Private chef Danushka Lysek grew up in Canada to Czech parents and, at a young age, developed a love of cooking. After graduating from the Culinary Arts program of the renowned Le Cordon Bleu school in 2006 — and subsequently realizing that working in the restaurant business was not for her — she became a private chef in Los Angeles.
In 2010, Danushka appeared on an episode of the Food Network’s 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, which she won. In 2012, she returned to the Food Network and competed on Chopped and, in 2013, was a contestant on season nine of Food Network Star.
Danushka currently lives in New York, where she continues to cook unique and inventive farm-to-table cuisine with seasonal influences.
My mom taught me the basics and then I took it from there. I wanted to experiment with different flavors and cuisine.
What were your reasons for not wanting to work in a restaurant, and perhaps along those same lines, what do you enjoy most about being a private chef?
Working in a restaurant is making $9 an hour and working all weekends and holidays. Also no chance to be creative. As a private chef, I meet interesting and wealthy people that live in places I can only dream about. They love my food, which feels good as they eat at some of the best restaurants in the world.
What skills or traits should every great chef possess?
Great knife skills are a must, as well as plating. Food should look and taste great!
You’ve appeared on a number of reality TV shows, including Fear Factor, The Bachelor, SuperGroup, 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, Chopped and Food Network Star. Of those shows, what was the most enjoyable experience?
My favorite show to film was SuperGroup. I worked 14+ hours a day but could do what I wanted, had a very helpful assistant that had no idea how to cook and by the end of the two weeks she was a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.
Starting with 24 Hour Restaurant Battle in 2010, you’ve become something of a regular on the Food Network. How did that opportunity initially come about?
24 Hour Restaurant Battle approached me. I said “no” and, with some arm twisting, they convinced me to do it! Great experience, as was Chopped.
How did you prepare for your appearance on Chopped, and was the experience as stressful as it appears on television?
I didn’t prepare for Chopped other than watching the show, as I had never seen it. Terrifying, but on the day of shooting I was very calm and it was an amazing experience. Wish I could do it again!!
Damaris Phillips won the season of Food Network Star that you competed on. There seemed to be some tension between you and her during the show. Was this the case off-camera, and in your opinion, was Damaris a deserving winner?
There was no tension between Damaris and I. She was one of my favorite contestants and deserved to win! She’s hilarious!!
All-in-all, was your experience on Food Network Star a positive one? Would you have done anything differently if you had the opportunity?
No comment on NFNS experience. Probably my least favorite reality TV experience, and I’ve had many!
Anthony Bourdain, Michelle Obama and Wayne Gretzky are coming to your house for dinner. What do you prepare that will really knock their socks off?
For cocktail hour, I would make my spicy tuna and bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese. Mixed greens with shaved apple and fennel, blue cheese and caramelized walnuts in a honey mustard vinaigrette.
Dinner would be Cabernet-braised short ribs with polenta with sautéed mushrooms and tallegio cheese.
Dessert: Sticky apple cake with brandy cream sauce. Port to help with food coma and a great big California Cab with dinner (The Prisoner or Silver Oak).
What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at? And what did you have that impressed you?
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is my absolute favorite restaurant!! Everything there is mind-blowing. The food, service and location.
With summer approaching, what’s your favorite dish to bring to a BBQ?
We dont have BBQs in New York City but I would prob bring dessert, as homemade things are always better than store bought. A pie, cream cheese brownies or come with raw cookie dough and smell up someone house with the best chocolate chips cookies in the world (judges asked for the recipe on 24 Hour Restaurant Battle).
What one kitchen item or appliance could you not live without?
I could not live without my Kyocera ceramic knives and mandolin. Love them.
What are you working on next?
Starting sommelier classes Monday and then waiting to see if a project finds me. Reality TV always lures me back, so who knows…