Those who know Bryan Woolley as KUTV Channel 2’s cheerful and inventive day chef probably don’t know his secret identity. Before he took up the job of teaching culinary-curious viewers how to make simple but tasty recipes 18 months ago, Woolley delighted audiences with another art: opera.
Yes, the same chef who taught you how to bake the perfect brie en crout (“cheese in puff pastry” in French) is also a powerful tenor with a degree in music education and vocal performance from Utah State University. His latest concert: for residents at the inpatient hospice Care Source where he sometimes teaches cooking classes. Here his penchant for bursting into Bizet and Verdi while waiting for the oven to ding lead residents to dub him “the singing chef.”
The name suits him for many reasons. “I’m very passionate about the arts,” Woolley explains after a lunch hour spent slaving over a stove at the Roth Concept Center in Foothill Village, where his noon segment is filmed regularly. “And I think this is why I enjoy the culinary [arts]. Not only can you express the art and creativity sides, but the science sides of cooking, which is so amazing to me.”
Unsurprisingly, it was Woolley’s eclectic interest in the arts that lead him down the path to chef stardom. After graduation, he traveled the world to sing opera. On the road, he found that such places as Scandinavia, Russia, Western and Eastern Europe had one thing in common: a lot of down time between shows. To fill his hours, Woolley took lessons with local master chefs — men and women who, while not international house names, nonetheless come from family restaurants and bakeries with centuries-old pedigrees.
“These are amazing master chefs who are in it because of their passion,” he explains. “Everywhere I would go I would always learn something, because I had the time to learn, and I loved it.”
Eventually, Woolley settled in Logan, where he put his love of food to use teaching classes in the culinary arts. Between teaching and traveling abroad to sing, he was leading a busy life.
And then KUTV called with an offer that would make him even busier: their day chef post had just opened up. Would Woolley be interested? One interview and one test run through the kitchen later, the singing chef beat out 15 other cooks for the coveted spot.
Cooking on TV, as Woolley explains it, isn’t like being the head chef of a restaurant, where a menu might often be set for as long as six months. Monday through Friday he must come up with a new recipe that will be both easy and enticing enough for the home cook to shop for and follow — a goal Woolley admits is as enjoyable as it is daunting. Another daunting task: accommodating all tastes while keeping local culture in mind, such as the fact that many teetotaling Utahns won’t have alcohol with which to cook.
Nevertheless, the challenge of creating nearly 300 recipes a year is one the chef finds exciting.
“It’s great, it is wonderful,” he says. “You listen to people and what they’re looking for and try and stay on top of the trends.
So, just what are the trends in Salt Lake City, where Woolley now calls home?
“Mostly in this area I’ve found that people tend to really like desserts,” he laughs. “And foods that remind them of childhood comfort foods.”
From the feedback locals have been sending him, it seems that his desserts and comfort foods are a hit. Woolley says he now gets so many calls and emails that he isn’t able to respond to them all between the time he spends on set, teaching cooking classes and consulting for different restaurants around the valley. Add to this a possible book deal and Woolley’s description of his life as “busy” seems to be an understatement.
In those rare moments when he can take a break from the kitchen, Woolley can be found spending time with friends, going on road trips, listening to concerts or playing real-time strategy games.
“People think I’m kind of nerdy,” he jokes. “I love computer games.”
He also loves movies, especially science fiction flicks. A favorite franchise: James Bond.
His favorite movie snack?
“Popcorn and diet coke!” He laughs. And when dining out with friends? “A Big Mac and french fries.”
But mostly, Woolley says he just enjoys life.
“I’m just a down-to-earth person,” he explains. “Whatever I can do to enjoy life I do, because it’s just too short. There are just too many downfalls and too many people who don’t want you to be happy or who you are.”
Catch Woolley’s segment “Fresh from the Kitchen” every weekday on KUTV Channel 2 from noon to 1:00 p.m. Drop by and watch him cook live during these segments at the Roth Concept Center in Foothill Village (1400 Foothill Dr #212). To get Woolley’s recipes visit his Web site chefbryanwoolley.com.