Happy Friday, friends. Excited to be back with a new installment of our Working Women We Adore series! Let’s round out the work week with a Houston working woman, cooking instructor, recipe developer and food writer. Meet Marcia Smart of Smart in the Kitchen.
The Working Women We Adore series has become near and dear to our hearts here at ABA. If you missed our first few installments of the series, read them here and here. We love providing an outlet for women to share their stories, advice and the hard work they’ve put in as females in business.
Today we introduce you to Marcia Smart, a California transplant who made her way to Houston back in the mid-2000s, and has grown a well-deserved following and reputation amongst Houston’s culinary crowd. I’ve had the pleasure of taking two of Marcia’s Smart in the Kitchen cooking classes and use her recipes and techniques regularly. Learning how to properly hold a knife (along with cutting an onion, a la Marcia) has been an absolute game changer for me!
Once a student of Tante Marie’s Cooking school in San Francisco, Marcia has parlayed her cooking skills and former knowledge of marketing and editorial within the magazine world, into one of the leading female-owned culinary business in Houston. It’s no surprise, she’s been featured as a contributing writer for countless publications and often appears on Houston’s lifestyle tv shows. Marcia’s down-to-earth personality coupled with her ability to teach culinary techniques and recipes, in a non-complicated fashion, are surely contributors to Smart in the Kitchen’s success. Marcia is married with three children and hosts some pretty wonderful cooking classes in the comfort of her own home, along with fun cooking retreats. So without further ado, meet Houston working woman Marcia Smart!
I always find the story interesting of how something came to be, and yours especially. New York, to San Francisco to Houston as an editor, food and travel writer, cooking instructor, wife, mother and the list goes on. As someone who loves to travel herself, and I find myself a bit of a foodie, tell us about the most interesting or favorite cuisine you ran into during your travels.
MS: I absolutely LOVE to travel, and especially love traveling with my husband and family. We went to Corsica a couple years ago and the food there was incredible, and so tied to the land. There are wild boar that roam the island and we had a variety of wild boar dishes including slow cooked wild boar ragu with pappardelle and dried boar salami – which was delicious with local mostarda and orange blossom honey on a cheese board.
I think if we are looking for a career that has evolved, yours would be top of the list. Was it clear from the beginning where you wanted to go? Are you still going there? And what’s next?
MS: Oh I love this question! I think life is such a journey and if you just lean into it, your path and purpose will become clear along the way. We change and evolve as we age, and our skill sets evolve and change too. When I started out my post-college career at Parenting magazine, I had no vision for where I would be today. I absolutely love what I do and it gives me so much joy. I’m passionate about teaching cooking basics to home cooks and I hope to increase my audience by developing an online cooking basics series and doing more TV. I would have never had the confidence to feel comfortable doing TV cooking demos in my 30s. There’s something freeing that comes with getting older, it’s almost like the worst case scenario (embarrassment?) just doesn’t have the same power over you. I embarrass myself and my children every day, so it becomes part of your every day. I love Sara Blakely’s motto, the inventor or Spanx. She tries to regularly embarrass herself so she’s not afraid to put herself out there. Follow her on Instagram if you don’t already!
Is there a common denominator in the recipes you develop? What is your most proud recipe and what is your family’s favorite recipe?
MS: The recipes I develop are all extremely approachable. They are for home cooks who need quick and simple dinners – my mission is to get more people cooking at home, so I want to make it less stressful and intimidating for them. I want to take out any extra steps that aren’t necessary and use the least amount of dishes possible. Home cooking doesn’t need to be restaurant quality – very simple food can be extremely delicious and satisfying.
My family’s favorite dinners are either my weeknight lasagna or Bolognese – both comforting meals based on red meat and carbs.
You write, “…sitting down to a family meal isn’t a workout, it’s a privilege.” I love this. Dish for us! I know many people who strive to get to this place in their households, but careers, kids, school, sports make things crazy sometimes. What’s your secret?
MS: Meal planning! And by that I don’t mean meal prep (cooking dinners ahead) – which just sounds like a lot of work to eat leftovers all week long. My family is precious to me, and not to be melodramatic, but I only have three years left of regular family dinners. My oldest will be a sophomore in high school next year. We’ll still eat dinner together when she’s in college, but having that empty seat will be a major transition… Until then, I plan to have as many family meals as possible. They are the quiet in our hectic days. One thing I try to keep in mind is that if it’s difficult for me to get dinner on the table some nights, I know for sure it’s difficult for thousands of other working parents. But the importance and impact of cooking at home should not be underestimated. The routines of family dinner keep us all sane and grounded (whether you’re single, newly married, a young family or empty-nesters). Meal plans are a way to pull it off and make it a reality. In a world that’s increasingly crazy and frenzied and where kids are constantly in a whirlpool of social media, stress and anxiety, the touch stone of family dinner is a simple routine that quiets our day and brings peace into our home.
You can not control the world, and really you can not control your children, but you can control the tempo of your life. There are decisions we all make every day to say yes or no to commitments and work and friends, and many of those yes moments are for very good reason. But I do believe that if we said yes more to a home cooked meal, without the distraction of phones or the noise of the outside world, it would bring us all back to a touchstone that is essential for our mental health and well-being, and for the rejuvenating rhythms of daily life.
That said, I don’t want women (because let’s be honest, women are doing the majority of the cooking in our homes) to feel guilty about not making a homemade dinner. There are so many responsibilities that fall into women’s laps, especially working moms who need to balance and juggle multiple roles. But having a strategy and plan in place makes it possible to cook simple weeknight meals that don’t create stress, but instead sustain you and the people you love the most. Making dinner can be meditative, calming and peaceful, but not if you’re racing through at the grocery at 6pm on your way home to get ingredients. Planning is key.
**photo of Fall Cooking Retreat at Village Roundtop – next one planned September 7-8
What are your must haves, can’t live without 3 kitchen essentials?
MS: A sharp 8-inch chef’s knife (and a serrated bread knife), a microplaner and lemon juicer. I have a quick video about my favorites here: Kitchen Essentials Video
MS: That’s a toughy! If I had to pick the herb I use the most, it would probably be flat-leaf Italian parsley (followed by mint or cilantro). I have single varietal chili spices, like Arbol or piri piri, and sumac adds a tangy acidic note to salad dressings and roast chicken.
I loved attending your in-home cooking class last year! What’s your favorite thing to teach?
MS: Hands down my favorite thing to teach is my super simple salad dressing; nothing changes your game in the kitchen like a go-to homemade salad dressing. I also love to teach how to hold a chef’s knife and cut an onion, knife skills will make your prep time faster and less frustrating.
Where do you source your inspiration? What inspires you?
MS: Travel inspires me the most, but with two middle schoolers and a high schooler we don’t travel as much as we’d like. I thumb through cookbooks constantly and have hundreds in my collection, that is probably my most constant source of inspiration.
As a business owner myself, I know how challenging and rewarding it can be! How do you find a balance with a career, husband, and kids?
MS: I love my business and feel so fortunate to keep learning and growing. My family is so supportive and excited for me every step of the way and that keeps me motivated. I definitely hit a hard stop at 3pm when it’s time to pick up my kids, then I make dinner and take a work break until they start homework. Most nights, I grab my laptop and head to the dining room table for my own “homework” when the kids do theirs.
Down time. How do you spend it? What is one (maybe two) things you love to do in your spare time, that aren’t cooking related?
MS: I take a walk and listen to a podcast before jumping into work most mornings. My favorite podcasts are How I Built This, Criminal, Splendid Table, Super Soul Conversations and Goop.
Next vacation or if nothing is planned, dream vacation?
MS: Our next vacation is to Round Hill in Jamaica, we’re taking the kids but also celebrating our 18-year wedding anniversary at the end of the school year! My dream vacation is to take my husband to Greece where I spent a semester in college, I also have Puglia, Italy, on the top of my list.
Favorite, go-to, can’t live without, career gal look/outfit/piece in your wardrobe?
MS: Ha! I’m no fashion blogger. My uniform is slip-on tennis shoes (I love Vince tennies), jeans (Madewell high waisted button fly are my recent favorite) and a button down (Jcrew denim, linen or lightweight gingham). I’m also a sucker for a French linen apron. When I need to look professional or more “put together” there’s nothing like a blazer, either a stetchy linen blazer for summer or a more structured double breasted Veronica Beard blazer.
What is your advice to any young woman, starting down the path of their own business?
MS: Just start. I had my blog built for a year before I started posted on it regularly. Now I think of that as a wasted year that I could have been learning and just “doing.” I am still learning best practices and better ways to do what I do, but I need to be an active learner and “lean into it” constantly.