Chef Ella Dudek, a native of Northwest Ohio, began cooking at 8 years old. What started as a necessity for a family of six became a passion that has taken a wild roller-coaster ride all over the country cooking for well known celebrities and backstage crews.
Now, back home in Northwest Ohio, she has launched Backstage Eats & Drinks with her friend and cocktail aficionado Jen Dorfmeyer. The menu consists of the dishes that Dudek has made her own and that she served to Hollywood’s stars. Dudek’s motto is “Food Brings People Together” and she has spent her career spreading that message.
A Life of Blessings
Dudek got her start at 17 years old when she was hired as security staff for an REO Speedwagon at Toledo’s then Centennial Hall. From that experience, she met and befriended the owner of a catering company who put her to work backstage. After learning the ropes, Dudek decided to move forward with her own company. “She told me to start my own business, so that’s what I did –– and I took off running,” Dudek explains.
Dudek’s love of food has taken her from cooking backstage at shows in Detroit for Madonna and others to working as the main chef on the set of American Idol. She attributes her success to receiving blessings and following the path that the universe sets for her. “By following the path, I didn’t need to be culinarily trained, classically trained,” Dudek says, adding, “I’ve worked with some of the best chefs in the world.”
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Dudek’s culinary journey has had her cook for Billy Joel, Bob Seger and countless other stars. The bands she worked for backstage became so fond of her cooking that they would often request her specifically for future shows so they could enjoy her wholesome home-cooked food. “I cook comfort food to another level,” Dudek said. “My food is rustic and I want people to feel like they’re at their grandma’s house when they eat my food.”
When the world was upended in recent years, cooking on set became a difficult task, so Dudek and her wife moved back home to Toledo, Ohio and launched a youtube channel. “Eats with Ella” shares recipes and cooking instruction videos. After gaining popularity and settling down in the area, she decided to open a restaurant to showcase her passion for food.
Stories Behind the Menu
The menu for Backstage Eats and Drinks is divided into categories named for music show themes. The appetizers, coined as “Opening Acts,” the entrees as “Headliners” and the desserts as “Encores” are replete with the recipes Chef Dudek has perfected over years of serving food backstage. Slammin Salmon is an entree with Dudek’s take on salmon prepared in a buffalo style. It was originally called Buffalo Salmon until Lenny Kravitz’s drummer at the time was so impressed by it that he insisted the dish be called Slammin Salmon. The name stuck and the entree became a favorite for Pearl Jam and later Adam Levine.
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Chef Dudek celebrates her Polish heritage on the menu with Malczewski Polish Wedding Chicken, prepared using a broaster fryer. The dish runs deep in Polish culture. Named after a well-known Polish family in Toledo, the Malczewskis ran a catering company making classic Polish dishes. The chicken is made using their signature seasonings. Dudek knew the recipe had to be served in her restaurant despite its lengthy cooking process.
The love of Polish culture can also be seen in the restaurant on Thursdays when a polka band comes to play. “People are dancing through the bar and Polka-ing in the dining room,” Dudek explains. “It’s amazing to me because that’s how I grew up. Polka music, good food and a party.”
Other noteworthy menu offerings include Daryl Hall Chicken Piccata, named after the member of Hall and Oates, Smack Your Momma Mac & Cheese and Jenifer’s Chocolate Cake.
Chef Dudek shares an important lesson she has learned over the course of her career: “The one thing I could say to someone about how I lived my life is to never burn a bridge,” Dudek said. “Because you’ll never know when you need someone.”
Knowing people and working her way up in the world has allowed Dudek to lead a pretty incredible life, and you can get a taste of it at Backstage Eats & Drinks.
Backstage Eats & Drinks. 5680 Mayberry Square N. 419-517-1033. www.backstageeatsanddrinks.com.