By Jennifer Lugo- Collegiate Staff
Through her self-made business, Culinary Expedition in Grand Rapids Michigan, Elizabeth Suvedi, a culinary student at Grand Rapids Community College, is currently sharing her experiences and recipes with other people in the area.
Suvedi expressed a desire to start cooking meals at home for her family at a particularly young age.
“I have always loved cooking,” Suvedi said. “It has always been a passion of mine. When I was 5 years old, I would beg my parents to be able to make a dish for dinner, and even though it tasted terrible, I was learning those basic skills in the kitchen.They bought me a junior cook book, and from there, I just kind of kept on.”
When she was 8, Suvedi began traveling around the world with her parents who wanted her and her siblings to gain perspective on other cultures.
“I basically grew up comfortable travelling internationally,” Suvedi said. “I remember being in sixth grade and we were in Europe, and we would have breakfast in France, lunch in Italy, and dinner in Switzerland and just go from country to country, driving around, exploring the country, exploring the food, obviously very quickly, but just kind of taking in a little from each country.”
But Suvedi began working in human resources first. She worked for 15 years for a corporation, before deciding to start her own adventure.
“When I quit my job in corporate America, I decided to build a cooking business, focused on the things I love most, which is teaching people how to cook really delicious tasting foods.”
Suvedi, 37, of Grand Rapids, also spent two of her high school summers at the ages of 16 and 17 in Mexico and Peru in a live abroad program through the Lion’s Club. She stayed with three different host families in each country, having more personal experiences than if she would have been in a hotel.
Suvedi’s experiences have taught her that there are variations of different cooking styles even within the same culture. She said that asking her which food is her favorite is like asking which child is her favorite. She loves them all.
“I’ve got a coconut curry, red lentil soup recipe that I like to use a lot with different people,” Suvedi said. “But it’s so hard to pick.”
Suvedi doesn’t just teach people how to cook. She is also an advocate for the healing power of good nutrition.
“There’s a huge movement in education right now … around the main reasons why people die in the US are tied to food,” said Suvedi. “Heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, they’re very strongly correlated to food consumption. As we know it there is the “standard American diet,” for which the acronym is SAD, and unfortunately, it is sad.”
According to The Center for Disease Control, “more than one-third of adults and 17% of youth in the United States were obese in 2011-2014.”
Obesity is considered an epidemic in this country, and diabetes is rapidly growing also.
According to The American Diabetes Association, “In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population had diabetes.”
Along her journey, Suvedi has made a connection that is taking her passion to the next level.
“I partner with a physician in town. Her and I also teach culinary medicine classes, as we call them,” said Suvedi. “Essentially, she speaks to the health side. She sees people in the emergency room and sees all these people that come in and have these diseases, and she has to treat them, knowing that in a lot of cases, these are preventable and reversible through diet.”
Dr. Kristi Artz, 41, of Grand Rapids, has a degree in emergency medicine, and after taking a cooking class series called “You Are What You Eat,” at the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids, hosted by Suvedi, she was impressed and inspired, as she also knows the importance of a healthy diet.
Artz likes what Suvedi is doing, and together, they are sharing their knowledge with the residents and tourists of Grand Rapids.
“There is a curriculum that we would very much like to bring to Grand Rapids. It is the culinary medicine curriculum,” said Artz, about herself and Suvedi. “We have collaborated and hosted three or four different culinary medicine classes and then we have spoken at one of the local corporations, to some of their employees through their wellness outreach program, and then also at Grand Rapids VegFest, to tell people about what culinary medicine is.”
Artz has a degree in culinary medicine as well, to help Suvedi build business that can teach people more about the benefits of a healthy, well maintained diet through schools and hospitals.
“Culinary medicine is a growing field within medicine that’s trying to take nutritional knowledge from the classroom to the teaching kitchen,” Artz said.
Currently Suvedi teaches private cooking classes for her customers, even using children’s birthday parties as an avenue of learning. She has been in business a little over two years.
“It’s been great,” Suvedi said. “I think that I’m finding that there’s a niche for this in the Grand Rapids area.”
Artz has also been inspired by Suvedi’s abilities to implement her experiences into her own cooking.
“I think she’s an incredible chef,” Artz said. “She develops her own recipes, and has a ton of knowledge just with hands on experience. With travelling, she has learned to incorporate a lot into her own cooking. She’s a real people person, and people really connect with her at her classes, especially when they are cooking with her in the kitchen.” said Artz.
Melissa Perrinne, 29 of Ada, met Suvedi through their children, who happened to be in a school program together. She decided to take a Culinary Expedition vegan cooking class, which happened to be hosted by Artz. The classroom was Artz’s kitchen.
Perrinne described the way Suvedi taught the group of 8-10 people. She said Suvedi had everything they needed ahead of time. She designed the menu, purchased the equipment and ingredients, and even made note cards with step by step instructions on how to make each part of the meal, including an appetizer, soup, salad, main course, and dessert.
“Obviously, you can go to a lot of different restaurants for dinner,” Suvedi said. “But it’s a lot more intimate in terms of just having it in your home, as opposed to having a meal prepared take out, which can sometimes feel a little bit more cold and not as personable.”
Perrinne explained that Suvedi took the time to come around and coach each person with whatever they were doing.
“She would just come around and coach you, like ‘oh that looks really great, oh what if you diced up your avocado a little bit chunkier, to give it the feel for the chunky salad,’” Perrinne said.
Perrinne said the class was more than she expected it to be.
“She had a very unique, eclectic and, yet savory menu put together,” Perrine said. “I was shocked at how easy everything was, and there was guidance, but you didn’t need to have a lot of guidance.”
The only downfall Perrinne saw was the cost. She said it may be a little pricey for the average person, at $65, but she made sure to say she got what she paid for, as it was a two to four hour learning experience with foods and tools she had never been exposed to.
Suvedi said the pricing really varies on the event.
“It depends on the quality of the food, if they want all organic foods,” Suvedi said. “Do they want high end meats? It depends on the labor that goes into making the foods, how many portions and courses someone may want. All those things factor into the cost. We give individualized pricing.”
“I would definitely recommend it, and I would do it again,” Perrinne said.
There are other aspects of Suvedi’s business that people might take interest in, including private chef parties, where Suvedi does the cooking for a party, while the host can visit with the guests.
Suvedi is also in the business of taking people on food trips. She said that she is having one in the spring and anyone is welcome to go. She and her guests will be travelling to New York at the end of May. The group will spend two days in New York City, and then two days in the northern Hudson Valley Rhinebeck region. For more information, you can check out Suvedi’s website at www.culinaryexpedition.com.
Suvedi doesn’t just teach others healthy eating habits. She cooks the same way at home as she does in her classes.
“This is her life. She makes these types of meals for her family, and for herself,” Perrinne said. “I love what she’s doing. She’s definitely putting passion in and she’s making the right connections and networking with the right people that I believe she could definitely cause a movement or at least a big following.”