We’re pretty obsessed with plan B stories, so when Wendy emailed us and told us about hers—leaving San Francisco restaurant scene—for a sleepy town in Northern California to start her own cooking school, we wanted to hear more.
Give us a little background on yourself/what you do/how you came to it. How much did becoming a parent shape what your business is? How much did the economic downturn shape your business strategy or choices?
I live in Northern California in the wonderful town of Nevada City. Many people come to Nevada City because of the Yuba River, the gold rush history and the close knit community. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up here, though I just moved back 4 years ago after going to college and living in Southern California and the Bay Area. I am thrilled to be raising my family here.
I lived and worked throughout the Bay Area for several years while I learned from many great cooks, chefs, caterers, teachers and passionate home chefs. I had a loose vision of the career and work that I hoped to create for myself and being able to work with so many talented people was definitely part of the journey. I studied cultural anthropology in college and knew that I wanted to work with food and people, though not in a traditionally academic setting.
While living in San Francisco, I started to offer hands-on cooking classes in my home. I emphasized fresh, whole ingredients in uncomplicated recipes. In addition to sharing new recipes with adventurous and food loving people, I was able to create and hold the space for an impromptu dinner party, another one of my passions. After a year of teaching cooking in my home, I decided that I wanted to move back to Nevada City for a more mellow lifestyle and a tighter community.
With the help of a family investment, I was able to open my business In the Kitchen in a beautiful renovated bungalow in downtown Nevada City. I was so excited and ready to launch my cooking school and community kitchen—but as I opened my doors, the economy tanked! However, because my cooking classes teach people to be economical with ingredients and to cook from scratch, people were actually drawn to In the Kitchen, hoping to learn and then put those techniques into play while saving money.
When the economy went into recession, I knew I was going to need to offer more than just cooking classes to survive and thrive, so I started to rent my kitchen out to small business who produce jams, baked goods and other artisan products. This ended up being a great way to generate more revenue as well as connect me to the greater local food community.
One year after opening In the Kitchen, our son Felix was born. Becoming a wife and parent and owning a business is a constant juggling act, finding balance and then needing to shift again when things change, and they always do! Having friends, family and my very supportive husband Joe remind me that this is the nature of parenting, helps me put things into perspective, re-prioritize when needed and give myself a little slack. I wish I had more to share on this topic, but I am learning all the time. Finding time to myself has been a challenge, but committing to 40 minutes of exercise a day 3 times a week has really helped me feel energized!
My husband and I both have flexible schedules that often allow us to eat lunch together. We usually are home by 1 pm so that I can put Felix, our two year-old, down for his nap so we eat then. Usually we eat left-overs from the night before, re-imagining them into a new dish…My lunch strategy is having leftovers on hand!
Low fuss entertaining?
I love to have dinner parties, but they are not happening very much these days. I find that since in my day to day work, I entertain quite a bit in teaching classes and hosting events, that I actually prefer to have quiet family evenings at home. Currently, my favorite way to gather friends and family in our home is to have a weekend brunch. We make a big pot of coffee and have a very elaborate continental breakfast spread, yogurt, fresh fruit, granola, toast, butter and jams and juice. People can help themselves and we can focus on catching up.
I swear by a face oil called For the Face, made here in Nevada City called Sunlight Botanical. It is made with rose and calendula. I wear a little bit of Dr. Hauschka foundation and then curl my eye lashes. Simple and easy. I always wear earrings!
What do you do in your “spare time”?
Since there is not much spare time right now in my life, I do cherish it! I like to get together with friends when I can, but even that feels a bit like multitasking since we usually have our kids too! Occasionally I will sneak away and get a pedicure and read trashy magazines.
Best kid purchase/bang for your buck?
The Ergo carrier was the best thing we bought. I literally cannot imagine parenting and working with out it! If we had a dollar for every time we used it, we could have purchased four of them by now!
What’s your mom uniform?
Gap skinny jeans in a dark wash, Sven clog boots and a soft oversize sweater and dangle earrings.
How do you celebrate your son’s birthdays?
So far we have kept things very low key for birthdays, I can see this changing as Felix grows, but for the past two birthdays we have had family over for one the brunch spreads I mentioned before. We give a few gifts. My husband and I always recount the day Felix was born in our bed at home and what a sweet day that was.
Any rules about TV/screens?
I grew up without a TV and have never owned one, however, we live on 50 acres that serves as a residency for artists and student programs (my husband is an artist and site manager) and our house is wired with cable……let’s just say I finally caught up on all of those episodes of 90210 (Brenda and Luke days) that I missed growing up! Felix doesn’t watch TV though. Joe and I also have made a conscious choice to not have smart phones so that we are not always plugged in.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
What’s a typical weekend like?
The summer is my busiest season since I cater weddings, so during the summer we often have our family weekend time during the week. However we love going for walks as a family so we make time for that a couple times a week. Usually the weekend is spent slowing down, doing house work and re-grouping for the coming week, and definitely getting creative in the kitchen!
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you?
Cleaning the windows.
Top 3 favorite books—for your kids, top 3 for yourself? Last book you read?
Me: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Breakfast, Lunch and Tea, The Many Little Meals at Rose Bakery, and the last book I read was A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan.
Best family trip?
We have spent lots of time in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree since Felix was born. Living in Northern California is wonderful, but it is nice to be in the desert and get a new perspective from time to time. We love walking and biking in Palm Springs and checking out all of the modern homes.
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips?
For dealing with a defiant 2 year old, singing instead of telling or commanding works wonders, most of the time when I start to sing, “clean up, clean up, clean up time….” Felix jumps right in there and helps me, singing too! I learned that from my mom who has a second grade teacher for 20 years…..growing up we always made fun of her for her “teacher voice”, but now I understand!
You feel your best when?
In the morning, my most productive time is between 9am-1 pm…I always joke that I work an 8 hour day in 4 hours!
Proudest moment in parenting?
I don’t think I will ever forget the moment I held my son for the first time. I pulled him up onto my chest after giving birth naturally and felt triumphant, humbled and pure love.
I think I outed myself with the 90210 thing!
Best parenting advice you ever got?
My mom and dad both have said, “Remember, this is not easy work! Give yourself credit for all you do!”. Thanks guys.