"Giving back to the community through Cooking Matters has been the most rewarding thing I have done throughout my culinary career."
Like many chefs and cooks, A'Donna Fuller's love of cooking was inspired by her mom. Now a personal chef, A'Donna finds joy in cooking for others.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I spent most of my childhood in Detroit. I went to college in Columbus, Ohio. I eventually ended up in the Ypsi/Ann Arbor area.I got my feet wet in formal culinary training at Washtenaw Community College although most of my professional training came from studying Culinary Management (Art Institute in Novi). I still take continuing education classes taught by leading industry experts at Schoolcraft College and anywhere else I can find culinary classes.
I spent my entire childhood watching my mother take great pride in planning and cooking family meals, host fabulous dinner parties, and even cater for some celebrities. When I had the wild idea to go vegetarian as a teenager, my mom gladly took on the challenge of making 2 meals every night - one meal for my father and siblings and a hearty and fresh meat-free option for me. She was so creative, I was never bored with her take on vegetarian meals and couldn't wait to get home just to see what she would come up with next!
How and why did you end up pursuing a career as a personal chef?
There was nothing I loved more than watching my mom meticulously plate meals and plan dinners as a kid. She took great pride in cooking and presenting meals like it was a sport. Watching her developed my obsession with cooking, food science, and planning menus for parties.
I was first introduced to the idea of becoming a personal chef through an article I read long before I ever took my first culinary class. I found all the information I could find about the personal chef industry and decided to give it a try. Years later I joined the American Personal & Private Chef Association - they give me all the training I need for the personal chef aspect of culinary arts. I have always enjoyed helping people and cooking, so being a personal chef was a perfect fit. After hearing about the burnout chefs often experience in commercial kitchens, I could not stand the thought of stepping into a commercial kitchen. This is when I ultimately decided to make my way into the private sector.
Tell us about your business. What do you specialize in?
Bella Donna Cooks! is a personal chef business that helps families and individuals that are too busy to cook, don't know how to cook, or have recently been diagnosed with a health condition prompting them to make immediate changes to their diets. Even though I love to cook everything, I specialize in vegan, diabetic, low carb, and petite pastry options. Although my primary line of work is as a personal chef, I also teach culinary classes, do cooking demos, do social catering for intimate events and host cupcake decorating parties for kids and adults. If it's in the culinary arena, I will do it!
Why did you start volunteering for Cooking Matters?
I thought it was the most amazing idea that a structured program like Cooking Matters existed. I feel it is imperative to make sure everyone knows about healthy eating on a budget. Even though I own and operate a business that does just that, I honestly find it hard to associate a fee with helping people to eat healthy! I am so happy to have the opportunity to pass on the knowledge of healthy, quick, fresh, and budget-friendly meals through Cooking Matters. Giving back to the community through Cooking Matters has been the most rewarding thing I have done throughout my culinary career.
What has been a highlight from class for you? Please give a specific example.
First Dorothy, Vani, and the volunteers that I have worked with are amazing! They are supportive and trust my opinions.
The biggest highlight from the last (Cooking Matters for Adults) class (at Go-Getters) was during frittata week. Once I saw the puzzled looks on the students' faces when I announced the recipe name - I asked the students to think of a quiche and an omelette having a baby. Most said "Oh, I get it!" ....then a slightly different response, a student quipped "I don't eat eggs!"....I asked her why and she just couldn't give me a "good answer." I put her in charge of cracking all 12 eggs, helping to season the egg mixture, and when the frittata was done, I personally served her first and said "Just try it." I went to the back and started washing dishes. I came back out and guess what? Her plate was empty! I asked her what happened to her frittata, she said "I ate it, and it was good...this is something I could see myself making for me and my family!" I was so excited that she even tried it, but the fact that she was willing to duplicate the recipe at home and started asking questions about other ingredients she could put in it? I was floored! It is incredible to be able to introduce new concepts, foods, and techniques that people so often overlook.
What is your favorite aspect of being a chef?
I love researching recipes and shopping in unconventional places for unique ingredients. I really like introducing new foods to people. Especially foods that people think are "too healthy" to possibly be good! I live for the moment when my dish is served, and I get to see their faces light up after eating a dish that I made.
You have a knack for budgeting. What are your top tips for cooking healthy on a budget?
The biggest tip is to be prepared!
#1- Plan your meals for two weeks at a time if at all possible. This gives you the opportunity to share as many ingredients across as many dishes as possible. Plus I see way too many people only buying their groceries for 1-2 days at a time. Not only is it a time killer, but you tend to overspend this way.
#2 - Keep staples on hand (seasonings, canned goods, frozen vegetables/fruits, even having some frozen meats). These staples will almost always complement your meals, so when you make your grocery list - you will not have to buy nearly as much. Stock up on fresh fruits and veggies when they are on sale, bring them home and cut up what you think you may not use within 3 days, and pop them in the freezer in small portions. If packaged properly, they will last for months - reducing your grocery bill over time. You can use them for healthy desserts, smoothies, soups, stews, and sauces.
#3 - Last but not least, do not throw away extra food or let any food spoil if you can help it - you can do this by re-purposing food that is from leftovers. Did you shred too much chicken for your chicken tortilla soup? Freeze the extra chicken and pull it out later in the week to make chicken wraps, chicken salads, or chicken enchiladas.
When you're not cooking, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to go to the local museums and check out new exhibits and will often find a new restaurant in the area to try right after visiting the museum. I love to listen to smooth jazz and Stevie Wonder!
Finally, can you share with us your favorite budget-friendly, healthy recipe?
Here is my favorite vegetarian recipe that I submitted to a vegetarian website - around $4.75/recipe!
Awesome Angel Hair
1/2 pound angel hair pasta (whole wheat or Dreamfields low carb brand)
kosher coarse sea salt, for pasta water
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 (8 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
2 cups frozen or fresh broccoli
1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained (no salt added)
*optional - fresh parmesan to sprinkle on top
1. Prepare the angel hair according to box directions. While the pasta is boiling, prepare the sauce. In a saucepan or wok, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to low and add the garlic to the pan, and saute for 2 minutes.
2. Add the dried seasonings to the pan. Drain the pasta and slowly add the pasta into the olive oil mixture, stirring after each addition (this is to make sure the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce).
3. After all the pasta has been added, toss in the chickpeas, tomatoes, and broccoli. Toss until well combined and the broccoli is heated through, plate and serve!