On the menu at chef Laura Stec’s cooking demonstration at Northside Library on Sept. 1 were a roasted vegetable and rice casserole, almond pesto, broccolini with parmesan and pinenut, roasted vegetables, roasted carrots, and gomasio. Noticeably missing from the menu was meat.
“Tonight we’re learning about fall vegetables and grains- winter squashes, root vegetables, broccoli, brown rice and hato mugi, which is a Japanese barley,” Stec says. “We’re going to make gomasio, which is toasted sesame seeds in sea salt. We’re turning this into a roasted vegetable pie.”
Librarian Angela Ocana loved Stec’s pesto and thought her casserole was easy to make.
“Laura’s whole thing is cooking with healthy, sustainable local foods,” Ocana says. “Her program is sponsored by the Santa Clara City Library Foundation & Friends and a grant we got through Kaiser. We had her at Northside Library during our grand opening a year ago. She’s a fan favorite with our public.”
“My interest right now is all about vegetables,” Stec says. “I was a vegetarian for 17 years. I no longer am, but I still kind of am. Whatever diet you are on, whether it’s Atkins, paleo, gluten-free, or whatever, you should be eating more vegetables. My next book is on vegetables.”
So far, Stec, with Dr. Eugene Cordero, has co-authored “Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming.” This cookbook and food writer believes that healthy food doesn’t have to taste bland, but that preparing a flavorful meal involves knowledge about food.
“Some people say healthy food doesn’t taste good and I say to them ‘you’re not doing it right,'” Stec says. “Eating is something we do three times a day, and yet most of us don’t know much about how to do it. If we played golf three times a day, we’d probably get private lessons and get the right equipment and read periodicals. But the skills involved with cooking and eating have escaped us. Cooking is just like coding or cutting hair or being a doctor. It takes skills.”
For Stec, her cooking abilities have also come from experience and education. She has worked in restaurants since she was 16. The last restaurant she worked at was Left Bank in Menlo Park. She studied at the Culinary Institute of America, the School of Natural Cookery, and the Vega Macrobiotics Study Center.
“Macrobiotics is the study of macro-, meaning large and bio-, meaning life,” Stec explains. “Macrobiotics is about how to cleanse oneself spiritually, mentally and physically. Macrobiotics is your baseline if you’re interested in natural and healthful food. Just like how French cuisine is your baseline if you’re interested in standard restaurant cuisine.”
Stec has been working in the corporate wellness department for the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group since 2003 and has been conducting cooking demonstrations for the last 12 years.