My life as told through Onions. Onions as told through my life. Chopping onions and mincing garlic; a creative culinary tale

Chef Anna Cheely Reminisces About the Flavor Alliums have Added to the Story of Her Life

Onions and garlic are more than ordinary ingredients; they're the flavorful threads that weave the tapestry of my culinary life. From my humble beginning as a kid in my dad’s southern U.S. kitchen, to my adventures in culinary school and beyond, join me as I share my journey through the tastefully intriguing world of alliums.

As a wide-eyed child coming of age in the southern U.S., my culinary journey began with a lacey, orange bag of brown onions, and a random head of partially used garlic lying on the kitchen counter. Little did I know that these simple ingredients would become the foundation of my gastronomic expression.

Every year, I sold Vidalia onions as part of a fundraiser, and I would wince watching my dad pick one up only to devour it raw. I didn’t quite grasp the magic of this allium, but as I grew older I began to appreciate their unique sweetness and incredible versatility. Baked whole, transformed into sweet onion jam, or used in tangy salad dressings – Vidalia onions stole the spotlight in my childhood kitchen. Every dish seemed to start with the rhythmic sound of a sharp knife chopping onions and mincing garlic.

Looking back, I remember a 90’s country hit by the same name, and I can’t help but reminisce that I spent my childhood eating, selling, and even singing about this cherished allium. It wasn’t until I attended culinary school and worked in restaurants that I actually learned the word “allium” and began to understand the enormity of the category.

“Aside from being incredibly versatile, alliums are an inexpensive way to add complex, layered flavor to many global dishes.”

From learning how to use shallots and leeks in French Cuisine, to a refined approach with garlic, my journey through alliums accelerated. I discovered the versatility of fried shallots, commonly used in Asian cuisines, which are perfect for topping salads; as are the same crispy fried onions Americans use to top green bean casseroles.

Early in my career, I fell in love with Mexican cuisine and started experimenting with white, spring, and red onions. It was then that I discovered the magic of grilling and pickling. In my opinion, the perfect summer dinner is a protein marinated in an allium puree with dried peppers; accompanied by both grilled spring onions and jalapenos, pickled red onions, cheese, and crema, topped off with cilantro. It’s the perfect marriage of flavors – sweetness balanced with spicy and bold peppers in the marinade and finished with the bright acidity of pickled onions or charred, jammy green spring onions.

Alliums offer endless culinary possibilities that continue to inspire me.

The Modern-Day Use of Alliums

In the ever-evolving world of modern cuisine, allium ingredients have undergone a remarkable transformation, moving beyond the confines of traditional dishes like old-school onion rings. Today, adventurous chefs and food enthusiasts alike embrace the versatility of alliums, exploring innovative ways to elevate their flavors. Pickled onions and garlic have taken center stage, boasting tangy and zesty notes that bring a delightful twist to salads, sandwiches, and even cocktails. Roasted garlic, with its mellower and caramelized taste, has become the secret ingredient in savory spreads, dressings, and dips, imparting a depth of flavor that tantalizes the taste buds. Fire-roasted leeks, once overlooked, now exude a smoky allure that adds complexity to everything from soups to gourmet pizza.

As we journey into the future of culinary creativity, alliums continue to prove their mettle, enticing us with their diverse personalities and offering a symphony of flavors that keeps us inspired, amazed, and craving more.

Throughout my culinary journey, alliums have been a steadfast companion. From childhood chopping sessions to gourmet culinary adventures, they've been the backbone of my creativity in the kitchen. So, the next time you slice an onion or savor a garlicky dish, remember that you're not just adding flavor to a meal– you're embracing a rich culinary heritage that shapes memories and cultural experiences for countless people all over the world. Continue exploring how alliums can add depth and flavor to your creations!

Learn more about Culinary Garlic, Onion & Specialty Alliums