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Family meals, family fun: meals with family and friends have never been easier.

At Home Cafe, Gatherings for Family and Friends

by Helen Puchett DeFrance.

Hardbach, $32.50 Rodale Press, www.rodale.com

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Helen DeFrance and I became friends through The Everyday Gourmet where I was the cooking school director and she taught our children's cooking classes along with Leslie Carpenter. It was always great fun to see Helen sitting cross-legged on the floor at The Everyday Gourmet with a dozen or so small children gathered around her with inquisitive faces, listening intently to the story she was weaving. It could be about being in the woods and concocting your own "Ho-Bo Pack," or having high tea in the afternoons and using your very best manners. Whatever the story might be, she would captivate them for a few minutes until it was time to get into the kitchen and create their own dinners or holiday dessert from scratch with spatulas and spoons in hand. Helen is still teaching cooking classes not only in Jackson but also across the Southeast and has published two very successful cookbooks about cooking with children and families.

Q You come from a large family that obviously spent a great deal of time together. Did you ever imagine that you would use your upbringing as a backdrop for your writing career?

A Meal times at our house were one of the best times of the day, and we always managed to be together at suppertime. I learned a lot around a table with my big family. It was the time we exchanged ideas and caught up on each other's activities of the day. I always heard that you should write about what you know best, and family gatherings are what I know and enjoy.

Q What has been the biggest obstacle in moving from cooking schoolteacher to successful cookbook author?

A I'm still a cooking teacher, and I find that teaching and writing go hand in hand. I love to teach, and through my cooking program Thyme to Cook, I teach cooking to approximately 80 kids a week. When writing a cookbook, I'm able to bring what I love to the table and in teaching I'm able to teach what I write about.

Q To some, cooking at home can be rather mundane, especially if you don't have the time or particularly enjoy cooking. What gave you the inclination to hone in on this particular area of cooking?

A If you ask someone about a memorable meal they've been served, often it's one served in the home among friends and family. Cooking at home--especially when guests are part of the process--is always fun and challenging. In setting the table and planning the menu, you can use all your creative talents. It's really what you make it, and for me, it is fun and extremely rewarding.

Q You have met people from all over the country that obviously have influenced you in your craft. Who has been your most prevalent mentor?

A Without a doubt, it is Kreis Beall who is the owner of Blackberry Farm. Kreis gave me a wonderful opportunity to showcase my cooking classes and encouraged me to write a book. I value her wisdom and advice. My grandmother, Helen Todd, taught me the joy of cooking. She was my very first cooking teacher, and she taught me with love and patience. And of course my sister Carol who challenges me and encourages me to go for my dreams.

Q You and I have often discussed being single parents and working all of the time as well. Many a day your son Martin and my son James would be at work with us helping in the kitchen. How have you managed to keep it all together and be successful as well?

A I get up early and try to stay organized. I have great support from my family, and I have wonderful friends who are always willing to help. My son, Martin, is my biggest helper. As the kitchen is a second home to him, he is often my assistant, and is my primary food tester. My morn is my proofreader.

Q In your book you offer tips for the "seasoned cook" and for kids as well. What is the significance of this with each recipe, and what made you recognize it enough to add it to each recipe?

A I love taking a dish when I go to people's homes, and I wanted to show how to involve everyone in the meal making process. Also, if you involve others, it takes the pressure off of the cook and makes the cooking process more fun. I wanted to show how to get a meal together if you decide at 4 p.m. you want to have people over at 6 p.m. It can be done!

introduction and interview by emily hines burgess
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Title Annotation:heritage matters: home pages
Author:Burgess, Emily Hines
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Words:808
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