We had the good fortune of connecting with Elana Horwich and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elana, what inspires you?
I am inspired by learning, teaching and storytelling. The first two go hand in hand. One cannot be an excellent teacher without also being the most committed and passionate student. More specifically, in terms of food and cooking, I am inspired by the home cooking of grandmothers across the globe. When I’ve travelled (specifically during the five years I lived in Italy), I sought out invitations into homes where I could not only taste the cuisine of home cooks and learn some of their culinary secrets, but where I could also hear their stories. I wanted to learn about their lives, who this recipe was adapted from, who it has been cooked for. I want to feel the emotion of life stories. The pain. The joy. The courage. It is this personal exchange that has permitted me to soak in these women’s spirit of cooking far more than a list of ingredients ever could. In turn, when I invite students into my kitchen to learn to cook, I let them get to know me and I also hear about what their personal relationship is to cooking, whether that be one of fear or great confidence.
My book Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen teaches people how to be intuitive cooks. I do this, in part, by explaining how and why recipes work but the more subtle teaching mechanism is in all the personal storytelling I include. As there is lots of humor involved, one might think I do this simply to entertain my readers. That’s definitely important! However, sharing my stories of everything from adventure in Italy to the deep despair in the long search for a career is actually about emotionally connecting with my readers. It is from the heart-centered space that one can become an intuitive cook, or an intuitive anything for that matter. I share myself the way many women around the world have shared themselves with me. It inspires me and hopefully inspires others to create their own stories around food and cooking.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Some people know me as just a cooking teacher, but really my work is a collection of life experiences and passions. The road has certainly not been easy. I come from an overachieving Jewish family and I suffered from depression for years as I sought a meaningful career. I was a high school history teacher, an actor, a comedian, a bartender in Rome, an organizer of creative tours in Italy, an energy healer, a volunteer health worker in rural Latin America and a producer of a documentary in war-torn Southern Israel. Nothing stuck and I beat myself up for it.
What ultimately happened when I founded Meal and a Spiel and started writing my book was that all of the lessons and talents that I had garnered with these jobs wove themselves together to create an inspired experience that teaches people how to live more delicious connected lives. No career pursuit had been for naught. They all helped me connect more deeply to myself and others and hence, develop into the woman, teacher and writer I am today.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
For many people, this answer would change now that we are in “the time of Covid.” But for me the best of LA is not Covid-contingent. What I love most about this city is the beach and the fabulous markets we have. I would take my best friend to Matador Beach out in Malibu, stopping first at Erewhon to pick up some their raw pizzas and some healthy desserts. (Erewhon usually blows the mind of out of towners.) I would take them on a hike up in the Palisades Highlands where you can feel the consciousness of the blooming plant world and connect with the animal kingdom. There are lots of rabbits and I’ve even seen a baby mountain lion! I love to cook for friends so one night we would pick up fresh seafood at Santa Monica Seafood to make a fabulous pasta or slow-cooked calamari. A stop at Eataly or Guidi Marcello in Santa Monica to get a packet of Pasta di Gragnano, which in my opinion is the best dried pasta available would be mandatory.
Another night, I might make them my Persian lamb meatballs with procurements from either Tehran Market in Santa Monica or Super Sun Basket in Westwood. And I love the enormous and fabulous Mexican market Northgate in Mar Vista for fresh tortillas and a dozen different type of salsas. For decades I have always taken friends from Italy and elsewhere out to Joshua Tree to camp. I now have a new home there where I spend a lot of my time and entertain friends. There is not fabulous restaurants out here- good thing I can cook!- but a stop of Pappy and Harriets for chili fries is obligatory. There are beautiful hikes and just relaxing in the quiet bliss of the desert is so nurturing and fun. As for artistically cultural outings in LA, I take friends to the Hollywood Bowl and to the Cinespia for screenings of classic films in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I can’t wait for those to open again soon!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My parents! I spent a decade teaching cooking to thousands of people in LA all in the comfort of my parents’ beautiful kitchen in Beverly Hills. It’s kind of a funny story. When they moved from our childhood home into their current house I was devastated and angry. I was heartbroken about the move and tried to convince them to change their minds, to no avail of course. The new house, however, has a gorgeous kitchen with a big island with the stovetop right in the center of it. There is room for about 15 people to sit around. It’s absolutely perfect for teaching cooking classes! My classes are hands on and and we make a mess. Not everyone would let you do that in your kitchen! My parents have been so generous to allow so many strangers into their home with the utmost hospitality. My mom takes particular pride in making sure that everything always looks beautiful for the students and always lets me go into her personal wine stock in case I don’t have enough. I believe it is this generosity of spirit that has actually created a warm energetic loving protection around the cooking school as we’ve always had very trustworthy lovely people show up to class. Thanks Mom and Dad!
John Schell Xavier Ferrara