Good Life

State College-area chef helps others take charge of their meals

LaCreta Holland slices chicken to cook a quick and simple meal in her kitchen on March 10.
LaCreta Holland slices chicken to cook a quick and simple meal in her kitchen on March 10.

Editor’s note: This story is part of the CDT’s Active Life special section.

LaCreta Holland packed the day’s leftovers into a few plastic cartons, the contents of which are now, by design, much healthier than the recycled packaging would otherwise indicate.

Ginny, the client Holland has just finished with, wanted to learn how to prepare meals that would offset her husband’s diabetes, a noble effort that manifested itself as a container full of chicken stir-fry.

“You eat what you make and you take home the leftovers,” Holland said.

That isn’t the official slogan of Happy Valley Learn to Cook, but you have to admit that it has potential. Holland started her one-woman instructional program two years ago and in that time has welcomed individuals, couples and a birthday party into the kitchen of her State College area home.

Each class is geared toward the needs of any particular student. For example, there once was a man upon whom fate bestowed a most terrible curse. He liked to eat eggs — needed to eat eggs — every day at breakfast. Alas, yokes left this dear fellow flummoxed, his craving the chains that bound him to the menu of a local restaurant.

Holland provided a few simple variations on an otherwise classic dish and just like that, the guy gets to save a fortune on tips. It’s one of the many benefits of being self-sufficient at a time when “eating out” and its less fancy cousin “ordering in” has become a increasingly seductive alternative.

“To me I think there’s a lot of people who want to know how to cook but don’t know where to start,” Holland said.

She started in Italy — well, actually well before Italy — but Europe is really were Holland learned to appreciate the craft that goes into a well-prepared meal. The roads were paved with aromas, the elusive promise of the right ingredients mixed, heated or cooled in the proper order.

“You just smelled all these smells coming from the various kitchens,” Holland said.

In her kitchen everything is explained slowly and deliberately. There is no detail or step taken for granted. Everything is important, a part of a greater whole.

Ginny’s mother was a home economics teacher, and so she entered that day’s lesson, her first, with a bit of a running start. YouTube videos could have provided similar tips on how to best slice a carrot, but the student was in the market for a proper teacher.

“I found it very challenging to find anything online,” Ginny said.

For Holland, being able to cook is about taking charge of your own destiny.

“You’re taking control of your health and your own life,” Holland said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready