COOKING IS A BIG DEAL TO MAUREEN O’DONNELL SANCHEZ ’87. She sells luxury ingredients to Chicagoland restaurants, she blogs about her family’s kitchen adventures and Feb. 24, she competed in front of a national television audience on Food Network’s “Chopped.”
“Chopped” tests chefs’ skill, speed and ingenuity. Each week, four chefs compete before a panel of expert judges and turn baskets of mystery ingredients into a three-course meal.
“It was an incredible experience to be in front of all those cameras and be in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar ingredients and cooking in front of celebrity chefs,” said Sanchez, who gained appreciation of great food starting with paella dinners at the home of Professor Emeritus Pedro Diez Del Rio as a child.
Sanchez was a familiar face on campus and in the community as a student, working at Penfield Library and tending bar at Old City Hall.
A Spanish major at Oswego, Sanchez started out in customer service at a Cambridge software developer and she continued in different capacities for different companies as she found herself on the move from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Raleigh, before finding a career that truly fits her tastes. Today Sanchez sells delicacies like truffles and caviar to high-end restaurants in Chicago and beyond.
At home in Oswego, Ill., she and her husband, Gene, are devotees of scratch cooking, focusing on using often self-grown, unprocessed ingredients to create healthy gourmet meals for their three children.
Sanchez’s TV aspirations went well beyond her love of cooking. Although she didn’t become the “Chopped” Champion, “It was a great opportunity to get press for my sister,” said Sanchez, who has become an advocate for missing persons during a decades-long search for her sister, Judith Erin O’Donnell. Last seen in November 1980, Judy has influenced Sanchez to pursue her passions. “Judy has provided the lens. The rest of the noise and distractions fall off and you can focus on what’s important once you find it.”
—Shane M. Liebler