This past week, we received an email, which included the information below:
Altadena native (and former Hometown Pasadena intern) Laura Derr has started Laura’s Mobile Kitchen, a private cooking instruction service. Drawing on a lifelong passion for cooking and bringing people together around food as well as experience working at cooking classes, farms, farmers markets and a cooking school on a farm, Laura strives to rekindle a knowledge of seasonal cooking and inspire young people to spend time in the kitchen. Lessons are open to any eager learning over age 10, up to three students at a time, and are held in your own kitchen. Menus are organized into 3, 6, 9 and 12-week pre-set plans to give clients an idea of Laura’s farmhouse favorite recipes, but can easily be customized to the specific needs of each client and kitchen.
We replied immediately and before the sun had settled behind the tree line, we had the ingredients for the interview below.
HP: You say you have “experience working at cooking classes.” Were you working for someone at this point?
LD: I have worked (mostly volunteer positions, but also some paid work) as an assistant at The Pantry, a cooking class facility in Seattle, Hipcooks here in L.A and also Chef’s Inc. in LA. In terms of other cooking experience, I also currently work as a part-time chef at an eating disorder retreat center in La Cañada. My ultimate professional goal is to work to inspire people to have a happy relationship with food through communal cooking, eating and discussion, so this position has been helpful in confirming that I definitely want to be involved on the counseling side of things in the future. My current endeavor with the cooking lesson business is giving me the perfect opportunity to combine my passion for working with people and food.
HP: You say you were at a cooking school on a farm. Where was this and how did you find this position?
LD: The cooking school on a farm is called Quillisascut Farmstead Cheese School of the Domestic Arts.
It is in far northeastern Washington state. I found out about it because I saw their cookbook in a store about two years ago, looked up their website, and saw that they run week-long residential cooking programs on their farm. I knew I had to go! So, I was a student there in 2012 and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all year. I knew I had to go back, so I asked if I could come back as an assistant and it ended up being both a sous chef position as well as being in charge of farm chores (feeding chickens, goats, etc.). That was this past summer. Their style of cooking—everything made from scratch and from the farm—is what inspires my cooking today. This coming summer I plan on going back as the assistant again, but this time for 3 sessions (almost a month).
This is way more info than you’ll find on my website…I can get carried away talking about it. It’s so amazing and truly inspires what I do every day.
HP: Have you had any formal training?
LD: No, I am not formally trained. I’ve certainly considered it at times, but it always come back to my basic belief that there is so much you can gather in terms of experience and information about cooking without ever going to culinary school. I have been cooking all my life, but it has really taken off in the past two years, and even more so in the past four months. Since I moved back to the area in September, I’ve been throwing dinner parties, teaching cooking and just cooking, cooking, cooking every day. For me it’s all about experiential learning—plus I have no interest in being behind the scenes in a restaurant. Food is about bringing people together and I want to feel like an integral, active part of that process.
HP: Can you articulate why you are drawn to helping young people learn how to cook?
LD: I’ve always loved working with kids—I’ve done lots of nannying in the past and I worked last year as a teacher in an after school program for 3-5th graders. I appreciate the consistent energy of kids and the way they live in the moment. Because of my long term goals of working as a counselor using food as therapy, I’m most interested in working with middle school-aged kids through young adults in an effort to inspire a love of quality food and cooking in the face of mixed messages from the media about fast food, dieting, etc.
I believe time spent in the kitchen and at farmers’ markets as a young adult will help foster a generation of advocates for simple living who see beyond media influence to the way food was viewed centuries ago—as a means to fuel the body, and to bring families and communities together. I believe the kitchen is the soul of the home and food has this unique power to help us connect not only with others but with ourselves, and cooking can help individuals tap into this power at young age.
I also hope to show young adults who are perhaps cooking on their own for the first time, that eating well doesn’t have to break the bank! All this being said, I am more than happy to share my passion with anyone who might be interested in brushing up their skills, rediscovering a love of cooking from scratch, seeking new recipes for family dinners, or simply learning to cook for the first time. In short, my lessons are not limited to one specific age.
HP: Is someone in your family a cook? Did they influence you?
LD: In terms of someone in my family who’s influenced me, I guess I did a fair amount of cooking with my mom. She is a very healthy cook, definitely known for her salads and soups among family and friends, but she doesn’t necessarily love cooking and entertaining the way I do. Planning meals and menus is something that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember and my parents always did such a wonderful job of fostering that love and letting me cook for them and for friends and family from a very young age. My dad always kept a garden, so that’s at the root of my seasonal approach to cooking.
I guess I would say that rather than one person who influenced me, it was the creative household in which I was raised—my mom is a cellist and my father was a landscape architect ( Colleen wrote an article about him on HP after his memorial service in 2010).
HP: Do you live in Altadena now?
LD: I do live in Altadena at the moment. I moved back home from the Seattle area in September and have been working towards getting this business off the ground ever since!
HP: What do you like to do in your free time?
LD: In my free time, well, I cook! Really, I do. This is my free time. I’ve always wanted to turn my passion into my job, so this is very exciting. I make sure I cook something every day so I stay confident and excited. I see it as my practice—like yoga or an instrument or writing, all three of which I practice as well. I do have activities that aren’t just cooking—I love to hike, do yoga, spend time with friends (usually cooking for them, but not always) and I make attempts at playing Irish fiddle music, which I’ve been trying to learn for years.
For more information about menus (Laura’s site is currently listing sample menus for fall and winter) or to inquire about pricing and a free consultation, visit LaurasMobileKitchen and her Facebook page.
Laura’s Creamy Polenta is this week’s recipe of the week in “Mangiamo.”