Home cooking becomes a passion for many
Mary Ann Ross never settles for just any old ingredients. Whatever goes into the many dishes she cooks has to be just right.
"Everything tastes better with top-quality ingredients," said Ross, 53, of Sewickley. "You can't cut corners and try to save money. The finished product is never as good."
Ross, who works part-time at the Williams-Sonoma store at Ross Park Mall doing cooking demonstrations, has been cooking for her family and friends since she was a teenager. Her passion for food preparation often takes her to the Strip District to buy the finest meat, seafood and cheeses.
She is one of a growing number of people who take pride in preparing and serving their food with style, and plenty of love and care. They make special efforts to find the best ingredients and recipes, use good cookware and prepare dishes that family and friends will love to share with them.
In recent years, a passion for home cooking seems to have made a comeback, says KC Lapiana. She is the owner of In the Kitchen, a store in Marshall that sells upscale cookware, kitchen gadgets and appliances, along with some fancy foods. The store, which has been open for five years, also hosts regular cooking classes, which draw people of all ages and both sexes.
While people who grew up in the '50s and earlier usually had stay-at-home mothers who cooked all the time, Lapiana said, fewer of those from later generations had such exposure to cooking.
Yet now, people of all ages are inundated with fine food promotions from the Food Network on cable TV, countless cookbooks, cooking classes, celebrity chefs and specialty kitchen stores like In the Kitchen, she said. And the pop culture focus on food and cooking has revived or sparked interest for many people.
"I think that food has always been important to people and their home and families, but I think that people got away from it a little bit," Lapiana said. "Right now ... being in the forefront, people are taking an interest and really wanting to learn how to cook. They understand that using better cookware and better utensils makes their jobs easier."
Even busy career people -- particularly the younger ones, who may not have come from a household with a lot of home cooking -- are expressing an interest in learning about food preparation, and making the time to cook more than just burgers and macaroni and cheese, Lapiana said.
Janice Dorman of McCandless and her husband, Ron LaPorte -- both professors in the public health and nursing departments at the University of Pittsburgh -- do most of their gourmet cooking on weekends, because their jobs keep them so busy during the week. But when Dorman does cook, she said she gets really into it, especially if it's Chinese or Italian.
Dorman and LaPorte recently took a class on making paella at In the Kitchen, and Dorman said she plans to host a dinner party soon so she can make it for her friends.
"I like to entertain, and when I entertain, I like to do something different," said Dorman, 53.
She recently had her kitchen remodeled, which makes her want to spend even more time there.
Susan Sieger, 45, of Franklin Park, said she loves to cook, but makes a point of using recipes that have ingredients that won't be too hard to find, because she's too busy to drive across town to look for something exotic. However, she still tries to find the best food she can, and sometimes goes to the Strip District to get seafood and meats. She also often buys produce and eggs from a farmer's market.
When Sieger shares Christmas with her extended family, she said she goes all out with numerous dishes. One of her two sons -- Adam, 11 -- said he wants to be a chef, so her passion has rubbed off on him, she said. And her cooking is a good way to give her kids a balanced diet.
"I figure if I can at least get the first 18 years of nutritious food in them, then I have a good start," Sieger said.
Preparing food is almost like an artist creating a painting or a singer performing a song; it's like creating art with your own personal signature on it, Lapiana said.
"You're putting so much of yourself into it, rather than slapping it onto the plate or onto a frying pan and saying, 'Here's dinner'," Lapiana said.
Putting passion into cooking also contributes to health and relationships, she said.
"Any time that you take a really important stance on the way that you buy your food and the way that you cook your food and the way you present your food ... I think it all adds to a healthy lifestyle," Lapiana said.
"It can be important to your whole family," she continued. "Not only does it make you feel good, but it makes the people who surround you in life feel good."
Diane Petronko, of Upper St. Clair, enjoys cooking at home for the international clients of her husband, Dennis. She said she enjoys the challenge of tailoring each dish to the visitor's cultural preferences, and of finding the right, in-season and fresh ingredients for everything she cooks.
"There's a real intellectual curiosity component to it -- how do things work together?" said Petronko, 59.