Art background informs journey to second career

Gina Bean

Dianne Nicholson urged us to be in touch with her friend, Gina, and hear her cooking story, which is interesting and intriguing. There’s a little something for everyone in it: musings about art and the creative spark, healthier eating, cooking for kids, and even funnel cakes at the fair.

Name: Gina Bean

Age: 47

Residence: Goose Creek

Occupation: Personal chef

Family: Awesome son, amazing daughter, and me.

Q. You’re a home cook who made the transition to a personal chef as a second career. What were you doing before and why did you make that move?

A. For many years, I have worked as a teaching artist, on roster with the S.C. Arts Commission, and I still work in this field a few times per year. Visual and theater arts are as intense a passion as culinary arts. My genre is sculpture and puppetry. My students make literary and fanciful creatures inspired from world culture, and perform with them.

Because the availability of funding for art in education is limited, venturing into my other passion, all things culinary, felt natural.

Q. In what ways does your art background play out in your cooking or presentation?

A. Art nourishes the soul. Food delights the senses. In these ways, they are intrinsically connected.

When I work with my art students, I care more about how they experience the process while creating art than I do about the finished product. During the process, they learn about themselves, they make connections, they grow. Developing recipes and mindful food preparation is much the same, although the process thankfully extends into the eating.

Besides that, sometimes when working with things like earthy turmeric and deep green kale juice, it feels like sculpting and painting.

Q. Who or what experiences drew you to enjoy cooking?

A. My Grandma Arzela kept a vegetable garden and grew fruit trees. To me, her yard was magical. She would collect baskets of cherry tomatoes, which were the cutest little packages of juicy goodness.

My Grandma Betty was a candy maker. Her divinity was truly ethereal, little soft white clouds filled with pecans that came out perfect every time.

It was such fun to play in the kitchen, creating from whatever we had on hand, which usually wasn’t a lot. Mom always told me my food was delicious, even when it probably wasn’t. But this encouragement made me want to explore more!

When I grew older, I worked with my Grandma Betty making funnel cakes at Oklahoma’s State Fair and at other events. We would work from early in the morning until late at night standing over a vat of hot oil, swirling and frying fluffy cakes, then sprinkling them with powdered sugar. Every minute was pure joy.

Add to all that my pie-making dad and Navy cook Grampa ... I guess it is a family thing.

Q. Do you specialize in any type or style of cooking?

A. Yes. Special diets and whole unprocessed foods. My son was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder when he was very small. His doctor prescribed a diet which excluded some of his favorite foods. This was tough! But it started my research and studies in making special diets fun and fabulous.

All food inspires me. But the challenge of working with specific foods to make them desirable takes the process to a new level. Nobody should feel deprived because they can’t eat something. The focus should be on celebrating those foods which best nourish each person. To do this, I take ideas from all over the globe and from all eating styles. And use methods to maximize flavor and nutrition in every bite. Who wouldn’t want to get more nutrition and flavor from their greens and leave room for chocolate!

Q. You also write a blog, foodhighs.com. I see a lot of duck and duck recipes on the blog. Is duck a favorite protein? If so, why?

A. You are right. There are a lot of duck recipes on the blog right now. All those posts were inspired by just one duck. I am an advocate of “no waste.” So if I buy a duck, I am going to make every scrap delectable. Also, I eat foods in season. In the winter months, there are more meaty foods, soups and stews on my plate. As spring approaches, there will be more vegetarian dishes, sprouted foods and spring fruits and vegetables.

At home, my family eats a plant-based diet, using a lot of vegan methods and foods, and then we add in well-prepared high-quality animal protein. My daughter loves seafood, and my son eats any meat. As to what we personally favor, it just has to be humanely raised and organic.

Q. We also understand you worked hard to raise two kids on your own. We see a blog post about how you got them to eat Brussels sprouts. So how did you do it? Have you done anything similar with other veggies?

A. This proves that knife cuts matter. My son is picky about texture. He won’t even eat the end of a banana because he perceives the texture as different and off-putting. Yeah, weird. But this taught me to alter textures for his dining pleasure. Slicing Brussels sprouts very thinly with a mandoline, then sauteing them in a skillet with a little salt and pepper transforms them. So simple! My kids will eat them all.

You can change up any vegetable. Puree them into soups and sauces, dice them into little squares, roast them to make them sweet, bake them in brownies ... eventually you will hit on recipes the kids like.

Q. Besides a good, sharp knife, what is your favorite kitchen tool or gadget?

A. Years ago, my dad gave me a Cuisinart food processor. It is old now, well-used, the switch is broken, and I won’t part with it. A good processor allows you to turn nuts and seeds into gluten-free flours, dates into sugar-free desserts, chilis into paste. You can transform anything with a good processor.

Q. My favorite food indulgence:

A. Oh my! This is one of those “pick your favorite kid” questions. When well prepared, ALL food is indulgent. Let’s see ... we can’t have salty crunchy potato chips in the house because I will eat them. When my kids need dark chocolate, they ask me for my stash; there is always a stash. Creamy soups, tomato sauces, spicy Pho ... sorry, I can’t choose. If you force me to choose, I will never say no to cheesecake.

A favorite recipe or two:

At the beginning of the year, everyone wants to renew their vow to “eat healthy.” But it still has to be quick and easy. Flourless crepes are healthy, easy, quick, versatile, and tasty.

These crepes are light, nutty, delicious, and nutritious. And they can be used to wrap just about anything! (see pictures at www.foodhighs.com)

Yield: 11/2 cups batter, 6-8 crepes, with each about 1/4 cup batter or slightly less

Ingredients

50 g raw walnuts; equals about 1.75 ounces or 1/2 cup

5 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Using a food processor or even a coffee grinder, grind walnuts into flour. (A little magic bullet works fine.) Pulse walnuts a little at a time and stop before they turn to nut butter! Add eggs and salt to your walnut flour and thoroughly combine.

Lightly oil a nonstick heated skillet and pour in about 1/4 cup of the egg walnut batter. (Amount may vary per the size of your skillet.) Pick up the pan and quickly swirl batter around to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Allow to cook. Watch for the edges to be cooked; they may begin to curl up a bit. Gently scoot a wooden or plastic spatula or egg turner under your crepe. Carefully flip your crepe.

If you have not made crepes before, don’t worry if the first couple get mangled. You will get the hang of it in no time. Your crepe will be cooked in just a couple of minutes. Remove from pan and place on parchment or a rack to cool. Repeat until all batter is used. You may need to spray a little oil between crepes. I like coconut oil.

You can place a square of parchment between each crepe for storage.

Fill each crepe with anything you like, savory or sweet. Enjoy!

Sweet berries

For a delicious sweet crepe, high in antioxidants, fill crepe with fresh berries, or frozen berries heated and sweetened with a bit of honey, maple syrup, or agave. If desired, add sweetened cream cheese, and/or whipped cream or coconut cream.

Veggie pulp and chevre

If you juice green veggies, save the pulp. Rehydrate pulp in a small sauce pot with a bit of water and cook until tender. Allow water to evaporate. Combine equal parts veggie pulp with goat cheese and a few drops of lemon juice for a tangy indulgent spread. Fill and fold into warm crepes.

Moo shu vegetable or pork

Stir-fry (in peanut oil) strips of veggies in season, or those you have on hand. Traditional choices include shredded cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, scallions and bean sprouts. Add a bit of ginger and garlic to taste. Flavor with prepared hoisin sauce. (If desired, add a few drops of soy sauce and/or sesame oil). Salt and pepper, to taste.

For a burst of flavor, spread hoisin sauce onto crepe, then fill with vegetables. If you are a meat eater, add sauteed pork or chicken to the dish.