Last Friday I had the great honor of receiving an award for Excellence in Health Supportive Food Education from my alma mater, Manhattan’s The Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI). It’s a pretty special feeling to be invited back to the place where you once knew less than everyone else, and be recognized for your accomplishments.
I graduated from NGI in 2001, and it was a few years after that when I taught my very first cooking class there, on Persian food. Judith Friedman, the Program Director, took a chance on me. I think that was probably the class where I attempted to make tahdig without actually following any of the detailed instructions, just hoping it would miraculously “turn out” (it didn’t, but it tasted good). I had a lot of fun though, and apparently so did the students, because I was asked back and have been teaching public classes there ever since. I’m so grateful to Judith and everyone at NGI for giving me a shot at teaching, and giving me a great place to hone my skills as an instructor.
Last Friday was also the celebration of NGI’s 35th anniversary. Yes, the school was started in CEO and founder Annemarie Colbin’s apartment in New York back in the ‘70’s, when this young mom of two had the kooky idea of founding a school where people could learn about healthy cooking. There was a need to be filled, as more and more people were discovering macrobiotic eating, vegetarianism, and other alternatives to traditional “American” food. A member of the board of directors told me a story about how someone named “John” reserved two spots in one of Annemarie’s homey cooking classes. That night, the doorbell rang and there were John Lennon and Yoko Ono, ready to put on aprons and start cooking.
Annemarie is now in her 70’s, and like all of my teachers at NGI, she looks just as beautiful if not more so than when I first met her back in 2000. It must be all that healthy eating. Annemarie is also the president of the school, and is always seeking to spread her vision further. One of the school’s current initiatives is to help hospitals to incorporate fresh, healthy food into their cafeterias, on-site restaurants, and, of course, into meals for patients. I think that’s a wonderful goal to strive for, and I hope I get the chance to help out in some way.
If you want to check out NGI, on most Fridays they hold Friday Night Dinners that are open to the public (I hope to cook a Persian dinner on one of those Fridays, when my new book comes out next year). There are also lots of public classes on everything from raw food to Japanese food. If you find yourself falling in love with the place, you can always do what I did, and sign up for the Chef’s Training Program. Happy 35th anniversary, NGI!