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April 10, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Where are they now: Chef Barbara Figueroa

File photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

File photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Barbara Figueroa was one of the “first female superstar chefs” of Seattle in the 1980s and 1990s, making her name at the Hunt Club at the Sorrento Hotel with her “dazzling” culinary artistry and “formidable talent.” She ran her own well-regarded but short-lived restaurant, B. Figueroa, then went on to consult on various restaurant projects, to work with non-profit organizations, to teach culinary students, and to become director of food and beverage at the Warwick Hotel. She won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest in 1992.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen her name, though, making me especially curious when a reader asked where she might be. The answer, for our occasional “Where Are They Now” series? Figueroa is an entirely different world — and she’s very happy there. Shortly after leaving the Warwick in 2002, she wrote, she made a career change. Newly married, with her husband “an unwavering source of support and encouragement,” she went back to college, with an eye on graduate work in psychology, which she had found hugely fascinating in her earlier studies.

“One thing led to another, and I eventually found myself enrolled in the doctoral program in counseling psychology at the University of Kansas. It was only last year that I graduated, and I’m currently in the midst of my postdoctoral residency at the Center for Behavioral Medicine in Kansas City, Missouri,” she wrote.

“The personal reward of helping a patient regain hope where there was none and achieve goals that once seemed out of reach is indescribable. No matter what the day brings, such moments make it all worthwhile.”

But wait, what about the world of restaurants and public acclaim? 

“Cooking is a leisure time activity nowadays, and I do enjoy entertaining at our home (sometimes for no good reason other than to enjoy fellowship at the table). If anyone is intent on finding my food…well, we do have guest rooms!” 

I told Figueroa she’d be surprised how many people might look her up when passing through Kansas City. And meanwhile, if you’d like an update on any other chefs, do leave a note in the comments.

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