Laurel Herman – chef, culinary instructor and author
Someone like Laurel would be commonly described as a multi-talent. We met her to talk about her many talents.
You are chef /culinary instructor / author … where does your passion for the culinary comes from?
My passion for working with food comes from growing up in New York and being exposed to so many different cultures. There were several people who influenced my interest and love for food. One huge aspect for me is the unity is created when people cook and sitting down together to dine. My family had everyone at our table for our holidays, all walks of life. My latest inspiration comes from a tribal elder in Arizona,, sharing the native American connection to food.
Which culinary school did you attend?
I attended Thames Valley University , which was formally in Slough, United Kingdom and obtained was was called City and Guilds NVQ. ( National Vocational Qualification). and Pima Community college In Tucson Arizona.
What will you never forget about your first year as a chef?
I will never forget being the only woman in a kitchen brigade of 30 men at Joe Allen, an well known restaurant in the theater district in NY. That was almost 40 years ago. I cut myself a lot, and did a lot of grunt work, but I loved it.
What is the best part of being a chef?
The best part of being a chef, is having a creative spark, working in the kitchen is like a sacred dance. When everyone is in sync, it is a beautiful thing. I may add, helping people create their own experience in class is extremely rewarding!
What is the most difficult aspect to be a professional chef?
I would say the most difficult part of being a chef, is aging. It takes a toll on your body. And of course working with people who don’t care is a big one for me at the moment.
How would you describe your own culinary style today?
I would describe my culinary style as more of a Culinary Storyteller. I have grown in to this, over the years.
Fusion kitchen, what is your attitude?
I think its important to know that cooking is a form of energy medicine.. We must understand that how we are nourished is more than food on a plate, It has many layers, our culture, honoring our ancestral roots, and the energy we bring into a kitchen, when we cook and dine, where the food comes from, etc. I believe the kitchen is the womb of the home.
You work as developer of cooking as a healing modality. What is the concept behind?
Cooking as healing modality: Cooking as a healing modality has many layers. I use music to help people connect with a memory or feeling. I write about this in my book The Blissed Out Chef. What is the first sweet thing you ever tasted? The word tasted can imply a feeling or actually something sweet. If you have ever watched the movie Like Water For Chocolate, the main character Tita, her feelings whilst she is cooking are profoundly felt by the people who eat her food. When her tears fall in to the wedding cake she has to bake for her forbidden lover Pedro, the guests feel her pain and cry when they eat the cake. This is profound, and not just a concept. It is a palpable energy that some people can feel. It can mean helping someone with food allergies find satisfying substitutions. For instance, I developed the gluten free menu at one of the places I work. As a gluten free person myself, I wanted people to be able to enjoy life as it was before they were diagnosed. It’s giving people something they can live with.
Your overall teaching philosophy is: compassion and connection with each other and our food. How exactly do you live this philosophy?
My teaching Philosophy: When I went to school at Thames Valley ( I was 40 at the time) Chef Gus Johnson, was my hero instructor, He didn’t believe in yelling. He was compassionate. He was a huge influence on me and my career. What I want to see in my classes is connection. ( I haven’t even mentioned the food, which is always wonderful because it has their stamp on it ).People arrive as strangers. After over an hour in the kitchen together, they loosen up, become friends. By the time they’ve finished eating and ready to leave, there are often hugs and numbers exchanged. We hope they learn something new. But overall, I prefer to guide and be a conduit for them to create their own experience. That’s when the magic happens.
Having the social media and internet as the big player; where do you see the future of culinary books?
The future of culinary books,: There is nothing like holding a book in your hand. I recently bought a new book, One Hour Dairy Free Cheese , by Claudia Lucero. She did a demo, book talk where I teach, at Mise en Place Cooking School. in Richmond Virginia. Authors put their heart and soul into their books. The value for us as writers and visionaries is to be able to teach from our work.
You say: “my goal is to give every person that desires healing the tools to navigate their cooking experience to an elevated level of complete healing”. What is behind it/ what do you offer?
My goal in giving people the tools to navigate their experience to complete healing : I am the ” farmascist ” that fills the food prescription. Many people lack confidence in their ability to cook. I have though the years learned what are the short cuts, and what will empower people to enable them to be a participant in their own healing. And this could even be something like someone who has a fear of cooking. Offering healthy food substitutions for something someone can no longer eat, takes a diagnosis from feeling like a punishment, to something they can achieve.
Healthy nutrition and an understanding of our food; should start at a young age and be established as a school subject. What is your opinion?
I wish understanding healthy foods were taught more in the schools in the US, but then we offer the children junk at lunch. The schools can only do so much. The paradigm shift begins at home, through example. Cook with your children. Home Economics are being brought back because young people don’t know how to cook. .Also the processed food industry is out of control. Again, People feel punished, and can’t possible bear the thought of giving up their soda. Europe is so far ahead of us.
Where in the world would I like to chef?
The answer is everywhere! Long hours in a production kitchen are over for me, that’s for the next generation. My dream is to cook/connect with as many people from different cultures, and teach my workshops, When you cook with people, you bridge a gap of prejudice, racism, you fall in love with their stories, their people. It becomes a love story. We heal the world, one meal at a time.
Thank you Laurel!
Share your thoughts with an international community of chefs on Cook Concern!
If you are looking for some new adventures, take a look at the international job offers.