With all the fast foods available for people on the run and convenience foods that require only a few minutes in the microwave, the tradition of home cooking is dwindling. Elizabeth Pearce, who operates Simple Cooking (By appointment, 578-8280), says she wants to change that by teaching people easy techniques that can be used on a variety of quick meals -- right in their home.
Her lesson plans range from the very basics in cooking to preparing more complicated dishes, depending on the desires and capabilities of the customer. Pearce brings with her all the food supplies and tools needed to craft a dinner. Her technique is for the customer, under her guidance, to do all the cooking, but her goal follows along the lines of the old adage that imparts that if you give a man a fish, you've fed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime.
"My focus is teaching people how to cook for themselves," says Pearce, who teaches English composition at the University of New Orleans and writes for Chef Emeril Lagasse's Web site (www.emerils.com). "Everybody is eating out of a box or from a bag in their car at one point or another. We're distancing ourselves from what good food tastes like."
Simple Cooking focuses on reality, spotlighting meals that take about a half-hour to cook. She also helps her students translate a cooking technique into a range of other dishes. She might teach how to cook a chicken breast, which then can become chicken marsala or chicken cacciatore or a host of other dishes. The basic technique of searing tuna can provide a host of entrée options depending on what is served with the fish.
"When I teach them a technique, I'll leave them several recipes that center around that technique," she says. "My focus is to get people away from the frozen and fast food and back to cooking. I've always been really passionate about food; I grew up eating fresh vegetables ... and good meat." She learned to cook from her mother, Carolyn Pearce, but says most people today either never learn to cook or don't feel it's worth the time.
"New Orleans is one of the last bastions of consistently good, home-cooked food -- not just fabulous restaurants, but people cooking for the people they love," she says. "Cooking is an act of love. It's a way we communicate with each other." She also likes to change the way people think about themselves. "When people live alone, they tend to feel like they're not worth the time it takes to cook a meal or that it takes too much time," she says. "We're a nation that's very health conscious. People think nothing about going to the gym four or five times a week, but they don't nourish themselves. I think it's about physically and spiritually nourishing themselves."
It also is about taste, she says. To illustrate, she brings a frozen dinner to her cooking lessons. While everyone is enjoying the meal they just prepared, she gives them a taste of the microwaved dinner. "They're really astonished" that it really doesn't taste good, she says. "I'm not a chef and I'm not a caterer. The kind of cooking I teach is not the kind of cooking you need to go to school for. I believe that knowledge is empowering and that cooking is a skill as much as an art and that the only way you learn a skill is for someone to teach you."
- Simple Cooking proprietor Elizabeth Pearce tries to help people get away from nuking convenience foods and back to wholesome home cooking.