Somehow, even as you watch 33-year-old Megan Loos whip up a sophisticated dish in the kitchen of Hamilton’s Grill Room in Lambertville, N.J., you can almost picture the 5-year-old version of her covered in dirt in the backyard of her childhood home making mud pies in muffin tins. You can imagine that precocious little girl slathering yogurt and mayo onto full loaves of bread to make stacks of inedible sandwiches, her parents covering their mouths to hide their laughter. She was a picky eater, but she’d watch Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet with rapt attention in between episodes of Sesame Street, and stand on a little stepstool as her parents’ sous chef while they made dinner.

Loos went to Penn State for photography, despite her early passion for culinary arts. But after her freshman year, she had a revelation. “It dawned on me that I was meant to be in the kitchen; it was my comfort zone,” Loos says. “I had never worked in a professional kitchen, so I decided to go up to the New England Culinary School in Vermont.” After school, she worked for a well-known catering business in Florida for a year before she returned to the Philadelphia area. At 22, she got a job at Stephanie’s in Doylestown, Pa., before becoming a sous chef at Triumph Brewing Company in New Hope, Pa.

But her big opportunity came in 2011, when she worked for Dish Catering in Frenchtown, N.J. Recalls Loos, “I got hooked up with a job at Hamilton’s, and I started making staff meals—feasts—with Jim Hamilton [the owner of Hamilton’s Grill] on Saturdays, and we became pretty close. He’s 85, and he’s demanding and particular—but we just connected.”

Loos brings a joy to cooking that you wish you could bottle and bring to your accounting job or your HR department. Her face splits into a warm smile when she talks about anything pertaining to food, cooking, and even restaurants. Her New Hope apartment is littered with cookbooks and culinary magazines—she loves beautiful photographs of food almost as much as the food itself. “Saveur. Bon Appetite. I have scraps of magazines everywhere. I look like a crazy person,” Loos says. “But I use these bits of inspiration to create my own recipes, even just a color scheme from a photograph. Writing menus is my favorite thing in the world.”

As sous chef at Hamilton’s Grill, Loos has had the chance to run the kitchen during lunches from April through October for the past 4 years, changing her menu every few weeks and priding herself on crafting dishes you can’t order at other restaurants in Lambertville or New Hope.

But while she loves what she does at Hamilton’s, Loos found her home in the kitchen. “If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, then you have no idea what is happening behind the scenes,” Loos says. “The kitchen is chaos. It’s adrenaline. I love the rush. It’s a dance in the kitchen that comes naturally to me, and it’s so gratifying at the end of the day.”

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