Eating Together: Lisa Essmyer

I love nourishing people with food that not only tastes good but also looks good and is good for you! I want to make food with all of the nutrition, color and flavor — that is my ultimate goal. Cooking for people is one of the ways I show people I care about them. There’s just something about putting love and time into what you’re making that I honestly believe makes food taste better. It’s not actual science, but I do believe the intention you put into something can be tasted! 

My mom and grandmother were amazing cooks, and I always grew up cooking. It always came naturally to me. I would pretend to be Julia Child in the kitchen and affect her voice to entertain my family. My mom trusted me to throw meals together, and I always felt comfortable trying new things. After being an art teacher for several years, I decided to go to culinary school. I ended up at Le Cordon Bleu and landed myself on a competition team during that time where we won a silver medal at an American Culinary Federation Competition. I then went on to work at the largest Ritz-Carlton in North America at Orlando Grande Lakes. I learned so much there about hospitality, professionalism and the art of the guest experience. 

I moved back to the Cape Girardeau area in 2011 as an executive chef briefly before teaching all of the culinary classes for the hospitality management program at Southeast Missouri State University for the past 10 years. 

Over the past eight years at Thanksgiving, my table has grown larger and larger with friends and family inviting all of the folks we knew who don’t have a place to go. This was inspired by all of my years living away from my family at holidays and feeling alone during those times; I never want anyone I know to feel that way. Thanksgiving has become a really big thing for me, and I actually don’t let anyone cook anything or bring anything other than wine! I do it all, and it’s a whole week-long process for me to craft everything, make a beautiful tablescape and try to fit all of the tables and chairs into my small house to accommodate all of my guests! 

This is what I think food is all about: enjoying the company of friends and family while also nourishing our bodies. Basically feeding your body, mind, heart and soul! Food should be a part of gathering and entertaining and having good conversation. 

The dish I chose to make has a lot of components to it, yet it’s still very simple. It also has a ton of color. You eat with your eyes first! I always want my food to be beautiful and equally delicious. Nature has paired beautiful colors along with flavors to compliment each other, and I just put that together on a plate! 


Marinated and Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichirri, Sweet Potato Purée and Warm Grilled Vegetable Salad

Flank Steak


Olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh cracked pepper

Turbinado sugar


Fresh garlic

Fresh orange, juiced

Fresh lime, juiced

Fresh lemon, juiced 


Place all marinade ingredients in blender or food processor and blend.

Marinate flank steak for at least eight hours or overnight. Don’t leave in marinade for more than 24 hours.

Grill the flank steak to rare/medium-rare and allow to rest for five to 10 minutes before slicing into thin strips.



Fresh cilantro 

Fresh flat-leaf parsley

Fresh oregano 

Fresh garlic 


Crushed red pepper

Fresh lime juice

Fresh lemon juice 

Red wine vinegar

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh cracked pepper 


Add all ingredients into blender or food processor and blend. 


Sweet Potato Purée 

Sweet potatoes, peeled and diced 

Butter, at room temperature 

Heavy cream, warm

Kosher salt, to taste 


Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender, drain, and put back into pot.

Add butter, and using a handheld mixer, whip potatoes and butter. Use the cream to adjust consistency. Add more salt to taste.


Warm Grilled Vegetable Salad 

Zucchini, cut on the bias or rounds 

Squash, cut on the bias or rounds 

Corn, on the cobb

Red bell pepper, julienned 

Purple cabbage, thinly shaved 

Red onion, julienned 

Scallions, thinly sliced on the bias or rounds 



Olive oil


Kosher salt

Fresh cracked pepper

White wine vinegar 

Dijon mustard


Lightly oil the zucchini and squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, then grill. (I grill mine at a high temperature very quickly to get grill marks and lightly cook because I like the vegetables to be al dente and still have a little crunch.)

Grill the corn on the cob (but not in husk). Once grilled, cut the corn off the cob.

In a large bowl, place the shaved cabbage, red bell pepper, red onion and scallions.

Once the zucchini, squash and corn are grilled, add those to the bowl with the cabbage, pepper, onion and scallions.

Toss the dressing with vegetables; the grilled vegetables will wilt the fresh vegetables a touch, and it really makes it the perfect contrast. Adjust seasoning to taste. You may like it a hint sweeter, so add more honey. Or, if you like more tang, add more Dijon or vinegar. The flavor is really up to you.