I’ve spent 28 years learning how to be a delicious cook; this is what I’ve learned

My favorite cooks, from my grandmother to a Venezuelan roommate, all swear by this one simple ingredient.

I’ve spent 28 years learning how to be a delicious cook; this is what I’ve learned

My favorite cooks, from my grandmother to a Venezuelan roommate, all swear by this one simple ingredient.
  • The other day, my newly married daughter asked me a question: "Mom, how did you get to be such a good cook?" I think she's seeing that part of her future coming into view, and may be panicking just a little.

  • "It started right after we got married and moved to Los Angeles," I told her. "I was crazy in love with your dad, and thought he deserved to eat like a king, so I was determined to feed him like one." She laughed. "At the time I only knew how to make three or four good meals, but that was about it. Those wouldn't last me long without endless repetition. I needed to learn how to cook, and fast!" My daughter was pretty entertained at that point. I continued my story.

  • I signed up for the Cookbook-of-the-Month club, and when Jeff was working late at school, I'd stay up and read cookbooks at night. I got so I could almost read them like a novel, envisioning what each combination of flavors might taste like. I kept asking myself...what would he enjoy?

  • I walked to the little grocery store by our house and hand-picked fresh produce that would keep us under budget. And I practiced. A LOT. We started hosting what Jeff liked to call "production dinners" at our house every Sunday, with a different set of guests each time, and spent most Saturday nights cooking together in our small kitchen, prepping for the next day's big meal.

  • Have you figured out my secret ingredient? Keep reading....

  • Back when I was in college I had a roommate who would make the simplest food, but it always tasted so good. One day I asked her the same question my daughter asked me: "What makes you such a good cook? How does everything you make taste so good?" She was from Venezuela, and I have to admit I expected her to reveal some secret spice she brought from home. The answer surprised me. And has stayed with me ever since.

  • "Ya sabes," she explained in her native Spanish. "Es que siempre cocino con amor!" Translation: "You already know. It's because I always cook with love."

  • I realized it was the same answer my grandma gave me when I asked her to teach me how to cook. She gave me a beautiful little wooden roll-top recipe file, where she had carefully handwritten many of my favorite foods on decorated 3 x 5 cards for me to save. But then she told me that the most important ingredient to each recipe was love.

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  • After 28 years of marriage, I've spent well over 10,000 hours in the kitchen...enough to qualify me as an expert by now. And I can attest that the answer is still true. The most important ingredient in any meal is the love with which you prepare it. It holds a kind of magic that transforms the simplest of foods into the most satisfying meals. It is powerful.

  • Just the other day I stopped in at my mother-in-law's house after teaching a class, and she offered to make me a chicken sandwich. How could I say no to that? In minutes she had pulled together a simple open-face sandwich on whole wheat bread, topped with mayo, rotisserie chicken and avocado (plus a few turns of the grinder of salt and pepper). It tasted amazing! (See a version of the recipe here).

  • That weekend I wrote to my daughter, "How is it that food always tastes the best at Grandmother's house?" And then I caught myself, and smiled, because I already knew the answer. That secret ingredient, which grandmothers have perfected over a lifetime, is simply LOVE.

Jana Winters Parkin is an artist, writer, and adjunct faculty at UVU. She co-hosts a popular podcast for women: "The Living Room" ( and spends every day possible exploring mountain trails. Contact her at


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