Cooking and Teaching with a Social Purpose

French cooking and culture zucchini and goat cheese verrines


Last week was extraordinary

It began ten years ago, when Evelyn Isaia and her daughter, Camilla, came to a week-long cooking class I was teaching in Paris. By weeks’ end we were friends and over the years we’ve kept in close touch; I taught a class at her home in Miami, and when she and her husband Daniel moved to New York, we would meet there whenever I was in town.

Three years ago we touched base over coffee and marveled at how life was unfolding, and how each of us felt on the brink of change.  Describing our dreams for the future, we found them nearly identical: we wanted each to broaden our scope, use our skills to help women and others for the greater good.

Fast forward to last week.  If one can fast forward to the past.

Evelyn and me
French potatoes with aioli
Potatoes with aioli


Evelyn is now part-owner, with Chef Hong Thaimee (Ngaim restaurant, New York) of Ratatouille and Company, an elegant catering concern with a social purpose, focusing on immigrant women.  I am in the process of creating a program to help immigrant and refugee women in Europe.   Evelyn now lives in Connecticut where she is socially involved with everything that concerns women, immigrants, and business.  She invited me to to teach a French cooking and culture class for building one community, The Center for Immigrant Opportunity, as well as prepare a fund raising meal for the Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut, for which she is a board member.  It was our first “social” collaboration.

French potatoes with aioli
Potatoes with aioli
French radishes with butter, bread, salt
Radishes, butter, bread, salt

It is times like this when I pinch myself to think how lucky I am to have such a “job”.  Who else, I think, leaves Paris to fly to New York then, within eight hours of landing is sorting through gorgeous vegetables at a local farmers’ market, in this case, the one in New Canaan, Connecticut.   As at any farmers’ market, I always feel like I’ve found the Crown Jewels in the bunches of freshly harvest microgreens, the shiny, firm zucchini, the most, fresh goat cheese, the huge bunches of basil.

The day of the class dawned with me doing mise-en-place, measuring, organizing, making sure that when my students walked in the kitchen, I was ready.  They did, and I was, and as I took them through several tastings I could see that not only were they hard workers, but they were hungry – for knowledge, information, anything that I could give them.  We worked solid for three hours, preparing appetizers for a cocktail party destined for the Board of Directors and other local influencers.

building one community with French cooking and culture
Building one community


I’m not sure when I’ve run so fast, laughed so hard, nor watched people help each other in the kitchen so much as we all worked towards our 7 p.m. goal. Teaching is always wonderful, but teaching individuals with huge dreams and watching them vibrate with excitement and passion is like adding Piment d’Espelette to a dish: everything starts to sing. The cocktail party was a masterful success, thanks to a fabulous group.

French pea soup as part of French cooking and culture with Indira and Gabi
Indira and Gabi serving pea soup

As for the fund-raiser, well I learned something I already know. It takes a village, which in Connecticut included two talented Culinary Institute of America (CIA Hyde Park) students, Indira Holder and Gabriella Calabrese. With smiles and focus they lined fifty small molds with blanched zucchini strips, plucked cup after cup of cilantro leaves, whisked cream, sliced berries, melted chocolate with butter, and once one job was finished, they were looking for the next thing to do.  After two intense days of work in the kitchen, we served the following menu:


New Potatoes with Aioli
Savory Parsley and Ham Cake
Radishes with Butter, Bread, Fleur de Sel

First Course:
Goat Cheese, Zucchini and Pistachio Verrine

Main Course:
Lime and Ginger Steamed  Chicken with Cilantro Oil
Braised Asparagus

Tender Moist Chocolate Cake with Chantilly and Strawberries

Let’s just say that with the help of Indira and Gabi, the dinner was a beautiful success, and WBDC will continue its good work of women entrepreneurs helping women.

French cooking and culture zucchini and goat cheese verrines
Zuccini and goat cheese verrines

There were many notable moments for me. At the end of the class students came to wrap me in big hugs and say “I love you!”   And at the dinner, diners tiptoeing into the kitchen to express their delight, gratitude, and to sneak an extra bite.  Sharing and giving through food – there isn’t anything better!

I love sharing my love of food with others at our cooking classes.  See when I’ll be near you in the States or when you might be near me in Normandy

I raise a glass to “social purpose” and here are a couple of the Connecticut recipes, for your enjoyment.

French cooking and culture gougeres
Cheese puffs – gougères



French cooking and culture pea soup
Pea soup on the table


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