Expert Interview Series: Andrea Miller Of The Chopping Block On The Joy Of Learning To Cook

Cooking can seem daunting, especially for foodies who have refined tastes and an appreciation of the culinary side of life. Even fabulous ornate dishes need not be complicated, even for someone who's never made a dish in their life....

Andrea Miller

Cooking can seem daunting, especially for foodies who have refined tastes and an appreciation of the culinary side of life. Even fabulous ornate dishes need not be complicated, even for someone who's never made a dish in their life.

We talked to Andrea Miller, the chief marketing director of The Chopping Block, about the joy of learning to cook.

One of The Chopping Block's main goals is to understand why people don't cook. What are some of the main reasons you've encountered for people being reluctant to cook?

We've learned over the 18 years we have been teaching people how to cook at The Chopping Block that the major obstacles to cooking at home range from time and budget to energy level or even a hatred of doing dishes. We know life can get in the way, but cooking at home is more healthful and less expensive than eating out - and food brings people together. It's our goal to help home cooks overcome those obstacles to really enjoy cooking.

What are some of your earliest or most formative memories about learning to cook that stuck with you and make you passionate about cooking today?

I always enjoyed entertaining and would use those opportunities to experiment with different foods when I had friends over. That's when I realized I wanted to learn more about cooking and decided to go to culinary school. Today, I'm passionate about understanding where our food comes from and supporting local farmers. We have many opportunities to choose real food over processed food today, from shopping local farmers' markets to joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

One of the main joys of cooking is being able to have the freshest possible food. How would you explain the difference between food made with fresh ingredients versus pre-prepared or frozen ingredients?

Food made with fresh ingredients simply tastes better. Processed foods overuse salt, oil and sugar, and I would rather be in control of those ingredients. Also, if you cook with fresh food within the seasons (meaning you are cooking with ingredients that are available in your area at that time), you are experiencing the best produce that has traveled a minimum distance to get to your dinner table. That's better for the environment as well as your taste buds.

Wolfgang Puck said, "Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors - it's how you combine them that sets you apart." What other art forms does cooking remind you of? And how can the love of cooking help someone feel more creative in their life?

There are many parallels between cooking and music. In fact, most of us probably have music playing whenever we cook. Apple Music even has cooking playlists now!

A recipe is like a sheet of music. You can follow it to the note, or you can experiment and create a new masterpiece by putting your own spin on it. We teach our students that a recipe is simply a guideline, and that once they have a solid understanding of the techniques, they can deviate from the rules and take some creative license with flavors.

What are a few dishes that someone just learning to cook could experiment with to get comfortable and motivate themselves towards trying new recipes?

Start with dishes that incorporate multiple cooking techniques like Chicken Piccata. It's simply a chicken breast dredged in flour, browned and served with a pan sauce of butter, lemon juice, capers and either stock or white wine. But in that one dish, students can learn how to saute, determine meat doneness, make a pan sauce and balance flavors. Once you master a few recipes to have in your cooking repertoire, it will give you confidence to try more.

What are some unexpected ways that learning to cook can impact someone's life?

At The Chopping Block, we firmly believe that food brings people together. Our Owner/Chef Shelley Young always says "Food is a catalyst for friendship." In our classes, our staff interacts with customers like we would with our own families: we swap stories, share recipes and learn together. Food really does create a community; and by learning to cook, you can expand your own community.

How can learning to cook help people without a ton of money still be able to enjoy great food? How can eating great food impact someone's life?

You don't need a big budget to eat well. You can use less expensive cuts of meat and learn how to make them delicious, such as grilled chicken thighs and braised pork shoulder. Integrate inexpensive whole grains and beans that can bulk up meals or even be main dishes themselves.

Learning how to repurpose leftovers is a good kitchen trick if you don't like having the same meals on repeat. Had poached salmon last night? Turn it into a kale salad topping with a citrus vinaigrette the next night!

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