As a child, Rohani Foulkes would go to the farmers market with her family, $5 in hand and a curious mind. She says she and her brother would be free to walk around and buy whatever they wanted. "I distinctly remember loving that place, the smells, the vendors and all of their produce and I especially loved the smell of our home when we’d unpack our bounty of things such as fresh cilantro, basil and lemonade fruit home," says Rohani.
Her love of cooking, sharing and eating is apparent as she teaches a group of women at St. John Riverview Senior Wellness Center, where she is volunteering for a Cooking Matters for Adults class.
The chef and teacher answered a few questions for us about her plans and her thoughts on her new hometown, Detroit.
You came to Michigan from Australia. Are you originally from there? Can you take us through your journey from Down Under to the Great Lakes State?
A snowball fight brought me here actually. I met my now husband in 2010 when I came out to the U.S. to work with the United Nations, Education outreach division in New York City. I initially lived in a little studio in Chelsea then thanks to a chance encounter moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was out with a friend one night and while walking down Bedford Avenue copped a snowball and that’s how we met. So, after two years of flying 10,000 miles at 24 hours every few months we finally decided to settle on his hometown here in Detroit.
Now that you are a Michiganian, what are your plans, career wise? Do you have plans to open a restaurant or some other type of food-related business? I think that no matter where you are in the world it’s important to understand that place in that time and I think that Detroit needs skilled people willing to share skills and empower others to do good things and in turn contribute to their community. Something I’ve quickly come to understand about Detroit are the very many community members enthusiastically working to rejuvenate the city and empower its people. Something interestingly organic to Detroit is the greening and urban farming movement and I’d love to learn as much as I can about this. I'm a chef by trade and more recently a high school teacher and I’d like to combine these skills, working in collaboration with other local organizations/businesses to offer vocational training in my own kitchen someday.
How and when did you get interested in cooking? I have ALWAYS been interested in cooking, it was the first and only thing I wanted to do for the first two decades of my life and I still love it. When I was little my mother would take my little brother and I to the local farmers markets every weekend. We would be given a grand total of $5 each and be free to stroll around and buy what ever we liked. I distinctly remember loving that place, the smells, the vendors and all of their produce and I especially loved the smell of our home when we’d unpack our bounty of things such as fresh cilantro, basil and lemonade fruit home. I love markets, I love food, I love cooking, eating and sharing.
What is your education and experience in the culinary arts? I started out by making little treats for my family and moved into a full-blown trade apprenticeship when I was 15. I worked at a number of restaurants, hotels and cafes but probably the most fun was a resort island in the Great Barrier Reef off the north coast of Australia. Probably the most confronting thing I ever came across in a cookery sense was seeing an enormous sea turtle and Dugong (I believe you call Manatee) being slaughtered for a ceremonial feast in the Torres Strait Islands, an indigenous tribe off the very tip of Australia, which is where my mother is from.
Why did you decide to volunteer for Cooking Matters? That’s a pretty simple answer, because I can. As I mentioned prior, I think it’s vital in any situation to contribute, I have skills to share and the time to offer and from what I understand that’s as good as gold in this situation. As a newbie to the city I also think it’s important to get out and about and involved with the community you’re a part of.
Is there a specific moment or highlight from a class you have done so far that is most memorable to you? The women who make up the class at St John’ Riverview Senior Wellness Center … have been lighting up my Wednesdays for the past 5 weeks. They’re genuinely interested and engaged in what they’ve signed up for and they bring a lot of life and laughs to the lessons.
(Also,) the first time I saw Dorothy so swiftly yet meticulously pack her boxes and bags of equipment and the day that (class assistant) Gaurang (Garg) attempted to do the same, hilarious times!
When you are not cooking, what are your other interests? Hilarious times!
Can you share with us your favorite healthy, budget-friendly recipe with us? I love this recipe, I created it for the no/reduced salt class, it’s easy, it's tasty and just as good as leftovers!
Chicken Dumpling soup Total Time: 30 min Yield: 4 to 6 servings (about 60 mini meatballs) Ingredients Soup • 2 to 3 tablespoons cooking oil • 1 large onion, diced • 2 carrots, diced • 1/2 stalk celery, diced • 4 to 6 cups chicken broth • 1 cup fresh cut green beans • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley • 2 bay leaves
Dumplings • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten • 1 tablespoon 2% or skim milk • 1 tablespoon ketchup • 3/4 cup grated Romano • 2 teaspoons of no salt seasoning • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper • 1 pound ground chicken
Directions 1. In a medium bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the chicken and gently stir to combine. 2. Using teaspoon measure and form the chicken mixture, with damp hands, roll the chicken pieces into mini meatballs. 3. In a small amount of cooking oil, working in batches, add the meatballs and cook without moving until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn the meatballs over and brown the other side, about 2 minutes longer. 4. Meanwhile, in another skillet, using a small amount of cooking oil, sweat the onion, carrots and celery. Add chicken, broth, green beans, celery salt, parsley and bay leaves and bring to a boil. 5. Add the meatballs to the soup base and serve.
No Salt Seasoning Total Time: 5 min Yield: Approx 1 Cup or 16 servings for seasoning Ingredients
5 teaspoons onion powder (or flakes depending on added salt in certain brands)
1 tablespoon garlic powder (or flakes depending on added salt in certain brands)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed (powdered if possible)
Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a shaker top. Use for seasoning broiled fish, poultry, cooked vegetables, soup and stews, or place it on the table to be used individually.