Sia Pickett Inspires Brooklyn Shoppers, One Seasonal Dish at a Time

A friend introduced Sia Pickett to Just Food’s Community Chef training program in 2011, and she’s been inspiring Brooklyn farmers’ market shoppers with healthy--and delicious--cooking demos ever since.

Raised in Milwaukee, Sia grew up visiting her family in rural Wisconsin, eating homemade meals, and learning about the nutritional value of food. Both her grandmothers enjoyed baking bread and cakes from scratch and cooking vegetables fresh from the backyard. From the age of six, Sia was an eager and willing helper. “It was the original ‘farm-to-table,’” she remarks.

Thanks to a love of healthy and creative cooking fostered by her grandmothers, Sia chose to pursue a career in the culinary field. Sia received her certificate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2014 and now owns Malata Cuisine, a natural foods-focused personal chef and nutritional coaching service in Brooklyn.  A friend introduced Sia to Just Food’s Community Chef training program in 2011.

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Stirred by the prospect that she could share her culinary knowledge with others, Sia saw  the program as the perfect way to couple her passion for cooking with her desire to alter the misconception that healthy food doesn’t taste good.

“A lot of times, it’s not that people don’t like the fruit or vegetable. They simply may have never tasted it before because culturally it’s not in their food repertoire. Or maybe they didn’t like it the way it was prepared.”

Like other Community Chefs, Sia keeps her recipes simple. Using fewer ingredients makes it easier to convince participants to recreate the recipes in their homes. Having simpler recipes also makes it easier to be flexible when she needs to substitute a seasonal vegetable, like kale, in a recipe that calls for cabbage. “It’s like being on Chopped,” Sia jokes. “You go to the market thinking you’ll be working with one vegetable, and you end up working with something entirely different.”

Through her cooking demos, Sia has convinced many participants to try new vegetables. One market shopper initially refused to eat mushrooms, but thoroughly enjoyed Sia’s diced mushroom and green beans dish. “The next time I saw her, she told me she prepared the dish for her mom, and it’s now a regular staple in her home,” Sia smiles.  

Success stories like this one encourage Sia to keep creating healthier and more original dishes. While many recipe ideas are drawn from her grandmother’s expertise, Sia is also inspired by fellow Just Food Community Chef trainers and mentees. An important component of the Community Chef program’s philosophy is to encourage participants to share knowledge and techniques with one another. The program uses a participatory approach in which trainers and mentees bring what they know to the table to exchange and create a free flow of ideas.

“My biggest takeaway from Just Food is getting into raw eating. I never thought about mixing certain vegetables and condiments together, but by working with other Community Chefs, I’ve created many new, enjoyable raw recipes.”