039 – Martha Stafford, The Charlottesville Cooking School
The Work of Teaching Cooking. Since 2008, Martha Stafford of The Charlottesville Cooking School has been guiding folks in her beautiful kitchen in the Meadowbrook Shopping Centre to become more confident in the foods they prepare.
Why a cooking school? From a young age Martha wanted to teach. And from a very young age she was always cooking. The atmosphere of cooking classes, the energy it creates, with everybody participating and not just sitting around watching, becomes a communal experience. And after everyone sits down and eats together of the food they prepared? It becomes something much more.
Martha wants to help people find a sense of joy in food preparation. How to appreciate the experience in and of itself and not just as a way to get to the next activity in your day. Especially for folks who grew up not having big family dinners. She believes cooking simply, but cooking well, involves way more than, “Set it and forget it,” to quote a well-known TV personality. It involves being in the moment, being present. Taking the time to do it well instead of speeding ahead to the next thing. Not only does that keep you from cutting yourself but it can create a bit of peace within your day. Mindfulness in cooking. Cooking as a peace exercise instead of a chore to get through. Plus, if you cook food well, if it tastes really good, you feel satiated. This is true for something as simple as zucchini. By cooking everything well (not well-done, but WELL), you don’t have to limit yourself. Dieting becomes obsolete.
Martha realized this early on at Peter Kump’s Cooking School in New York, now the Institute of Culinary Education, where she paid for tuition by washing dishes and scrubbing floors. After her training, she spent time in numerous restaurants before traveling to Charlottesville with her husband Phillip, one of the founders of C&O Restaurant.
At the school Martha uses seasonal ingredients and local and organic as much as she can. Her instructors have all been professionally trained. This is important because at The Charlottesville Cooking School you will find the same curriculum you would find in any professional school. This isn’t a quick, “home cooking” course but a thorough one based on classic French methods and techniques you could take and use in any kitchen. Leagues away from watching YouTube videos or learning from books because in her kitchen you train using all five senses. Hearing the onions when they’re near doneness, feeling the pasta dough, smelling the cake baking. Learning by doing is the best kind of learning.
There are classes for nervous cooks, kids and teens, and any folks interested in acquiring skills with knives, breadmaking, cakes, pies, and just about any cuisine you can think of. Her Asian classes sell out regularly. Did you know Martha offers team building activities for companies? Instead of doing a boring day-long retreat, offices can come and cook together, then share what they’ve created. Team building by cooking a project cooperatively. What a concept! And I bet you can guess which individual in the office always wants to man the grill…
In addition to the school, Martha has worked with The Virginia Festival of the Book since 2009. She’s been instrumental in increasing the number of food-related book events at the festival and this past March both her cooking demonstrations and panel with organic chef Nora Pouillon, who I interviewed for this podcast, were very well attended. How can we makes the crowds more diverse? How can we attract more people from the food community? We talk about that.
Martha has also worked with Charlottesville City Schools to begin revamping school lunches by meeting with dietitians and the head of school services to teach knife skills, develop recipes, and offer support to create a centralized kitchen. Her black bean and brown rice taco was scooped up by students who loved it so much they were licking the plates clean. Let’s hope the work she began continues. Because ketchup isn’t a vegetable.
Why is her Healing Your Relationship To Food class so popular? How does she encourage nervous cooks? Why did one student call her school “Heaven’s Kitchen”? What are her thoughts on food services like Blue Apron? We talk about it all. Her passion and dedication to teaching the essentials in the kitchen come through so clearly in this conversation and I loved talking with her. Enjoy!
SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:
- Chili Cookoff to benefit Service Dogs of VA – I’ll be a judge. Pray for me! ?
- Business of Food Conference Homepage
- The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions
- Finding Yourself in the Kitchen – Learning to be in the moment while cooking instead of speeding through it onto the next thing.
- Elizabeth Andoh – The leading English-language expert on Japanese cuisine.
- Fraisier Cake!
- The Unwanted Job – Chef Chris Hill outlines why the dishwasher is the unsung hero of any restaurant.
This episode is sponsored by In A Flash Laser Engraving.
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