Q. Where do you live now? Where are you originally from? A. I live (and grew up) in the Birmingham area, though I spent a number of years in Connecticut, Los Angeles, and then Washington, DC for college and the following years.
Q. Can you tell us about your Le Cordon Bleu experience? When and why did you go to school there? Where were your restaurant internships? A. I had the opportunity to complete an intensive summer culinary and pastry program at Le Cordon Bleu Paris during college. It was a 10-week session, with 8 weeks of classes and then a 2-week internship. It was an incredible experience to not only experience living in Paris, but also to get to put some formal training behind what had always been a love of mine. Two summers later with a couple of months back in Michigan, I interned at Tribute Restaurant in Farmington Hills, under the original executive chef there, Takashi Yagihashi. I somewhat lucked into this fantastic opportunity to work garde manger (the cold appetizer and salad station) at the restaurant which during that time was ranked as one of the top 50 restuarants in the nation by Gourmet magazine.
Q. I know you have come back to cooking after years working in health care. What helped you make this decision? A. Despite having enjoyed my time in culinary school and interning in kitchens, I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to cooking professionally, particularly due to the lifestyle choice of giving up all your nights and weekends! I graduated with a degree in Psychology and worked as a consultant in the health care field (with a focus on how to improve quality of care) for 7 years after school. Ultimately my heart was not in the work though, and while it was a difficult to decision to leave a comfortable career, I decided that it wasn't worth the time and stress for something I didn't feel a strong personal connection to. So I took a bit of time off and eventually found my way back to the kitchen - I'm now working at Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale, and I've found that I get to do something I really enjoy...and I don't have to work the crazy restaurant nights/weekends schedule that I always feared!
Q. What do you like best about teaching in Cooking Matters? A. I really enjoy that we focus on sharing experiences and knowledge with the participants as opposed to just lecturing as if we have all the answers. I always like to talk through how people might tweak recipes to make them more suited to their own tastes, kitchen supplies, etc, and it's a fun way to learn new ideas myself. I think it's important for participants to not be afraid to be creative with the recipes. And I'm 2 for 2 now in classes where a participant suggests that a good addition to the veggie lasagna would be some sausage! It may not be exactly the intent of the focus on eating healthier, but if it's a way for them to cook for themselves and include some vegetables along with it, I figure it's not a bad thing.
Q. Why does cooking matter to you? A. To me cooking is all about connections. You create a connection with someone when you cook for them, bringing them nourishment and enjoyment. When you cook with someone, you're connected in the shared goal of putting a meal on the table. I also enjoy shopping at farmers markets as a way to connect with the people and places my food comes from.
Q. Can you share with us your favorite healthy recipe on a budget? A. I never have a good answer when people ask for a favorite recipe, but here's one I turn to often if I need a quick, filling and super cheap meal: (Editor's note: Allison brought this recipe to class and it is delicious! I personally cannot wait to go home and try it with some potatoes and spinach and of course some hot sauce.)
Curried Lentil Vegetable Stew
Serves 6 1 tbs vegetable oil 2 carrots, diced 1 small-medium onion, diced 2 ribs celery, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1” piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (optional) ½ tsp salt ½ tsp ground black pepper 1 tsp curry powder 1 tsp ground cumin 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes with their juices 1 C lentils (brown, green or red), rinsed and drained 2 ½ C water
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, celery, garlic, ginger, and salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften. Add pepper, curry powder, and ground cumin and sauté for 1 minute or until spices are fragrant (toasting the spices this way brings out more flavor).
Add the tomatoes with their juices, scraping bottom of pan with a spoon to pull up any browned bits. Add lentils and water. Bring mixture to a boil, and then lower heat to low and simmer partially covered (lid cracked open) for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, the lentils will be tender. Depending on which color lentils you use, they may take longer to cook or require more water. Add water by the half cup if mixture becomes too dry during cooking.
Serving suggestions: Spoon lentil stew over cooked rice, brown rice, barley, or quinoa. Top lentil stew with a dollop of plain yogurt and/or a squeeze of lime juice.
Recipe options: Add any other vegetables to the pot that you like along with the onions (for example, bell peppers, zucchini). Use different mixes of spices to give a different flavor – for example, add cayenne pepper or hot sauce for a spicy stew. You can also turn this into a soup by adding more water.