"I feel like we are on the crest of the wave of the biggest trend: the movement back to homemade whole food cooking."
So says Anna Rakoczy, co-founder of the Palo Alto-based company, Homemade Cooking.
The cooking-class organization was created with the understanding that restrictive diets are not an empowering way to obtain greater health. Instead of counting calories or cutting out carbs, Homemade Cooking offers weekly two-hour cooking classes at which members are introduced to seasonal ingredients, taught various cooking methods and given a wide variety of healthy recipes.
Rakoczy met co-founder Dr. Chloe Chien while studying for her master's degree at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. The two worked on a project together to address obesity and lifestyle diseases. Upon their graduation in July 2013, that project became a full-time operation.
"Food needs to be full of nutrients," Rakoczy noted during a recent interview. "What could be simpler than telling someone, 'Just use whole ingredients, and listen to your hunger?' We are inspired by thinking about how we can help a busy person who wants to cook and eat healthy food within 15-20 minutes. If it's complicated, it's just not practical for real life."
But what about taste? "People think 'eating healthy' is lettuce and broccoli," she said. "I love to show people you can have nuts, pasta and meat. We look at the recipes and make sure they are nutritionally balanced, with quality protein, high fiber, vitamins and minerals. Our recipes all go together as components that support the body."
When asked about her daily routine, Rakoczy admitted, "After two and a half years, I have yet to experience a typical work day. Each day brings on constant challenges, new activities and new situations.
"If you have a culture where you are always open to feedback, it leads to mutual respect throughout the company. I believe in personal check-ins and business check-ins. They help us understand where people are mentally. Then we know how people will operate. I've realized-if you don't have a great team, you have no business. The team is a reflection of the culture."
In addition to her partnership with Chien, Rakoczy also employs a number of cooking instructors, among them Jennifer Davis, who has been with the company for one year. Prior to joining Homemade, Davis obtained a degree in culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco. She went on to work in a French kitchen and as a private chef delivering culinary creations to small startup companies seeking healthy meals for their teams. The CEOs she worked for reported that after eating her meals for a period of time, their energy levels had increased and the number of sick days reported by their staff had decreased.
"Because I was cooking all of that food, I started eating it, and I started dropping weight," Davis commented. "I was sleeping a lot better, too. So I learned that I could balance my love of food with making my body feel good.
"When I saw a job post for a cooking instructor teaching people how to cook with whole, unprocessed beautiful foods, I was all over it!"
Homemade Cooking members can expect to leave each class with basic guidelines to create each dish, along with a description of health benefits and macro-nutrients found in each food they learn to prepare. Davis encourages members to embark on their own flavor journey by adding ingredients according to taste.
"Here, we are all about the fact that we don't use any teaspoons or cups, and we are tasting everything," she said. We don't want (members) to be intimidated looking at some multi-page recipe!"
Members have also formed friendships in Homemade Cooking classes.
"Community is the feeling that we have been fostering in the classes," Davis noted. "I had one class that would go get drinks afterwards! Some of the members live alone, so they really come for the social aspect."
The team at Homemade Cooking shares a unanimous attitude towards restrictive diets.
"I think people have gotten afraid of food," Davis reflected. "It's really all about knowledge. People get confused between refined and unrefined sugars. Whole grains are great; they break down slowly. They're going to give you energy."
"These low carbohydrate diets are too restrictive," Rakoczy added. "It feels miserable! There is just no net benefit. It overlooks the real problem: refined carbs and sugar. They cause the problems."
According to Davis, indulgences in moderation are a part of a healthy lifestyle. When asked about her own favorite guilty pleasures, she laughed.
"Hands down, dark chocolate!" she said. "But it's antioxidants! I buy myself really nice fair-trade dark chocolates because you've got to have treats."
With Homemade Cooking, Rakoczy is putting her dream into action: helping others to adopt a truly sustainable lifestyle. "We want to start a social cooking movement to influence everyone's lives, from this area, throughout America and beyond," she said.
What: Homemade Cooking Classes
Menlo Park: Arrillaga Family Recreation Center, 700 Alma St.
Palo Alto: 3145 Porter Drive
Stanford: Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, 265 Campus Drive
Stanford: Green Earth Sciences Building, 367 Panama St.
Stanford: Freidenrich Center for Translational Research, 800 Welch Road
When: Winter courses begin Oct. 26. Space is limited to 12-15 people per class, depending on location.
Cost: $400 for five weeks, $650 for 10 weeks, $1,950 for one year. Palo Alto Weekly readers will receive a $100 discount off of the price of winter courses when mentioning this story.
Chrissi Angeles is an editorial intern at Palo Alto Weekly.