orn with many talents and passions, Elana Horwich tried everything to find her place in the professional world. Now she is the owner of Meal and a Spiel, has been able to travel all over the world gaining experience with all types of ethnic recipes and gets to do what she loves most: teach others. Elana’s creative spirit and belief in the good that cooking can do for people are contagious and ultimately inspiring.
MEAL AND A SPIEL 310.228.7565 www.mealandaspiel.com 80 | LOCALE MAGAZINE
Q: Is this an industry you knew you wanted to be involved in? Elana Horwich: Before I am a chef, I am a teacher. I didn’t always know I wanted to be in the food industry, but I always had a slight tinge of jealousy of chefs I had I met over the years. I wanted to do what they did, but I literally didn’t have the confidence to even imagine that anyone would ever pay me to cook. Plus, I didn’t identify with rigor of restaurant chefs or caterers. Once I was able to merge my love of teaching with my love of cooking, I understood my vocation.
Q: At what moment did you realize this was the path you wanted to take? EH: Six years ago I showed a lawyer friend how to whip up a spaghetti with kale according to the very simple Italian principles of pasta sauce making. It took 20 minutes. She, who had never cooked anything in her life, was so impressed how easy and delicious it was, told her mother and the next day they offered to pay me to teach them to cook. I sent out an email to 30 people that I had two spots left in a cooking class. This was a lie. I only had two people in class! Six people signed up. And then they all insisted I do another class immediately. I had 10 in the next class. I felt deeply satisfied. I was doing everything I loved: teaching, “being on stage,” working with my hands, intimately engaging with and empowering people, incorporating my love of Italy into my American life. I knew from those two classes that I had to make this career work for myself. And I’ve worked hard every day since to make sure that I can keep doing what I love. Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from? EH: People often ask me who my favorite chefs are in town or what my favorite restaurants are. The truth is I am far more inspired by the homecooking of Italian mothers or Middle Eastern grandmothers. The unwritten secrets of an ancient culinary culture are what excite me. At the same time, I am highly motivated to find the healthiest ways to make the most delicious food. I am constantly trying new ingredients and combinations to make comforting foods that are easy on digestion and invigorating for the body. Q: What are some advantages of working in this industry, as well as disadvantages? EH: I get to work from home and from other people’s beautiful homes. I get to make my own hours and I’m usually very close to a good kitchen which means I get to make myself yummy and nutritious snacks all day long. The disadvantage of my job is that in order to gain recognition online and in social media, which would greatly help the plight to getting my first cookbook published, I am in “competition” with incredible food photographers and bloggers. I don’t have the time to blog every day or capture everything I make with a professional camera and then edit those photos for Instagram. I’m too busy teaching actual people to cook actual food. It’s taking some creativity on my part to get noticed by the prominent publishing houses. Q: How do you think being a woman in your industry has influenced your success? EH: I’m not sure if it’s being a woman that has influenced my success as much as my feminine approach to cooking has. A masculine approach can be likened to a restaurant chef. The food must be prepared meticulously so the results can be repeated to perfection every time. Plus there is usually an important visual component of the plating involved. The feminine way is more forgiving. It pays attention to basic cooking principles, but it is intuitive in nature. More than a beautiful plate of food that looks the same every time the recipe is made, importance is placed on feeling. Love goes into the cooking process so the food can transmit love to others. It’s a communication between the cook and the food and the food and the eater. Not every vegetable needs to be cut and trimmed perfectly. Ultimately,
it is a more approachable entrance into the cooking process for people who want to gain confidence in the kitchen. Q: How has cooking different foods influenced your view on the world? EH: I would be more apt to say that my view of the world has influenced the way I cook. I’ve been so lucky to have traveled extensively and experienced the people of different cultures through eating. For example, about eight years ago I was in Israel and asked a Bedouin taxi driver to take me to Palestinian territories in the West Bank where I could visit important historical sites. Jewish girls don’t normally travel to these places, and if they do, they are rarely alone. For lunch, the taxi driver took me to a delicious Palestinianowned restaurant with the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had, but more than the chicken I remember the warmth of the owners. They knew I was Jewish and we all knew there was a potential chasm of ideologies between us. Yet they treated me like family, with huge smiles and enormous enthusiasm. In that moment I understood that food could be the catalyst to create peace and understanding between even warring cultures. Cooking with love creates food that is a vehicle for healing ourselves, our families and society at large. That is the basis of Meal and a Spiel cooking classes. Q: What would you say a healthy relationship with good food is like? EH: As a teenager, I was a bit of a compulsive eater. I saw food as the enemy. Cooking helped me make peace with food. I no longer feel that good food is a rarity, but rather something I have power to create. A healthy relationship with food is viewing food as the nutritive power that it is. It means knowing the difference between real food and processed ingredients and making good choices for your body. Q: Can you share a favorite story about a personal/in home cooking class experience? EH: Every cooking class is filled with unique stories. What I love most are the “a-ha” moments students have. It may simply be how to open garlic without smelly fingers, how to make sure your pasta doesn’t stick together without adding oil to the water (an Italian no-no) or how to make chicken broth without any chopping. These may seem like small things to a seasoned cook, but for me, every moment of every class is an adventure. Q: How do you see Meal and a Spiel growing in the future? EH: So many women of my generation want to gain confidence in the kitchen, they just aren’t sure where to start. Thus, I am currently developing fun online cooking classes to empower as many women as possible to make healthy meals that don’t sacrifice flavor. I am also working on my first book. I envision user-friendly Meal and a Spiel cookbooks on the kitchen shelves of every educated woman in America, much like the Barefoot Contessa has been. You gotta dream big! Q: If you could make sure there was one thing that everyone knew about cooking, what would it be? EH: Olive oil is not just an ingredient to make sure things don’t stick. Olive oil is the foundational key to good flavor. You need to use a lot more of it!