Elka Gilmore was born in Texas and came from a dysfunctional family. At age 11 she started as a dishwasher at a French Café called Camille’s in Austin, Texas to raise money in order to run away from home.
In 1977 at age 16, living with her grandmother in Madison, Wisconsin, she cooked before and after school, and even cooked in the cafeteria at the University of Wisconsin while taking courses. She took a job at L’ETOILE on the Square as a prep cook, and when the chef walked out, she was promoted.
When she hit 18, she moved first to Boston and then New York City and realized that despite her success, she needed to learn from more experienced chefs. She traveled to Europe, including La Colombe d’Or and Cotignac in Provence, south of France, working as an apprentice/commis under several chefs, before returning to the U.S. and moving to Los Angeles in 1982.
She worked as executive chef in six different restaurants until 1991, when she became the executive chef at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco. The owners named the restaurant Elka after her. The Great Chefs team caught up with her in 1994 to tape her for their Discovery Channel’s Great Chefs – Great Cities television series.
Chef Elka returned to New York City in 1995 for two years to open the Omni Berkshire Place Hotel and their Kokachin Restaurant, before returning to San Francisco to open her Oodles bistro in 1998.
Sadly, Elka Gilmore passed away in July of 2019. She suffered cardiac arrest due to ongoing medical conditions. Creating beautiful, delicious, often playful food was Elka’s natural genius. Her hospitable nature was infectious, and she is remembered with great fondness.