Tell Us About Your Travels....
You get precise answers if you ask me about Indian food, knife skills, how to sew a button, or how to string a necklace. But, ask me to talk about myself and how I became a chef and world traveler......I struggle to know where to start. That became apparent when I was asked to speak to the Travel and Tourism class at Oklahoma State University.
Thirty years ago I attended OSU in the Clothing, Textiles, and Merchandising department. I taught the freshman sewing classes and retail clothing merchandising as a graduate teaching assistant. Last week, just thirty years later, I spent an afternoon touring the College of Human Sciences at OSU in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (formerly the School of Hotel Restaurant Administration). Teaching the Travel and Tourism class was going to be a treat, but it was difficult to know what to say.
I began by telling the students about my semester abroad in Vienna, Austria. That trip was life-changing for me, and was when my dream of world travel began. My first job teaching cooking was for Tulsa Neighborhood Networks, where I taught underprivileged kids in an apartment complex for low-income housing. After school, the kids would fill an empty apartment while I taught them how to make easy and nutritious meals for themselves and their families.
I was also taking cooking classes on my own, including four years of “professional chef” classes at The Savory Chef in Tulsa.
I told the students that my husband and I traveled a lot, and after several trips abroad I decided I wanted to start learning international cuisine, especially the places where I was visiting. I began traveling alone and meeting new friends around the world who were eager to help me learn local cooking and food cultures.
Meanwhile, I started teaching adult cooking classes at The Savory Chef, and I’ve since taught at other cooking schools, private homes, and now exclusively in my own home where I have a teaching kitchen and outdoor kitchen that are ideal for cooking classes.
I’ve also taught in the Dominican Republic and Rwanda to very poor women who receive micro-loans for their small businesses.
When I finished my talk to the OSU students, I was flattered by the number of questions they asked me. “Where would you live if you left the U.S.?” “Australia”. “What is your favorite cuisine to cook?” “I don’t have a favorite. I love to cook Indian food because most people don’t know how, but I also love to cook southern Italian food."
"I enjoy cooking what I know others will eat, and want to learn how to make”. “Are you afraid of getting sick when you eat in other countries?” “I try to be careful, and I have medications I take with me in case I become sick. It’s important to me to try everything I can, especially if the cook is standing before me, waiting to see if I enjoy it. In India, my guide told me he had never seen an American try everything that was offered, including street food in the poorest areas of New Dehli.
In Dominican Republic I was offered a beef empanada from a woman who sold them in the streets. I couldn’t refuse it and she was so happy I took a bite. My guide told me I should be more careful about eating food that I wasn’t used to. She was also Dominican, and she said she would not have accepted the empanada. It was more important to me to show the woman my respect”.
I answered similar questions for at least thirty minutes until I had to stop for the end of class. It was such a privilege to share a part of my story with those students, and I hope I gave them some inspiration to learn the most they can when they travel. I also emphasized the importance of sharing their gifts with people they meet, whether it’s photography, cooking, knitting, or playing with children. Travel is a privilege, whether it’s in the U.S. or abroad. Wherever you’re able to explore, respect the culture, eat the food, ask questions, and always smile.