Culinary Passion Turned into a Sizzling Career
By Lisa Epstein
Monster Contributing Writer
Canadian cookbook author and publisher, Norene Gilletz, used to dream of being a princess - or a swimmer like the movie star Ester Williams. But life had something different in store for her. Norene’s story is surely ‘off the eaten path.’
Born in Winnipeg, Gilletz was an average kid; she spent her time going to school, improving her swim stroke and a watching her mother cook meals from scratch.
Norene Gilletz: In those days, you couldn’t just pop a frozen dinner into the oven, you had to make your own – my mother made bread and pastries from scratch. I used to love being in my mother’s kitchen. I grew up there. I cultivated a passion for food at an early age. But no one ever thought to make a living at [food] in those days. The thought never entered my mind.
Monster: What was your first job?
N.G: My first job was in an advertising agency in Montreal. I would offer all kinds of creative ideas only to be told to return to my secretarial duties. I also worked for a law firm. But these jobs were just jobs. There was very little sense of fulfillment. I then married and stayed home to care for my young kids. I used to bundle up the two toddlers in their winter wear and trudge over to the neighbor’s where the ladies would cook together and the children would play. This was way before the internet, cell phones and cooking shows on TV. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon. I also joined a charitable women’s group to widen my circle.
Volunteering Provided Appetite for a Career
N.G: The ladies decided to write a cookbook as a fund-raising project. We asked our families and friends to share their recipes. We wanted to know their culinary secrets so that we could duplicate the dishes that were family favorites. I became the editor of Second Helpings Please! when I accidentally discovered that the bean and barley soup recipe had no beans and the tomato rice soup recipe didn't include rice! This project, which we thought would take 3 months, took us over 3 years! It was a wonderful learning experience and "whetted my appetite" for a culinary career.
Monster: Did you have any experience as an editor?
N.G: None. But I collected cookbooks and read them from cover to cover. I learned about proofreading from my days as a secretary at the law firm. And I would experiment with recipes, substituting this for that and adding twists to be sure that these recipes made sense.
News of Gilletz’s culinary 'know-how' spread. She would often get phone calls from friends and family in search of recipes and answers to cooking blunders. And then it struck her! Why not give cooking classes in her home? Her first lesson was booked solid – 4 students (she only had room for four around her kitchen table). The idea of personalized cooking lessons took off like hot cakes, giving countless lessons about countless topics.
N.G: The next step seemed obvious. I loved food, I loved the kitchen and I loved to cook. So I opened a kitchen tool store with enough space to offer cooking lessons. I used to teach swimming and I found it was really about transferring my teaching skills. Bottom line, you need to be a good communicator to be a good teacher. I also started to get requests to consult chefs in commercial kitchens. Having a knack for making traditional Jewish style recipes, I was asked to teach chefs how to make things like potato pancakes, knishes and other goodies. So here I was consulting professionally trained chefs.
Monster: So when you did publish your first cookbook?
N.G: My first venture into publishing cookbooks was in 1968 for Second Helpings, Please! None of us volunteers knew anything about publishing but through trial and error, we did it. And since then, my company called Gourmania published several books but now I’m focusing on the food more than the publishing and I have a great publishing house called Whitecap to look after all that. I’ve since created a website and blog to help promote my cookbooks and food consulting business.
Monster: And words of advice to those who trying to find their path?
N.G: I created my career by listening to and acting on the requests I was getting from those around me. People asked me questions about food and cooking, so I provided classes. People needed help choosing the right kitchen tools, so I opened a kitchen tools store. So many people have shared their recipes with me over the years and I’ve experimented with my own that I decided to collect them all in books. I try my hardest to credit all those who gave me recipe ideas. I think there’s a ‘halo effect’ in operation – people feel good if they can help you, so it’s important to give credit where it’s due.
Monster: Any words of wisdom from a professional foodie?
N.G: Learn all that you can about what it is you love. Stay up to date on trends. I do that by being active in associations and groups. I still sign up for cooking classes so I can keep a fresh perspective and learn something new. And I still network. I meet so many interesting people and get so many great recipes that way! Besides trading recipes, this advice applies to everyone, I think. We always have to keep learning and be curious about the world around us.
To learn more about cooking lessons and healthy cooking, please visit Norene Gilletz’s website: www.Gourmania.com