Susan Jalbert | Chow Bella Cooks, Owner
Five Minutes with Susan Jalbert | Chow Bella Cooks:
“Food is about what works best for you, whether that’s vegetarian, or pescatarian, or something else. You need balance. If it’s not something you are going to stick to and enjoy… life is too short. I have fun and work from a place of passion.“
Cooking for health
Cooking has always been my passion. It started when I was ten because my dad had a massive coronary, and my mom had to go back to work full time – my dad survived, he’s thriving now in his nineties! – but at the time, I cooked. I would get the recipes the Sunday before, and my mom would go to the store, and then I would prepare all the meals during the week. That’s what started it. That’s why I studied food and nutrition. I knew at a young age that nutrition played a big part in your health. At ten years old, the die was cast.
I have a degree in Human Nutrition, a degree in Food Science, and a degree in Dietetics from the University of Vermont. My first day on the job at a nursing home, right out of school, they handed me the menu of what to give a person, and I knew right away, “This is not for me.” I wanted to save the world. But the world didn’t want saving, it wanted a pill, a powder, or a potion. When I found out how much the nursing home director made – whose job I was aiming for – I quit the next day. I got a job at a tech firm as a receptionist. That’s how my tech career started.
Making time for foodie pursuits
When I got into tech, my career soared, and I got away from the food. I traveled a lot with my corporate job, though, and there was often down time. When I was in France, I would just wander into restaurants and ask chefs, in my bad French, “Can I learn?” and some of them would throw me out, and some of them would say yes, and I got a unique understanding of French cooking. I had a lot of friends who were Indian through my work, and they taught me Indian cooking, and when I was in Japan, I spent time wandering around and going into little restaurants that were no bigger than 7 to ten patrons. And I became friends with owners, and they would teach me. My main focus was always Italian, but I learned many other things.
Redirect and refocus
When my husband and I came to Wilmington, we had the specific intention of doing jobs that were personally fulfilling. He sent me to cooking school – Tuscan Women Cook – in Italy for two weeks. He said, “I don’t know what you’ll do with it, I don’t expect that you have to do anything, I just want to send you.” It was really special that he did that.
I went by myself, and it was not a vacation – it was full time school. You learn from the women in the area, how to cook authentic Italian cuisine. We trained in a four star Michelin restaurant, too, but it was really local. I would Skype with my dad at midnight – after getting up in the morning, cooking, and then eating what you cooked, and then doing it over again for lunch, and then for dinner – and he was excited to hear what I had learned to cook that day. It was great, we picked all of our herbs, and our vegetables, and watched them slaughter the chickens. I’m not a great gardener, but I really enjoy picking what we used doing the day.
Back to the beginning
When I came back from Italy, it took me a little while, a year or so, to think about about what I wanted to do, and then I formed Chow Bella Cooks. I focused on more than just Italian food, there was French, some Indian, and some Thai, which I had learned in Japan. I taught people how to take time-honored dishes that are heavy in fat, and convert them into healthy dishes. I wanted to help people, I wanted to save the world.
This fused where I began with what I had learned both in school and over the years.
I got hooked into a TV show on OWN called Cooking with Miss Mary, and it was the farm-to-table concept before it really got going here. They hired me to teach her how to cook healthy meals. We would use her recipes, but make them healthy. I got a glimpse into the TV industry.
Then, I started working with women in a shelter, teaching them how to shop and how to make healthy meals. How to read labels. I worked as a volunteer in the youth program at Coastal Horizons, and I would go in and teach the kids about healthy meals; I would give a slide presentation about what’s in chicken nuggets, and why nutrition is important, and how what goes into your body affects you, and then how to make healthy chicken nuggets. I cook clean, and you can really taste the difference. That’s how I cook at home, and we can really taste it.
With Chow Bella Cooks, I did cooking parties, and catering, but it was never as fulfilling as working in the shelter, or teaching young people and women who didn’t understand about nutrition and how to feed their families, but who took away a lot from my classes, including a much more positive self image and a sense of accomplishment. So, I created a course, called “Cooking with Confidence,” which bolsters self-image and self-confidence. I love doing motivational speaking and coaching, combined with cooking, and it was a lot of fun do it with students.
WECT would have me on regularly to talk about healthy cooking. I would take your traditional desserts and snacks – for a romantic Valentine’s or Super Bowl parties – and make them healthier. I did that for a year, regularly, and that was fun, but you have to get up at three in the morning and get ready! And it was live TV – so crazy things would happen, like my dog would get in the shot. We did the show in my kitchen which is designed to be ideal for a cooking show. I had a mirror that went over the stove, and the step-down for filming.
My goal is to eventually have a location where I can teach about good nutrition, and how to cook, and how to make these time-honored traditional meals from Italy, and how to make them more nutritious. My passion is definitely calling to me… I can see the end to my tech career in a year or so. Then, I am going to get on it and have Chow Bella Cooks running full time again, in a way that is true to what I believe and that is fulfilling, and that is balanced and kind to my own self, too. I want the teaching of how to make good dishes nutritious, to be the main focus. The parties are fun, but that’s not the core of what Chow Bella Cooks is. I need to hone in on what I’m doing, and where I’m going to do it. It’s a matter of getting it done. It’s fun and it makes me happy.
Passion for cooking
I cook all the time. My sauce, too, that’s another one of my dreams. I’d love to bottle my sauce, it’s so simple and it’s so delicious.
The holidays are really special: they are a combination of Italian food traditions and Polish traditions. I make my mother’s pillbox hat cookies, and homemade limoncello. This year, I’m making the limoncello in two different ways, it’s an experiment.
Make Susan’s Suga di Compagna following her signature red sauce recipe.
Contact Susan Jalbert, Chow Bella Cooks for information about group or private cooking and nutrition lessons.