Posted on Thu, April 09, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
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Slow Food USA staffer Deena Goldman was letting her busy work and personal life get in the way of creativity in the kitchen, so she decided to enroll in a cooking techniques class at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health. The institute focuses on health-supportive cooking and educates its students on the importance of local, sustainable food sourcing. Deena interviews her instructor, Peter Berley, to get his take on home cooking becoming the in thing to do. Berley is the author of numerous cookbooks for vegetarians, omnivores and everyone in between, and he has been active in the natural foods movement for more than 25 years.
Q: People are starting to figure out that eating less meat is a green thing to do. What recommendations do you have for the meat lover trying to do right by eating less?
I think the first thing to do is what food choices are available outside the world of meat to look at cuisines that you enjoy and notice what in those cuisines could utilize small amounts or none at all. Italian, Mexican and Indian cuisines all have a lot of really satisfying vegetarian options or dishes where meat is a smaller part of the meal. (ie in Italian: legumes, chickpeas, beans.) Focus on whole grains, pastas, beans and vegetables, cheeses and eggs. Lacto-ovo veg diet can be satisfying. Look at traditional recipes for how to cook beans, how to make soups, and use seasonal vegetables. Go to farmers markets and check out whats growing now. Buy a cookbook and take a cooking class. You have to jump in. The Flexitarian Table finds alternatives to meat-eating within the context of meat. How to use meats but in a smaller portion.
One example of making meat go a long way: a couple of days ago I roasted a chicken, which served as part of a meal for 3. The following day I took the whole carcass, with meat remaining on it, simmered it in a pot with vegetables, then picked the meat off the bone, put in some potatoes and barley. I got 2 really good meals out of 1 chicken. Unless one is philosophically a vegetarian, theres no need to deny yourself meat, but you can eat less of it and still feel satisfied. My book, The Flexitarian Table, has a lot of alternatives to meat-eating within the context of meat how to eat meats but in a small portion, where meat can become a condiment.
Q: What kind of advice would you give people who want to cook (more) but are scared of the kitchen?
Cooking classes are a great way to invest in yourself and your domestic infrastructure. All you need is a good knife, pot and cutting board, and you can make an investment in your own quality of life in a huge way, one that will reflect on your health. Cooking classes show you the techniques. Its kind of like music: you can learn music from records, but hearing music live has a completely different impact on you.
Some people also do well with a cookbook and like to read it through, take some chances, learn on their own and be willing to make some mistakes. A good cookbook will break down the techniques and explain them: a class with demo them: a restaurant will inspire you to the possibility of food. Cooking is a craft and it takes study and practice and the will to do it. Food is such an incredible craft because it fulfills a need you have every day and gives you instant gratification. Its very powerful and more than anything else, it brings people together.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching people how to cook?
I feel satisfied passing on something useful, and I know that if someone is inspired by the class, that persons life will change. Thats exciting to me. I love to cook, and having a class is a chance for me to do that.
Q: Have you seen the demand for cooking classes or home cooking education increase? Are people eating out less?
Im teaching more than ever before, so yes, I think the demand is increasing. People are definitely cooking at home more from what Ive seen in the restaurant reports. When people do eat out, its more simple foods pizza places are opening all over the map. (Check out Serious Eats for more on pizza trends)