Cooking Up Confidence

When I found out last year that the Sustainable Food Center was offering public cooking classes in their new training center close to my home, I was ecstatic. I had been looking for cooking classes that were practical and affordable. Also, many years ago after taking one of their gardening classes, I had purchased their cookbook featuring seasonal recipes—many of which have become staple meals in my home. Because I really liked the cookbook and had a good experience in the gardening class, I was excited to register in a Happy Kitchen class. I was even more encouraged when I learned that the proceeds from the class would support free cooking classes for families in need.

I must confess, however, that one of the main reasons I enrolled in cooking classes is that I really don’t like to cook, and I thought that I might learn some time-saving techniques that would make cooking more bearable. Although cooking is stressful, time-consuming, and monotonous to me, I have made it a priority for budgetary and health reasons. When my daughter was born three years ago, cooking became even more stressful and harder to manage, but I became more committed to cooking because it allowed me to introduce a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and grains to her—something that can be hard to do when eating out, especially on a budget.

My first cooking class in the Happy Kitchen delivered as I hoped: I took the knife skills class, and it gave me some great time-saving skills and tricks to use in the kitchen, such as how to efficiently dice an onion and how to properly handle knifes. The class also reacquainted me with the Sustainable Food Center’s mission and work in our community: to help grow, share, and prepare local produce. I began to see how cooking was much bigger than me and my needs. What food I purchased, where it came from, how I used and consumed it directly impacted the community.

Impressed by the knife skills class, I decided to enroll in more Happy Kitchen classes. What I found in the first class I took has been true in all seven classes that I have since taken: cooking is not just about me, it’s about our community. In every class I took, the instructors encouraged students to think about preparing meals that are, as they say, “delicious, nutritious, seasonal and affordable, ensuring lasting dietary changes.” Yes, they provide tried-and-true cooking techniques, but they also offer tips on how to eat seasonally; how to waste less; and how to get a bigger bang out of your buck—basically, how to cook more sustainably.

When I began my journey with the Sustainable Food Center, I was mainly focused on my needs, but as I continued to take more classes with them, my whole approach to cooking shifted. I became much more aware of how the choices I make in the kitchen impact not only my family, but also my community. I also began to see that building my confidence in the kitchen was a step toward making cooking a more enjoyable process. I had been in “recipe jail” where I felt trapped by a list of ingredients. This past weekend, for example, I decided not to follow a recipe because if I did, I would miss the opportunity to enhance the flavor of an onion I was cooking. A very similar incident happened in a Happy Kitchen class, and I could hear the instructor in my head saying, “Why miss the opportunity to enhance the flavor?”

The classes I’ve taken at the Sustainable Food Center have given me the confidence to go off the beaten path and, as a result, have made cooking more adventurous and fun for me. They have also helped me make better choices for me, my family, and, ultimately, for my community. I am glad that I reached out to the Sustainable Food Center, and I deeply appreciate the difference they have made in my life, as well as in Greater Austin. I’m planning to enroll in more classes, and I encourage you to join me in one this spring!

For more information on Kitchen Fundamentals Classes and more, click here.