 weeks, I drove down to Florida to visit 2 friends, who were installing the first ever cable TV (that’s how long ago that was!). As soon as I got there, I made homemade lasagna and gravy and meatballs. Needless to say, these two hungry guys didn’t want me to ever leave!”
Lastly, what new challenges does instructing bring that you haven’t encountered in your culinary journey?
“Sometimes we get a little complacent in life, instructing challenges you to be better, to be more than you are, to improve every day, to be creative, and to create recipes you wouldn’t normally think of!”
Come Meet Chef Nancy Vendetti in Our Kitchens in Any of the Following Classes:
Perfecting Rustic Fruit Crostata
Saturday, October 1st, 2022 10:00am
Chef Nancy, the pastry professional, shows you that once the dough is mastered there’s no stopping you!
Truly Madly Pizza! Secrets to Perfect Pizza-Making
Sunday, October 2nd, 2022 5:00pm
Chef Nancy shares her homemade pizza secrets and techniques with four of her own personal recipes!
If the Choux Fits: Cream Puffs, Eclairs & Swans
Monday, October 3rd, 2022 6:30pm
Learn to make this flexible French dough from Chef Nancy and make your very own beautiful swans!
Learn to Cook Like an Italian Nonna
Wednesday, October 5th, 2022 6:30pm
Enjoy authentic Italian cuisine and touching stories about Chef Nancy’s Grandmother in the kitchen, complete with recipes.
Buon Appetito! A Traditional Italian Dinner with Chef Nancy Vendetti
Saturday, October 8th, 2022 6:30pm
Get a taste of Chef Nancy’s Italian heritage as you learn to make a classic Italian menu, complete with dessert.