I'm Ana Hammond and... "I'M BRINGING PARTIES BACK... YEAH"
Born AnaCatarina Louro Ferreira Alves in Aveiro Portugal, I moved to the USA with my mother and brother and entered this country with a Portuguese sausage stuffed under my baby blanket. As crazy as it sounds it's absolutely true!
Low on cash but high on hope we took up residence in my Aunt's house in Boston Massachusetts, Dorchester to be exact, right next to "Southie". At one point there were 13 of us under one roof so big home-cooked meals was our way of life. I was the kid with an absent father and got free lunch 'cause mom didn’t earn enough dough. But that didn't stop me from dreaming big and not having money only made me more creative.
I admit the city was tough but that's where I built character, developed my personality and started my early love affair with food. I remember spending Saturday mornings watching Julia while everyone else played outside. After that it was onto "World Class Chefs" and then "Jacques Pepin". Oh how I loved new ingredients and techniques. It was something to see Jacques swirl chocolate bowls out of melted chocolate using basic balloons. I dreamed that one day I'd have my own cooking show and I'd be innovative too.
I was glued to my Aunt Celina's side and learned how to cook authentic Portuguese cuisine and "gourmet" without recipes. Pig's feet, for example, are delicious when cooked right. She had this amazing ability to take humble ingredients and turn them into sweet and savory delicacies but her talent really shined when throwing a party on the fly. No matter how short notice, there was always a bountiful spread.
I was excited to attend parties and with a big family, there were parties all the time. When I was 8 I hosted my very first Soiree on my city porch. I served dishes remade from leftovers and a few treats from my brothers snack pile. I’ll never forget the smiles as I presented snickers hors d’ouerves or the warm and fuzzy feeling I got from being the hostess. It felt special, I was hooked, and this was what I wanted to do.
At 11, a new marriage forced a sudden move to the "burbs" and had me honing my Chef skills even further. I didn't know anyone that first summer so I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. My mom, now only working 8 hour days instead of 16, shared her colleagues recipes from the Chefs at historic Parker House Hotel and I re-created those dishes. I remember making Parker House rolls before they were trendy.
During that time I was expected to cook dinner for our family every night and when I made new friends, some found that strange. Of course most had no problem hanging around to sample a taste either. I was busy playing sports and cheerleading but I welcomed my cooking responsibility.
My sweet 16 was celebrated at a fancy restaurant where I ordered a plate of handmade ravioli for the first time.. The dish was beautiful but there were only four of them sitting in a clear broth. By then I had worked farmers markets and a few restaurants and my palate craved new and exciting flavors so I picked this place. I had never been to a fancy restaurant before so I was surprised at the small portions. The food was remarkably delicious but we picked up a pizza on the way home. Lesson for that day, paying more doesn't mean you get more but certainly can make up for it in quality.
As my undeniable passion grew I decided then that I'd open a catering business and couldn't wait to present my plans to my step-father. I did my research, had my own start up money and was ready. Though still in high school, I thought I'd quit my restaurant job at night and get a head start on my career. Sadly I was just about instantly denied. I was devastated, heart broken, blah, blah, blah, but yet another lesson learned : liability insurance can be expensive.
My step father is a good man but he had traditional beliefs that you can accomplish whatever you want without handouts so that meant no financial help with said insurance payments. He explained not putting all your eggs in one basket and that made me a thinker. I'm convinced it was talks like these that gave me drive to succeed and the moxie to get it done.
By 22 I saved enough to buy my first house and married my high school sweetheart all while maintaining my hostess with the mostess status. That year I also attended Newbury College on my dime. I focused on Interior Design instead of cooking even though I was accepted to Johnson & Wales University. It was such a tough decision. I'd narrowed it down from Chef, Stylist, Interior Designer and our family business was in construction so that seemed like the logical, easier choice. It wasn't my first passion but the right move for that time in my life and I was genuinely good at it.
Five years later I had an accomplished Interior Design business with 5 employees. I opened a retail home goods store that I later closed down when the big box "Homegoods" arrived. I won awards, collaborated with fellow A&D's and became an industry staple. My design profession grew but so did my gut feeling.
It was time. Time to wear the Chef hat again. So I began refining my culinary skills even further and experimenting with new techniques and ingredients. I drew inspiration from my childhood, my travels and my native Portugal and found recipe writing came naturally and was therapeutic. This was easy, I LOVED it and I couldn't wait to challenge myself.
I took authentic Portuguese recipes and mixed up non traditional ingredients to come up with things like homemade Linguica with Port, Sage and Shallots that I smoked myself. I bought a mandolin , a micro plane, and a food saver system that could double to Sous Vide. The scariest tool I dared to use was a pressure cooker that turned out the most tender, gelatinous pigs feet ever! I became a full on test kitchen and was excited every minute I was in it.
In 2010, I launched my first culinary brand , Any Day Soiree ™ , which included a cooking show that made its way onto local Public Access TV. From there my food was judged at the prestigious "Le Cordon Bleu" and is the day I consider my Culinary graduation.
My critiqued duo of Salt Cod, "A Brandada and A Fritter " is accredited to making me a "MasterChef" Season 2 Top 100 Finalist. 25,000 people wanted that title and I earned it. I've cooked for the famous Michelen Star Chef; Gordon Ramsay, James Beard Award Winner; Graham Elliot Bowles and Restauranteur; Joe Bastianch.
In 2014 I did it again! My "Linguica with Caramelized Onions and Spicy Brown Mustard on Toasted Rye" kept me in the running when I was cast for a spot on ABC's, "The Taste" with Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson.
As my culinary journey continues, I look back and am grateful for all my experiences. I'm especially thankful for those people who've supported me along the way. Without you, I might not have moved forward and this, my friends, is a beautiful thing. Because when you feel like you have enough creative energy to light up a room but not enough outlets to plug yourself into, you definitely need an audience to keep cheering you on!