Recipes From Dancers Who Are as Comfortable in the Kitchen as They Are Onstage

January 4, 2018

Tons of dancers bring their creativity from the studio to the kitchen—because we’ve all gotta eat! But a few take their cooking chops even farther, often preparing meals for friends and fellow dancers. We asked four dancers/amateur chefs for their favorite recipes.

Daniela Funicello

Elisa Monte Dance Company

Daniela Funicello (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Elise Monte Dance Project)

Funicello, who’s Italian-American, says that some of her favorite memories involve cooking with relatives. She even dreams about opening her own restaurant someday. This special sauce-and-meatball recipe was passed down from her grandmother’s grandmother.

Donna’s Meatballs and Sauce

Donna’s meatballs and sauce (courtesy Daniela Funicello)

(Makes 12 to 14 meatballs)

For the meatballs:

1 lb. ground beef (90 percent lean/10 percent fat suggested)

3/4 cup dry seasoned bread crumbs

1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, sliced

For the sauce:

1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. sugar

Italian seasoning, to taste

red pepper flakes, to taste

1 can (28 oz.) tomato purée

5 large pieces torn fresh Italian basil

Mix the first 8 meatball ingredients by hand until the mixture feels dry. (If it’s too wet, add more bread crumbs.) Form into balls, packing tightly so the meatballs don’t fall apart.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs.

As they begin to brown, add fresh garlic slices. Turn the meatballs frequently so

all sides brown evenly. Don’t worry if the meatballs aren’t cooked through yet.

Once the meatballs are browned, add the crushed tomatoes, plus 1/2 can of water. Mix in salt, black pepper, sugar, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Turn down heat to low, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add the tomato purée. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Before serving with pasta (or alone!), add the fresh basil.

Patricia Zhou

L.A. Dance Project

Patricia Zhou (center) performing with L.A. Dance Project (photo by Sandy Korzekwa, courtesy L.A. Dance Project)

Zhou, a former Dance Spirit Cover Model Search finalist, is passionate about cooking. She keeps a blog, The Ballerina Chef, on which she shares recipes and cooking tips. When preparing this salad, Zhou says, don’t worry if the onion slices seem too big or thick—they’ll cook down during the caramelization process.

Carmelized-Onion Salad

Carmelized-onion salad (courtesy Patricia Zhou)

(Serves 2)

For the dressing:

1 1/2 tbsps. tahini

juice of 1/4 lemon


1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the tahini and lemon juice. Add water one tablespoon at a time to create a loose dressing. Add smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper.

For the salad:

2 medium yellow onions, halved

and sliced

1 tbsp. olive oil

pinch of salt

1 medium sweet potato, cubed

salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup peas

1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped,

for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the onions have browned and softened, stirring occasionally.

While the onions are cooking, put the sweet potato cubes on a large roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper. Don’t crowd the cubes—they need space to roast properly. Place the tray on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the potatoes at the 15-minute mark. Turn on the broiler and move the tray to a high rack. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, making sure the sweet potatoes don’t burn. Turn off the heat.

Add the caramelized onions and roasted sweet potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Using the same roasting tray you used for the potatoes, toast the chopped walnuts in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes in the oven’s residual heat.

Add peas, parsley, and walnuts to the bowl of onions and sweet potato, and toss together. To serve, place the veggie mixture on a plate and drizzle with the tahini dressing. Garnish with a few parsley leaves.

Ayodele Casel

Tap dancer and choreographer

Ayodele Casel (photo by Michael Higgins, courtesy Casel)

This rice and beans recipe was passed down from Casel’s mother, Aida, who lives in Puerto Rico. It’s perfect for a quick yet tasty meal on weeknights; the preparation is easy, while the flavor packs a punch.

Aida’s Beans & Rice


(Serves 4)

For the beans:

1 tsp. vegetable oil

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

4 garlic cloves, pressed

1 packet Goya’s Sazón

1 can (16 oz.) red kidney beans

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup tomato sauce (optional)

1 cup diced pumpkin or potato

salt, to taste

Heat oil in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. Add cilantro, garlic, and Sazón. Stir until fragrant, being careful not to let the spices burn. Add beans, water, tomato sauce, and pumpkin (or potato). Cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat back to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and the potatoes are fully cooked. Stir occasionally to prevent beans from sticking to the bottom. Add salt to taste.

For the rice:

3 1/2 cups water

1 tbs. kosher salt

1 tbs. vegetable oil

2 cups rice, Carolina long grain preferred

In a medium saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. Add rice and lower heat to medium. When rice has absorbed most of the water—you should see bubbling—add the oil and stir. Turn the heat down to low and place a paper towel over the pan. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Kyle Davis

Soloist, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Kyle Davis in Kiyon Gaines’ “Sum Stravinsky” (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet)

Davis first started cooking regularly when he moved to Seattle, and soon realized it was something that helped him relax. “I love having friends over to cook for,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll invite people over so I can cook multiple dishes—mostly because I want to eat multiple dishes.” He was whipping up a smoked salmon dip for a dinner party when inspiration struck: Why not turn the dip into bite-size treats? He likes to pair the indulgent croquettes with something healthy, like a light beet salad.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Croquettes

Smoked salmon and cream cheese croquettes (courtesy Kyle Davis)

(Yields 8–10 croquettes)

1/4 lb. alderwood-smoked salmon

4 oz. cream cheese

1/4 cup chopped scallions

Tabasco, to taste

1 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup panko bread crumbs

salt and pepper, to taste

canola oil, for frying

Break the smoked salmon into small pieces and place them in a mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese and scallions, and mix until smooth. Add a few dashes of Tabasco to taste, and mix well.

In three separate bowls, place half of the flour, half the bread crumbs, and the eggs. Season the flour and bread crumbs with salt and pepper.

Using a small cookie scoop,

shape the cream-cheese mix into balls. One by one, roll the balls in the flour, followed by the egg, and then the bread crumbs. Add more flour and bread crumbs to the bowls as needed.

Heat several tablespoons of oil in a large pan over medium- to medium-high heat. (You’ll want a few inches of oil covering the pan.) Once the oil is hot, add the croquettes and fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently roll the croquettes over and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes, until all sides are golden brown. Transfer the finished croquettes to a plate and let them rest for a few minutes before serving.