from The Star-Ledger
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Multitasking mom gathers friends and fans for cooperative cooking venture
BY SUSAN ALAI
If you’ve ever hit the grocery store at the end of a busy day, it’s usually clear that few people know what they’re going to make for dinner that very night. Are they harried suburbanites or deer caught in the headlights?
Planning meals is a hassle, shopping is a hassle and food prep is a hassle.
Not so for Alison Bermack, a 38-year-old mother of three and savvy home cook who found a way to make the nightly dinner planning and prep routine an opportunity for multitasking to the max. While dishing in her kitchen with a like-minded friend, the pair plans family meals for both households, develops recipes on the fly, supervises small children and socializes.
“Everybody is so busy multitasking these days that it didn’t seem to make sense not to do something with the time when we get together,” explained Bermack, who actually likes to cook. Cooking with a friend made it that much more enjoyable.
The scheme has worked out so well that Bermack and friend Debbie Harner cook on Thursday or Friday afternoons most weeks. Another session is conducted on Sundays when husbands and kids are on the scene waiting to dive into dinner. Earlier in the week, the pair meet at a local grocery store or stop in at an Asian market to pick up the seasonings and produce they expect to use for their cooking ventures.
With a little prodding from friends, Bermack started a Yahoo group, cookingwithfriendsclub.com, to help others find cooking mates and develop their own recipes. There’s one active group in Montclair and several others starting up in Pittsburgh and Canada.
The original cooking group evolved from her own love of preparing family meals, the need to feed her family of five — husband, Scott; son, Zachary, 9; daughter Sofia, 7; and baby, Cory, 21 months — and finding that she was the go-to gal for plenty of others looking for interesting recipes. Not coincidentally, Bermack was offended by the new warehouse-style franchise kitchen set-ups where menus and ingredients are provided — for a fee — and participants just have to take home the assembled dishes and heat them up.
“It doesn’t seem right to me. You don’t get all the smells,” she said, sounding troubled by the antiseptic nature of such centers.
Bermack and her co-cooks are thrifty, too, claiming they use up groceries in each others’ cupboards and devise recipes based on what’s available for a good price at the supermarket. Many weeks, they’ll make lots of soups, stews and sauces to be put into plastic containers for their freezers. Trips to Costco are used to make large and thrifty purchases, with the women splitting the cost of the expensive items. But they also try some adventurous stuff like bok choy stuffed dumplings. Even then, they’re particular, buying the cellophane-thin wrappers found at Asian markets in the area rather than at the grocers.
While this cooperative cooking seems almost Amish, rather than Internet-driven, Bermack is a thoroughly modern mom with an MBA in her past and a book in her future.
Faster than you could say stir-fry, she began developing and shopping a book with co-author Dana Bowen that will include the concepts of food, health and family values. But they’re not in it to launch a TV show or create a product line.
“Cooking is a passion of mine, and it’s about me cooking with friends in the community,” she said.
With a little encouragement, Bermack thinks timid home cooks will become more creative in their kitchen ventures, realizing they can substitute and swap ingredients rather than be tyrannized by a recipe. The results can still taste good, whether the greens are spinach or collards, the sausage Italian or Portuguese.
The added dividend to cooking with another mom is that the kids spend time in the kitchen, sampling dishes and learning about healthful eating without a lecture. It also means fewer trips for a last-minute burger and fries since there’s usually something ready to be heated right in the refrigerator.
Bermack learned to cook this way as a teen. She and her father would spend time in the kitchen pulling together different dishes. “It was a nice escape from adolescent pressures” and the experience made such an impression that a teacher used it as the basis for Bermack’s college recommendation letter.
Â© 2007 The Star Ledger
Â© 2007 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.