How a mom wrote a best selling cookbook, started her own business, and still cooked dinner each night
In the third episode of Reach.Live Creator Series we spoke with Nicki Sizemore, a professionally trained chef from the French Culinary Institute and the creator of FromScratchFast. A mom of two kids, Nicki talked with us about how she runs her business by herself and how she always seeks new ways to grow her business and learn more about her profession.
For this interview Nicki spoke with the Reach.live team from her kitchen in Hudson Valley, New York. Later in the day she was getting ready to do a live video stream to prepare gnocchi in an adorable cooking video with her daughter.
Q: What was your journey like to becoming a professional trained chef?
Funnily enough growing up, I was always the kid watching Jacque Pepin on PBS instead of cartoons. I was obsessed with cooking shows. My parents were very busy, both of them working full time jobs. My mom was an amazing cook but didn't have a lot of time, so I learned how to cook from watching cooking videos. That is why video is such an important part of my platform - I think it's so empowering for people. From age 10 and up I started experimenting in the kitchen. In college I didn't know that the food industry existed outside of restaurant kitchens. It wasn’t until I started working in food marketing that I realised the scope of the food industry. That’s when I decided to drop out of graduate school and enrolled in culinary school.
“that is why video is such an important part of my platform - I think it's so empowering for people”
Q: Talk to us a bit more about how you got into this business full time?
It was a very impulsive decision to quit my job and go to culinary school, but I knew I was following my heart by jumping into it full time. After culinary school I worked as a freelancer for a decade in almost every capacity of the food industry--I wanted to learn as much as I could. Later I started doing video production as a food stylist. When I started my own blog, I wanted to offer the personal experience of video to my readers, and I started making cooking videos (back then they were on my phone). Over the past couple of years I have placed a bigger focus and emphasis on video. Video has always been a part of my life and has become even more important to my craft. It's such a great platform.
Q: What inspired you to teach cooking classes and share your recipes?
I grew up with generations of teachers and have a passion for teaching. I've been teaching cooking classes since culinary school. When my first daughter was born, I stopped teaching classes in person because I only had so much time, thus video became an even more important part of my platform. I’ve done many online videos and classes on general cooking themes, such as seasonal eating, as well as on specific recipes. But I’m increasingly interested in offering technique based classes.
Q: What is your teaching philosophy & where do you take inspiration from?
My mission with From Scratch Fast is to help busy cooks put wholesome, flavourful food on the table any night of the week. After my first child was born, I had to cut gluten out of my diet so my recipes are naturally gluten free. Empowering people to find the joy in cooking is something I love to do. I also want to offer easy techniques to help people get food on the table every night. Wholesome, colourful, from scratch food is so vibrant and is so good for us; it fuels me and I love sharing that passion with my students.
I am always reading, learning new things, and exploring the farmers market and the garden, which help to spark new ideas. Everyday life is also a big source of inspiration. In my garden recently I had to get rid of a surplus of zucchinis. So I experimented and created a new recipe for zucchini brownies. They’re delicious, nutritious brownies, and my kids love them!
“My mission with From Scratch Fast is to help busy cooks put wholesome flavourful food on the table any night of the week”
Q: How did the cookbooks come about?
I love books, and I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to make my own. All of my cookbooks were created very organically. My first cookbook is all about the food processor, which I use as a sous chef in the kitchen. Build a Bowl was created when my oldest daughter was young, and my husband and I realised that we were eating down to her palette. I discovered that one of the best ways to create dynamic and flavourful meals is to build one-bowl meals that can be customised to everybody’s tastes. When my second child was born I started experimenting with my slow cooker, and I fell in love. Now it’s one of my most used appliances. My cookbooks have followed me as a professional but have also followed me as a mom.
Q: How has the food industry evolved since you started in this business?
I am going to speak personally. After culinary school in 2005, my focus was very technique focused. I would make fancy 4 course meals, and I thought food had to impress. As I've gotten older, I have really simplified. I feel that the food industry as a whole is on the same path. While fine dining still exists, there are so many more high quality casual food restaurants. Food should satisfy the soul, feel good, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don't have to spend 4 hours to make a delicious meal!
Q: What do you think is the future of independent business owners like yourself and where do you see it headed in the next 5-10 years?
I have stopped forecasting. I want to keep doing what I am doing, but I’ve found that I need to keep all doors open. I therefore stopped giving myself that timeline. I’m focused instead on building my audience. I love communicating with my readers - that is my joy. I want to continue growing and learning, and I have to trust that what is meant to happen will happen.
“In live video sessions you can interact with people, I love that interaction aspect, and I love the organic questions that arise”
Q: How have you developed your community? How do live video sessions compare with pre-recorded video?
I communicate through social media, responding to comments on websites, direct emails, and my newsletter. That is what brings me the most joy, to have that 1 on 1 connection with readers and learners. For example, there is an 11 year old girl that has made probably 50 of my recipes on my blog. She's amazing, and I now know her and her family and their preferences. That just makes me so happy.
In live video sessions you can interact with people, which I love. I also enjoy the organic questions that arise. As a cook I can get tunnel vision, so I love how students can open my mind. I hope I can provide useful information, but my students are also constantly pushing me to grow.
Q: How do you stay motivated after all these years?
It’s important to give myself permission to check-out and take time when I need it.There are days when I won’t enter the kitchen. But often what happens is that I just get so excited, and I find myself in the kitchen again - I can’t control it! Food and cooking is such a source of energy for me.
Q: What does success look like for ‘From Scratch Fast’?
That is almost a spiritual question for me. While income is important and I hope it will continue to grow since I’m helping to support a family, when it comes to real success, it has to be how I feel. I’m at the point in my life where I know myself, I know what I want to do, and I know intuitively what I love. As long as I remain true to that, that’s success.
Q: What would be one piece of advice or encouragement you would want to give to fellow business owners?
That is such a great question. The things that fill you up and energize you are the things you need to put in your basket first. That’s where you need to start from. Also, don’t try to jump from A to Z. In the beginning when I started this business, I was all over the place. I went so fast and made so many mistakes. Now I recognise the value in going slower and doing things right the first time.