NOTL home chef wins cooking show crown
Alex Hicks is Niagara-on-the-Lake’s newest celebrity chef — though she doesn’t cook professionally.
Hicks, 30, took home the first place prize during a Food Network cooking show, winning $10,000, notoriety and memories of an experience she won’t soon forget.
The series, called Wall of Chefs, is for home cooks who don’t have a red seal.
“I can’t believe it happened. I feel like it was just yesterday I got the email saying I made it through the preliminaries,” says Hicks of her win.
She says she saw previews for the show last year and thought it might be a good thing for her to do. But it was actually her friends and family who encouraged her — and applied on her behalf.
“They had so much faith in me,” she says.
Hicks says she’s been cooking “pretty much” her whole life, and learned mostly from her family.
“My mom’s a great cook, my grandparents are, my dad’s a great barbecuer. I’ve always been kind of incorporated into the kitchen. I made my first grilled cheese when I was four-years-old and burned myself. And you know, I’ve always tried to help my mom.”
After that she took a hospitality course at Niagara College where she says she really developed her interest in cooking and learned more techniques.
“Once I got out of college I actually was really sick,” Hicks said. “I was sick for about three months, bed-ridden. I couldn’t really do much but watch TV, so I kind of just started writing ideas down. I started trying recipes. I realized a lot of recipes can be very different but it does come down to the same technique … so I just kept practising and practising and watching the Food Network. I had people over for dinner. I started really taking it seriously.”
She says the people she would invite over encouraged her to do the show.
“It kind of sprouted out of nowhere, but it’s something I do every day. I feel like the kitchen is my stress relief. It’s kind of my therapy,” Hicks said. “It’s just become a part of my life now.”
Now she says she’s still cooking for her husband Neil Wachs, using him as a guinea pig for new techniques and recipes, but she’s thinking about using her win as a bridge into the culinary industry.
She says she’s been experimenting a lot with different ingredients and trying to highlight what’s grown in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“I’m buying different cuts of meats and trying new things, and trying bone marrow and cooking pork belly, and doing all these things just to see what happens,” Hicks says.
“I am looking into some opportunities, especially after the show, of course — kinda showing myself that I could do it.”
She said she’s interested in taking the culinary course at Niagara College, or starting to apprentice under a head chef. But the longterm plan is to open a bed and breakfast with her husband on their farm — she would also love to be on the Food Network as a host.
Farm life in Niagara-on-the-Lake has been a huge influence on Hicks. She’s constantly thinking about which local ingredients she can use that can show off the area.
“I really want to instill how proud I am to be from NOTL. We are so lucky to live in such a bountiful, diverse microclimate known for farming, culinary and viticulture.”
Even on the show she tried to bring Niagara into the mix, using a Niagara cabernet in a reduction for one of her dishes and Niagara peaches in another.
“The ability to have the produce in our backyards and utilize a lot of different ingredients within my reach really got me inspired and gave me the opportunity to cook so often.”
Now she’s thinking about how to take the next steps in her culinary journey. And her friends and family are right behind her.
“(I’m) getting messages from family saying, ‘You know what Alex, you have to pursue this. You love it, it’s your passion but you’re good at it.’ ”
She’s excited about the $10,000, of course, but says she also won in other ways.
“I feel like I’ve won as far as building confidence and just showing myself I could do it. So many other things I’ve won, I think.”
She says she’s ready to “get her hands dirty” and start learning with some chefs.
The biggest win for her, she said, was just getting her “feet wet” in the kitchen and a sense of pride.
“I think the best thing that’s coming from it is just the outpouring of love and the confidence that came with it.”
The season finale of Wall of Chefs airs April 6 at 10 p.m. on Food Network Canada.