The Right Ingredients
Fairfield has a hidden resource for learning how to cook: The Secret Ingredient. Tracy Holleran, the company's owner who gained her culinary education at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, teaches men and women alike how to cook fish, make their favorite Italian dish, or whip up dinner using only five main ingredients.
To Holleran, teaching people how to cook is the best of both worlds. “I’ve always been around food because my family loved to cook,” she said. “In my previous career, I did a lot of teaching. I wanted to do what I do best, so ‘The Secret Ingredient’ was born.”
Since launching in 2005, her classes have grown in popularity. She noted that while her ethnically themed classes—like her Taste of Thailand—have always filled up quickly, her healthy eating classes routinely sell out.
“I think people are more interested in changing their eating habits,” she explained. “ They’re cutting back on carbs, dropping sugar, or they’re just watching their weight for better living.”
But Holleran makes a point of keeping the classes small. There are never more than 10 people to a session. Otherwise, you lose that one-on-one feeling and it gets too chaotic.
Whatever class she teaches, Holleran likes to use local ingredients as much as possible. She said the season drives the menu and she changes the class topics to reflect that. For her upcoming class on summer berries in June, she said that she didn’t want to use berries that were flown in from Chile.
“When you get produce that’s closer to home,” she said, “it spends a lot less time traveling in a truck.”
Last week, Holleran teamed up with Annette Alfieri, a holistic nutritionist who runs her weight loss program, Lighten Up! The two gave a healthy eating demonstration to about 30 women at the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport.
Alfieri gave an informative lecture on the best food groups to choose from for a healthy breakfast: whole grains, protein, and fruits and vegetables. But what both Alfieri and Holleran indicated was that many of these women who come to the Mercy Learning Center to learn the language and get help finding a job don’t know that eating a Pop Tart isn’t a great way to start the day.
Alfieri used the analogy of driving a car. When the car is full of gas, it can go a long distance. But if the car is running on empty, it won’t go anywhere. The body’s fuel is food and if you don’t feed it the right ingredients, you can run out of gas pretty quickly.
Holleran followed up Alfieri’s lecture with a cooking demonstration. She made two different scrambled egg dishes using spinach and red peppers and onions. But if you don’t have those ingredients on hand, the possibilities are still limitless. Got leftovers from last night’s dinner? No problem. Just use them in tomorrow’s breakfast.
Wholesome ingredients don’t have the same sugar-high and subsequent crash like some other breakfast foods. For some of these women, this was new information. Many of them talked about skipping breakfast or just eating something sugary on the run.
“It’s hard when you have a different schedule to get healthy food in,” Alfieri pointed out. Both Alfieri and Holleran said that making the effort to prepare a healthy breakfast can carry you through your whole morning.
“These women are really enthusiastic,” Holleran said. “It’s nice when what you’re saying has an impact on someone’s eating habits.”
Holleran’s upcoming classes include knife skills, main course salads, summer berries, and chilled soups for warmer weather. She offers gift certificates and classes for private parties. For more information about class openings, visit her web site at thesecretingredientonline.com or check her out on Facebook.