Though there is no one recipe for success in the food business, experts say it is often a combination of hard work, good decisions and luck -- being in the right place with the right service at the right time. In the small town of Hollis, New Hampshire, Voice of America visited a talented cook and businesswoman for whom all those ingredients came together.
Almost ten years ago, Liz Barbour quit her job to stay home and raise her two children. When she decided to go back to work, she didn't want to return to the catering business.
"I realized that what I loved the most was to teach," she says.
So she started her own business, "Creative Feast," doing cooking demonstrations.
Ms. Barbour brings recipes, ingredients and a complete mobile kitchen into people's homes, community centers, even local restaurants to show small groups of amateur chefs how to prepare an entire meal.
"I do between six and 10 people, sometimes 12 at a time," she says. "So they can get right close. I try to show them everything, step by step… have them feel the herbs, smell the aromas from the pans as I'm adding ingredients. I want them to be as much a part of it as possible."
Liz Barbour uses only fresh ingredients and natural flavors in her demonstrations.
"I think people are definitely starting to get the idea, the health benefits of using whole foods and non-processed foods," she says. "But the thing is that a lot of us don't know how to cook without using those processed products to fall back on. So, I'm introducing this idea of let's make our own seasoning rub. Let's not buy a rub that's already manufactured and put it on our meat - let's make our own because then we'll know exactly what goes into it."
That emphasis on fresh and flavorful is something her customers say they appreciate.
"I'm not an adventurous cook at home but I come to these classes to become inspired, then I go to the grocery store and buy these different ingredients that I don't usually purchase and try it out on my family and friends."
"In this age where the processed food is so bad for you, it's nice to experiment with new herbs. Something that might spark my children's interest."
"I agree because what I do appreciate about Liz's teaching is that she does use fresh ingredients. That's pretty much what I try to do at home as well. Plus it's fun."
Most of the audience at Ms. Barbour's cooking demonstrations are women -- but not all.
"I've always liked to cook," newly married Matt Klicker says. "I enjoy cooking. Now that I have somebody to cook for, I certainly cook more that I used to."
Matt has attended several demonstrations with his wife Shailagh Curry. The newlyweds say they find these classes very interesting and useful.
"Picking up a few tips, a few new recipes and having the opportunity to try them here before I make them at home is great," Matt says. His wife Shailagh also seems happy with the cooking classes. "We just take Liz's advice in terms of what we can prepare in advance," she says. "We cook on the weekends and sometimes save ourselves some leftovers during the week. We don't mind putting aside time. It's a date night for us to be in the kitchen and to put a nice meal together and enjoy it."
After almost three years in business, Creative Feast is doing well. Liz Barbour says she's happy because she is helping her customers make better food choices. "In the United States, I think many of us struggle with not only do we know how to cook, but we don't know how to buy good food," she says. "We're busier than we've ever been before. So what are we doing? We're calling the pizza place, we bring home pre-marinated meat that comes in a package that all we need to do is throw it in the oven. I don't want to criticize people because I know it's the way our lives are now. But we need to figure out ways to bring the family back into the kitchen. And to remember that that's where the nurturing for our families can really begin."
The next project on Liz Barbour's business agenda is what she calls "soccer mom meals". "That came about because my son is on a soccer team," she says. "And they meet for an hour and a half a couple of days a week. And a few of my friends asked me, 'Gee, you know, I don't have to go home right now, wouldn't be great if we could have a class, and then we'll go home and make our dinner?' That's something that I'm working on right now."
Creative Feast founder Liz Barbour says she is encouraged by her customers' enthusiasm, their desire to learn and their willingness to try new recipes in their own kitchens.