In a day when women can choose whatever career they want, Chef Shannah Spencer says knowing your way around the kitchen is still important. The southern belle is making patrons smile with her delicious dishes at Capitol Sports restaurant in Louisiana, and shares her favorite recipes and cooking tips.
ESSENCE.COM: What are your favorite southern dishes to cook and why?
SHANNAH SPENCER: Growing up in Louisiana, there were a lot of family dinners where gumbo was served as the main dish. So everything about gumbo reminds me of family. I also like to make mother okra with sausage and shrimp served with baked chicken because my grandmother taught me how to cook it. So every time I prepare it I'm reminded of her.
ESSENCE.COM: And why is it important for women to be able to cook today?
SPENCER: Because there's something different about a home cooked meal. It's magical in bringing family together. The vibe is more intimate than dinner at a restaurant, and you know someone prepared the food with love.
ESSENCE.COM: Very true. So what's the biggest mistake women make when it comes to cooking and how we can we fix it?
SPENCER: They try to take on too much at one time. You need to find the one thing you do well and then expand that. If you're a good baker, start with something you're comfortable with, and slowly expand your horizons to new dishes. Also, try to prepare one dish two or three different ways. You're already comfortable with the dish, so trying it a few different ways will allow you to gradually pick up some new skills and get your creativity flowing in the kitchen. The easiest way to beef up your skills is to take a cooking class. Bring your spouse or a friend along for fun.
ESSENCE.COM: That sounds like fun! Now for busy women on the go, what are some cooking tips that can make a meal seem like it took some serious effort?
SPENCER: Prep food in advance. The day before or at least six hours before you cook. Let it marinate or add seasoning and then give it time to soak up the flavor. It's all about the flavor.
ESSENCE.COM: And what are the most important supplies to make sure you always have in the kitchen?
SPENCER: A good set of pots and pans, and knives. Sometimes people will buy a cheap pot or pan here and there. That's okay as long as they're good quality. Bed, Bath & Beyond has some great pots, pans and knives for cooking at home. A good ingredient rack is also key since it's all about the flavor.
Try some of Chef Shannah's signature recipes: