This chef can take the heat in the kitchen and in the air

By Catherine Portman-Laux

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Victoria “Vicki” Ingrassia’s email address, wanderingpickle@yahoo.com, reflects her dual careers. In addition to catering under her own name, she offers hot air balloon rides from Randall Airport outside Middletown.

Raised as one of five children, upon graduation from Middletown High School, she enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park to become a chef, receiving an associate degree. The year 2010 saw a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fordham added to her credentials, with a license to teach.

While using her chef skills at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, Ingrassia met up with hot air balloon enthusiasts who landed in the backyard of her rental cottage. She pleaded with them to teach her to operate a hot air balloon.

“I decided to buy my own balloon,” she said. “It is an expensive hobby,” she added, noting that is why she had to convert hobby to career, charging for rides.

“When I asked these men to teach me, they said, ‘If God had wanted girls to fly, he wouldn’t have painted the sky blue.’ I said, ‘Well, thank God we fly in the morning and evening when the sky is pink.’”

The balloon requires four people to get it into operation, involving 1,000 yards of fabric with rainbow design. It measures 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide.

“I have never actually viewed the design except in photos,” Ingrassia said.

“In addition to myself, I can only have four other people who occupy the basket with me,” she said. “Bigger baskets are made, but I enjoy the intimacy of a small basket.”

Her own tender memories are of the flights she took with her grandparents who helped her with the purchase of the balloon.

“There is no steering device on the balloon,” Ingrassia points out. “To change direction, we must drop or elevate the balloon to perhaps catch a wind from a different direction.

“One day an elderly couple approached me for a ride. He was wearing oxygen. When I told him that we could not allow oxygen with a hot flame, he said he didn’t need it. They had a very nice ride.”

Ingrassia said what she loves about balloons is “that they are so serene.”

She usually flies between 500 and 5,000 feet, but she has taken the balloon up as high as 14,500 feet. For the uninitiated, that’s 2.16 miles high.

Landing can be bumpy, she warns passengers. There is no designated landing site — sometimes it’s the backyard of a private home. She once cautioned a young passenger with a broken leg, “It’s all right,” came the reply. “I broke it skydiving.”

Another treasured memory is the flight she arranged for the man from another country who had been living with an American woman and planned to move with her outside of the U.S. During the ride he produced a beautiful engagement ring.

Two individuals whom she has not invited to fly with her are her Old English Sheep dog and her Burmese Mountain dog. They remain content to stay in the house at Cuddebackville and contemplate what their mistress has in store for them for their next meal.

Challenging Careers focuses on the exciting and unusual business lives of Hudson Valley residents. Comments or suggestions may be emailed to Catherine Portman-Laux at cplaux@optonline.net.

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Catherine Portman-Laux

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