For nearly two decades, Diane Forley has served as a leader of New American cuisine, receiving both popular and critical recognition as one of the top women chefs in the country. She was recently nominated to join Les Dames d'Escoffier, an exclusive group of women chefs, food writers, and professionals, who have enriched the food industry through their respective crafts. Diane has also been included as a consulting chef on the advisory board at NYU's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health.
Diane's professional training is rooted in her family's peripatetic history. She credits her diverse family background from Egypt, Guatemala and Hungary with fostering an early appreciation for global ingredients and culinary sensibilities.
While still in high school, Diane wanted to learn more about cooking in a professional environment. At sixteen she apprenticed at the Palace Restaurant in New York City where chef Michel Fitoussi introduced her to classical French cuisine. At Brown University Diane extended her practical introduction to French cooking through completing an honors thesis in literature entitled, "The Culinary Revolution in 19th Century France, Examined through the Works of Balzac and Flaubert."
Upon graduation Diane was fortunate to train with several prominent New York chefs, including Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill and David Burke, then of The River Café. Following her training in New York City, Diane apprenticed in France with master chefs Gaston Lenotre, Alain Passard and Michel Guerard.
In 1994, Diane opened Verbena restaurant in Gramercy Park as chef and proprietor. Just eight weeks after opening Ruth Reichl of the New York Times gave Verbena a two-star review and the restaurant critic of New York Magazine likened Diane to a "spiritual descendent of Alice Waters." John Mariani named Verbena "one of the top new restaurants in the country" in his 1995 round up for Esquire magazine, and Gourmet Magazine described Diane's menu as, "a highly ambitious seasonal affair made up of dishes that typically unite several intensely flavored elements."
In 1998, Wine Spectator named Diane one of "America's Hottest Young Chefs" and the New York Times selected Diane as one of the first chefs featured in their eight-week "Chef of the Times" column with William Grimes.
Several years after opening Verbena, Diane opened Verbena Foods, an organic take-out shop that she later converted to Bar Demi, a fifteen-seat wine bar. Diane synthesized her years running Verbena, Verbena Foods, and Bar Demi in her 2002 cookbook, Anatomy of a Dish (Artisan Publishers). The book demonstrated her botanical approach to cooking in using fruits and vegetables as focal flavors for her innovative recipes.
After closing the restaurant in 2003, Diane and her husband, chef Michael Otsuka, spent several years in California, first in Ojai and then in San Francisco. In Ojai, Diane worked as a culinary consultant to the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa developing products for their boutique, such as fruit marmalades, herbal tonics, and fresh-baked pies using locally grown ingredients.
While in San Francisco Diane participated in the Chef Council, a market research group at the Center for Culinary Development. There, she brainstormed recipe ideas for large corporations looking to introduce healthy choices into their new products. Diane also began writing for Wondertime Magazine as a food columnist.
Diane, Michael and family moved back to New York. Two years later, they opened Flourish Baking Company. For more information, visit their website www.flourishbakingcompany.com.