Young chef and cookbook author Nisa Burns stops in Austin this week to promote her book, Kitchenability 101: The College Student's Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food.
A recent culinary school graduate, Burns is known for teaching college students around the country how to prepare affordable, healthy meals. We met with Burns and discussed the genesis of her book and why she loves teaching cooking techniques and recipes to young college students. Check out her recipe for avocado lettuce wraps below!
CultureMap: What made you want to stop in Austin for your book tour?
Nisa Burns: My public relations team is based in Austin, and when I decided to do the book tour, I knew I definitely wanted to go to San Diego, Portland and Seattle. I realized pretty quickly that I had to stop in Austin as well. I've heard nothing but good things about the food scene here, and being a young, passionate chef, I couldn't pass up coming to a place like this.
A lot of people emphasized how much of a foodie town Austin is, and after arriving here, I definitely see what they mean. This really is one of the best food cities I've stayed in!
CM: Tell me about the events you're hosting while you're here.
NB: On Wednesday, I'm hosting a class at CYC Fitness and talking about how to utilize the kitchenability in the morning. I'll be doing that with blogger Claire Siegel of The Slender Student. We're both going to be talking about healthy breakfast options for students.
On Thursday, I'll be doing a live cooking demo on Fox 7 News, and right afterwards, I'll be on KXAN News. That night, I'll be at the University of Texas demonstrating how to cook a ten-person dinner party for under thirty dollars for the Texas Belles organization. I love doing college events because students are always so fun, lively and genuinely interested in food.
Saturday morning, I'm doing a cooking demo at the SFC Farmers' Market in Sunset Valley. I'll be using local produce to show people how to make roma tomatoes with feta and basil in a toaster oven. Saturday night, I'll be teaching a class at Central Market and doing a book signing.
CM: What made you decide to target college students for your book?
NB: It really boils down to my friends. I stayed home during college. I went to culinary school and community college locally, so I didn't have an issue with having access to homemade food.
I noticed when my girlfriends were away at college, however, that they were always emailing me with questions about recipes, how to make different things, etc. I realized that these were skills that not just chefs needed to know, but skills that everybody should know, like how to slice an onion, how to cook a chicken, how to sauté, how to dice a tomato, etc.
These skills aren't necessarily easy to learn, but once you do learn them, you'll remember them for the rest of your life. College students are a great market to target. They're fresh. They're young. They're going to a new place. They're ready to learn something new. Sure, cooking probably isn't the first thing on their minds, but learning those skills early will help them for the rest of their lives.
CM: Why do you think so many college students are intimidated by the kitchen?
NB: When you're handed something your whole life, you never appreciate it. You see your parents cook you dinner; you sometimes go into the kitchen and walk around, but you've always had a meal cooked by someone else. If you aren't taught how to do something, you're going to rely on someone else to do it for you. It's not their fault, but I think that's why we have so many students going off to college not knowing how to cook.
CM: Take me through the genesis of your book, Kitchenability 101: The College Student's Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food.
NB: I was a college student when I started writing this book. I was taking final exams and doing final edits on my book at the same time. It was madness! I was extremely passionate about the project though, and I wanted to get it out there for people to read. My first cooking blog started getting a lot of hits, and then my friends threw a cooking party for me and told me to cook everything on my blog, which was insane, but it actually turned out quite well.
For the first time in my career, I saw people eating my food and really enjoying it. That was a turning point for me. That's when I decided to really dive into the project. I called an editor in San Diego and said I wanted to write a book, but the editor emphasized that it was a very competitive field nowadays and that I should call back in a year if I was really serious.
So I worked for a year, saved every dime I made and really dedicated myself to the project. I called back a year later to the day and said, "I'm ready. Let's do this!" I flew out to San Diego six months later and got the ball rolling. In the short amount of time I've been promoting this book, I feel as though I've instilled a lot of confidence in countless college students and novice cooks. It's something I wouldn't trade for the world.
Avocado Lettuce Wraps (Excerpted from Kitchenability 101: The College Student's Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food)
Makes five servings
2 ripe avocados
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
3 tsp lime juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
5 large leaves iceberg lettuce
Peel and core the avocados, then cut into one-inch wedges. Dice the tomatoes. Mix everything except the lettuce in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes. Place two to three tablespoons of the mixture in the center of each lettuce leaf. Roll up each lettuce leaf like a taco.
If you want to catch Burns while she is in town, check out one of these events!
Wednesday, January 16, 7:30 - 8:30 p.m., CYC Fitness (715 West 23rd St.)
Claire Siegel and Nisa Burns discuss eating for energy at this free talk and cooking demo. Featuring giveaways and signed books for purchase afterwards.
Saturday, January 19, 10:00 a.m., SFC Farmer’s Market at Sunset Valley (3200 Jones Rd.)
Nisa Burns shares tips for cooking in small kitchens and on small budgets.
Saturday, January 19, 5:00 - 7:30 p.m., Central Market Cooking School (4001 N. Lamar Blvd.)
Nisa Burns demonstrates four recipes from Kitchenability 101 in this fun class for young cooks. Sign up on Central Market's website.