A recipe for success: How cooking helped me take control of my life


Greer Vermilye

As a child, my parents never cooked dinner for me. So I took matters into my own hands.

By Samie Travis

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

I watch as the numbers on the microwave tick down and hear the three loud beeps that have been ingrained in my mind, signaling that my meal is done. I grab my pesto tortellini, which was a block of ice less than five minutes ago, and sit down for yet another meal with Amy.

For the entirety of my elementary and middle school years, Amy — otherwise known as the frozen food company “Amy’s” — was the main chef in my house. Every night, I shuffled a fork through boxed mac and cheese, ravioli or tofu scramble, wondering why my parents didn’t cook the homemade meals that it seemed like most of my friends had every evening.

When I brought up the touchy subject with my parents, they quickly put the issue to rest: they both worked full-time jobs, so they didn’t have the time or energy to cook. Time and time again, I expressed my desire for tastier and healthier meals, only to leave our conversations feeling hopeless.

One night toward the end of eighth grade, as I poked at a particularly flavorless vegetable lasagna at the dinner table, I decided that it was time to learn how to cook the meals I craved. Overcome with a burst of passion, I texted the first chef that came to my mind: my Aunt Michele. Michele had developed a mastery of the culinary arts after she became dissatisfied with my grandma’s cooking in high school. When I was growing up, it didn’t matter what my aunt was making for dinner — I was guaranteed to leave the table satisfied. I knew she would be the perfect mentor.

I texted her that night that I wanted to start cooking, and she invited me to come over two weeks later for my first lesson. It was time to get my hands dirty in the kitchen.

Every Monday evening, I grilled, simmered, diced and rinsed until the movements came naturally to me. My aunt had me follow recipes letter by letter, helping if need be. We started with Italian dishes — a caprese salad as well as penne pasta tossed with chicken and homemade pesto — then ventured into Mexican fare, fajitas topped with sautéed onions, peppers and shrimp. Next, we paid homage to the godly food of the Greek through vegetable and feta cheese orzo in addition to a classic Greek salad, both doused in a homemade vinaigrette.

My aunt and I continued to venture through various cuisines. Each time, we printed out the recipe and placed it into my new white binder labeled “Samie’s Cookbook” that my mom, who appreciated reaping the benefits of my new skill, had thoughtfully given to me.

As I gained experience in the kitchen, I changed some of the recipes to fit my tastes, embodying the creativity that I saw on my new favorite cooking competition TV show, “Top Chef.” Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons — the show’s judges — taught me the importance of adapting my food until I felt satisfied with the flavors. Having leeway in the kitchen posed a refreshing contrast to the perfectionism I felt tied to in all other areas of my life. The idea that recipes are generally loose and that eyeballing ingredients isn’t a crime helped me promise myself that when I was in the kitchen, I wouldn’t succumb to the unrealistic standards that I worked toward with schoolwork, extracurriculars and my social life.

I began cooking a few dinners per week at my house during the summer after eighth grade, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic struck almost a year later that my recipes started to reach my family’s table every night. A recipe and “folklore” by Taylor Swift were all I needed to disconnect from the outside world.

Plus, after I became comfortable with my culinary skills, it wasn’t long before I ventured into a sweeter science — baking. I found ground in treats that aligned with my newfound value of wellness, like pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins and banana bread. Fostering my creativity through baking gave me confidence as I continued to cook for my family.

I used to feel embarrassed that my friends knew about my frozen dinners, and I refrained from inviting them over for meals. Three years later, I’m eager to share my recipes with those around me.

For most of my life, eating dinner used to be nothing more than a rushed break from homework, but I now take time to enjoy my home-cooked meals. I view dinner as an opportunity to relax and slow down from everyday chaos — and eating meals that I cook myself has allowed me to realize that I can take charge of my wellness, too.

Nowadays, I continue to regularly cook meals for my family. I will have my culinary skills for the rest of my life, so I’m thankful I pressed “start” on my chef experience instead of on the microwave.