Cooking Up Collaboration
By STORY BY DEBORAH SULLIVAN BRENNAN; PHOTO BY JOHN GASTALDO | midnight March 2, 2016 | Updated, 8:05 a.m.
While some companies rely on brainstorming sessions or retreats to encourage cooperation in the office, Jodi Abel invites them to bring their employees into her kitchen.
The La Jolla resident drew on her experience as a former teacher and self-described “certified foodie” to develop menus, recipes and lesson plans that use cooking as a means of corporate team-building. (More at lajollacooks4u.com)
Just as families gather in the kitchen to prepare and enjoy meals, the businesses she entertains build camaraderie and collaboration by cooking California cuisine under her supervision. The end result – a healthy gourmet meal – is the reward of their teamwork.
Abel, 58, hit upon the idea after participating in a similar class while traveling in Italy. Since then, she has added to her culinary repertoire by studying cooking in other places, including Spain, France and South Africa.
She blogs about her events as well, sharing recipes, kitchen tips and memories, and writes on her website: “Food has a magical way of bringing people together.”
Q: Please describe what you do.
A: I conduct unique and intimate team-building events; all participants play an active role in preparing their meal. We also host couples for special occasions and I offer private cooking classes. I write a monthly food blog and just published my first cookbook, titled “California Cuisine.”
Q: How did you become interested in teaching cooking?
A: I had an epiphany in Italy about nine years ago. My husband surprised me with my very first cooking class at a woman’s home in Umbria, Italy. I cooked with my host, Tia, for two days and was so inspired by what she did; welcoming people into her home and teaching them her family recipes. I thought to myself that I could do what Tia does in my Tuscan-inspired home in La Jolla. I spent five months researching everything I could on Californian cuisine and cooked up a storm. My husband helped design my website and I opened my doors in January of 2008.
Q: What is your experience in the culinary arts?
A: I am a self-taught chef. I take cooking classes around the world when I travel in an effort to stay current with the global food scene.
Q: What gave you the idea to use cooking classes as a corporate team-building exercise?
A: After I secured my first company for team building, it made good business sense to pursue corporate team building. There is obviously strength in numbers in my business. Economically speaking, my time in the kitchen, including shopping for the necessary ingredients, plus prep work is the same for two people as it is for 15 to 25. I also have a unique and intimate venue for corporations. My home sits on top of Mount Soledad and offers beautiful ocean views. It’s refreshing to be out of the office doing an event such as this; we are not another hotel room or restaurant. The companies love it!
Q: How does cooking together foster teamwork and collaboration?
A: Cooking at its core is essentially a team-building exercise. As a chef you’re collaborating; you’re relying on others in your kitchen – each plays a critical role that determines the outcome. We see the same collaboration play out when we divide up a company’s participants into groups. Each group wants to succeed. Each group recognizes that success is dependent upon teamwork. However, it’s teamwork in a fun environment and the result is a wonderful meal and there’s always wine and dessert.
Q: Please tell us about your approach to California cuisine, and how you develop your recipes.
A: I have developed four key ingredients that are my foundation for cooking: extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, citrus juice and sea salt. You can create an entire meal from these four ingredients: Salad dressing, vegetable sauté and marinade for protein. Then you build from there by bringing in other flavors. I have developed over 400 recipes and have featured my favorites in my recently published cookbook, “California Cuisine: Fresh, Simple and Delicious.” I also feature vegan and paleo alternatives to most of the recipes in the cookbook. So there are recipes for everyone.
Q: What are your tips on how to plan a menu for a family or business event?
A: Be organized and plan your weekly meals in advance. Get the family engaged for a day of cooking together. Shop and prep for your meals in advance so when you get home from work all you have to do is cook. Make extra portions to freeze for another day.
Q: What are any fundraisers or benefits you contribute to?
A: We have hosted and done fundraising for Volunteers of America, Jewish National Fund and others. I am also a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and part of its mission is to provide philanthropic support in the culinary arts.
Q: What is most rewarding about your work?
A: Meeting people from all over the world and sharing my passion for food and cooking. I love hearing their stories and learning from their cooking tips as well. Many of their stories are featured in my cookbook.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: Plan ahead, be organized and always have plan A, B and C.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I lived in Israel for two years between 1979 and 1981.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Doing yoga, going to the beach and eating with my family.
What I love about La Jolla…
I love the beauty of La Jolla. I literally pinch myself every day that I am so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place. I also love my neighbors; we have a fabulous chill and kind street where we all really look out for one another.