radical art/work: meet Teaching Table founder + chef Laura Scheck
Welcome to the latest in our radical art/work series!
Buckle up, friends. This week we've got more food porn than you'll know what to do with.
Last week we featured an inspiring seed-saving company, so as spring rolls in for real now, it feels fitting to profile someone transforming that garden bounty into creative, nourishing work in the kitchen.
Introducing Teaching Table, a Brooklyn-based cooking school featuring whole foods for the whole family.
I first met Laura, Teaching Table's founder and chef, back in 2004, when we were grad students studying social theory and religion in Berkeley. She lived near North Berkeley, sandwiched between Chez Panisse and Cafe Gratitude, so when I think of those years, fond memories of killer food (and plentiful beer) always color my nostalgia.
Fourteen years later, we've both traded California sunshine for East Coast urbanity, and Laura is now a natural foods chef and founder of Teaching Table, which educates folks of all ages in turning seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients into health-supportive foods that everyone will dig.
I am so inspired by the work Laura is doing.
Why is it radical?
Michael Pollan says it all: "The most important thing we can teach our kids for their long-term health and happiness is how to cook."
Because when your body and your mind feel good, you have more energy to fight for justice and save the planet and topple the Christofascist patriarchy. Because when you're healthy, you don't have to pump money into Big Pharma. Because access to organic whole foods is a social justice issue. And because conscious, joyful cooking means reclaiming a traditionally-denigrated, feminized labor and celebrating it for the wholehearted craft that it is.
Why is it art?
Because the food Laura makes is f*$#ing beautiful. Because it's a soulful labor of love. Because when you're cooking, you're using your body to create something vibrant and vital and life-giving. Because you're practicing together with your kids, cultivating their palate for fresh, whole foods, and they're gonna remember the things they learned for the rest of their lives.
Everything about this = goodness and power.
So meet Laura. You (and your kids, or your neighbors) can take classes with her in Brooklyn and in a variety of NYC-area venues. If you're further out, give her a follow on Instagram for daily doses of gorgeous foodie inspiration.
What's your medium?
Health supportive food with seasonal, local and whole ingredients
(Mission Statement: "Teaching Table aims to inspire others to cook foods that are better for their bodies, their families and their communities. The table I grew up around inspired curiosity, challenge, and an appreciation for food. At Teaching Table, we believe in sourcing ingredients locally to sustain our earth and community. We believe in making health supportive decisions while honoring that food should taste delicious. We believe in creating positive participant experiences. When you gather around the Teaching Table, you will learn techniques to turn seasonal, locally sourced ingredients into health supportive foods everyone will enjoy. You will ask questions and challenge yourself, and walk away with recipes and tools for your culinary tool belt.")
What's your latest project?
Birthing my new business, Teaching Table, through which I conduct cooking classes for all types of audiences
Who's your target audience?
I would say anyone with an interest in learning how to cook, or specifically learning how to challenge themselves to cook things that are more wholesome and sustainable for our bodies, communities and the earth. So far, my audiences include groups of adults and kids of all ages, families, members of CSAs, neighbors, friend groups, patients with various health challenges that can be healed and managed with food, students in schools, etc.
Three key words that shape your art/work:
Who or what introduced you to this medium?
My family. My passion for food is possibly genetic, but more likely, nurtured. From an early age, I trailed my maternal grandfather in his garden, and followed him into the kitchen to observe Italian specialties made from tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. My paternal grandfather was a cook in the Navy. For years after his service, he held weekly dinners for nearly 30 family members. It was in this cramped house that I learned how to not waste anything — authentic root to frond cooking before it was chic.
Where do you live and how does your home town/region affect your art work?
Brooklyn, NY. It has three major impacts on my work:
1) I cook primarily with seasonal and local food, which in the Northeast presents welcome challenges, particularly in the height of winter when our local produce consists mostly of apples, carrots and beets stored from the fall, along with hearty greens that grow in greenhouses. The seasonality of food, and the ebbs and flows of abundance and deficiencies demand that a cook, parent, and eater become skilled at creative techniques for turning whole ingredients into varied delights and also preserving them for future enjoyment.
2) Being a city dweller dependent mostly on public transportation, I've built some strong biceps and callused feet and perfected the art of prepping and schlepping food to its final destination.
3) I'm perpetually aware of issues of equity. Not all New Yorkers have the same access to high-quality ingredients or even the information about what high-quality, low-cost, sustainable food is. My teaching is informed by this understanding and my drive continues to expand access for all. Good food is essential to life. We all deserve to access it.
Public or private school education?
Public school student, public school teacher.
Do you have any kind of spiritual practice? What does it look like?
This is hard for me to answer, because everything and nothing are a part of my spiritual practice. Laughter is my best means of centering, along with alone time.
Three books that changed your life:
(in order of when I read them...)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Three artists you admire:
Three causes you're passionate about:
And equity, because it's all really about equity
Three teachers who taught you something important:
My 6th grade teacher, Ms. Boland, who taught us that it is more important to be kind and inclusive than to be right and the best.
My high school English teacher, the first to give me a bad grade, taught me the value of constructive feedback.
My son Emory, who's taught me that I still have so much more to learn, from the many things I don't know about parenting to being able to answer the millions of questions he asks in a day.
Virginia Woolf famously said a woman writer needs a room of her own. What do you need to create your art? Any non-negotiables?
Quiet to think
One thing that pisses you off:
Only one? I choose to abstain from this question to not make all of my other pet peeves jealous. If forced to choose, as it relates to my art...WASTE
Shittiest job you've ever had:
Cleaning hotel rooms in a New Hampshire Holiday Inn while nursing a broken ankle from the previous college track season
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
Success in any endeavor is about the process as much as the product.
Secret pop culture crush:
No secret, Gaga
Biggest challenge of your art/work?
Self-promotion and marketing. This has never been something that comes naturally or comfortably for me.
In five years, what does your art/work look like?
My goal is that in five years I continue to offer cooking classes, but hopefully in a place of retreat and respite outside of the city, on a farm, providing the bounty of ingredients with which we cook and learn.
Website and social media links where we can follow you and learn more about your art/work?
Sign up for Teaching Table's newsletter.
Are you drooling yet?
Laura's leading a kids cooking workshop next week, Weds. April 4th, in case you're rocking public school spring break in Brooklyn and need something creative to do with your little ones. Details here.
She's also leading a vegan and gluten-free dessert workshop in early May that I am seriously considering attending. Sugary rendezvous in NYC, anyone? (Toni, I'm tawking to you.)
Finally, Laura shared this Grubstreet article the other day and I keep returning to it: "The Last Conversation You'll Ever Need To Have About Eating Right." Serious truth-telling from food writer Mark Bittman and doctor David L. Katz. Give it a look.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for being.
Keep making art. And keep eating well. It gives you the oomph to keep raising hell.
Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The
Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.