You will make mistakes and it’s OK when they happen. I’ve always been a perfectionist in many ways, so I hesitated to do the thing I wasn’t well versed in. I quickly learned that it’s important to do them, make the mistakes, and learn that along the way that’s how you’ll get better.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gina Homolka.
Skinnytaste began in 2008 when Gina Homolka, author and recipe developer, wanted to slim down some of her favorite recipes. The result was “skinny” and “tasty” creations made with real food. Gina’s meals quickly turned into a blog reaching over 17 Million people and then a healthy food empire with numerous best-selling cookbooks and becoming both a Iacp Award Finalist and James Beard Award Finalist.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a Chef?
Back in 2007, I began my journey as a home cook, recipe developer, and cookbook author, who loves to develop healthy recipes. Throughout my childhood, I was inspired by my parents who both loved to cook and shared their passion with me from a very young age and certainly inspired me to have fun in the kitchen. As a home cook, it’s always been my dream to help people make fresh healthy meals at home, keeping them simple, high quality, and delicious!
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
My focus in the kitchen has always been centered around cooking family-friendly meals that are healthy and easy to create by using in-season produce, lean protein, and lots of colors. Initially, when I started my journey, my focus was centered around me shedding some weight before my wedding. When I searched online, every single recipe I found in that niche seemed very processed and didn’t appeal to me. That’s when I decided to start revamping dishes that were on my rotation and for fun, I started a blog, Skinnytaste, which grew in popularity quickly.
Over the years, I’ve tapped into all sorts of flavors, but have always desired to keep things simple, fresh, meals with high quality ingredients. These are key qualities I look for when expanding Skinnytaste, such as the recipes in my cookbooks or working with brands with similar values, such as Home Chef.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One of the interesting things since I became a home chef took place while I was on a TV morning show in front of a live audience. During the show, I had to demonstrate a recipe from one of my cookbooks and I was completely prepared for the demo and I had all of my talking points memorized to the tee. Well, the two show hosts were so friendly and talkative that I got distracted and burned my dish — live on AIR! The best lesson I learned from this would be to avoid cooking on live TV and stick to easy to prepare dishes like salads.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
The biggest obstacle for home cooks is not knowing where to start. This was where I started, and I hope to inspire others to overcome these barriers. I recommend picking up a cookbook such as The Skinnytaste Cookbook, finding trusted recipes online or ordering a meal kit, such as Home Chef, to start the process. This will allow for fresh ingredients and easy step-by-step directions to be delivered directly to your door.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about is to make it something they feel good about making using fresh, seasonal ingredients that taste delicious. This also enables them to feel proud about serving it to others. Now with my exclusive recipes developed closely with Home Chef, it’s taken the time-saving aspect to the next level by making easy, fresh, and delicious recipes as quick and simple as possible.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Stemming from my roots since I’m half Latin, I always gravitate to Latin cuisine classics like rice and beans, churrasco or tacos! I always make sure to use fresh, seasonal ingredients that help create meals that are full of flavor, delicious and showcase lots of color.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
Believe it or not but I love following unhealthy food focused websites for inspiration to create some of my most creative dishes. I also listen closely to my fan base to identify what home cooks want to create and hope to spark interest in potential future home cooks. Cooking at home can get monotonous and overwhelming, so having fun new options including meal kits or cookbooks to turn to makes it easier and exciting.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Yes, most recently I have partnered with Home Chef, one of the nation’s largest meal kit delivery brands, who make fresh, simple, delicious home-cooked meals even more accessible. Both of our brands had our customers and communities grow exponentially over the past year, and with a demand for a wider variety of lighter, more balanced meal choices. So far — we’re pleased to share that everyone is loving it!
What advice would you give to other chefs to thrive and avoid burnout?
My advice to other chefs in order to thrive and avoid burnout is to make sure to take a break and find time to pursue your other passions. When I allow myself time off, I find that I’m most inspired to create new things to help grow my career. Every morning, I make it a goal for myself to exercise for up to 30 minutes before I do anything else.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It’s critical to come up with a good name and website URL before you begin your career as a home chef and cookbook author. Since this was originally my hobby, I didn’t develop a catchy name and had a long website URL. Thankfully, later along in my career I changed it, but this did mean having to redirect all of my traffic to a new name and website.
- Always remember it’s OK to ask for help. I used to do everything myself from recipe development, photography, videos and social media — you name it I did it. Once I started to develop a team of people, they were able to help me with stuff that could help elevate my platform such as photography and establishing partnerships with national brands, like Home Chef.
- Don’t forget to take business classes. I had never planned on establishing a career out of cooking — it literally just happened to me. Since my background was in art and design, I was always under the assumption that I would work for someone else, so I had to learn many new things along the way.
- You will make mistakes and it’s OK when they happen. I’ve always been a perfectionist in many ways, so I hesitated to do the thing I wasn’t well versed in. I quickly learned that it’s important to do them, make the mistakes, and learn that along the way that’s how you’ll get better.
- You may end up working more for yourself than ever. When I quit my full-time job to pursue Skinnytaste as a career, I dreamed of traveling the world and taking cooking classes in every country. The truth is that I’m busier now more than ever and unfortunately this has yet to take place. I look forward to reaching this achievement for myself.
What’s the one dish people have to try that you’ve created?
The one dish that is true to my heart from my One and Done Cookbook is my air fryer spicy chicken sandwich. Another dish I’d love to have people try from my partnership with Home Chef is the upcoming Cilantro Lime Chicken and Rice with Corn Salsa.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement to bring the most amount of good to people it would be around home cooking. Home cooking gives people a sense of total well-being, allows them to feel good about what they are eating and feeding others, is cathartic and can be a source of pride. I partnered with Home Chef since they strive to help home cooks achieve these goals. They make it even easier to deliver healthy, protein-packed meals with seasonal ingredients right to your door along with the recipe card. It’s not just convenient, it’s fun!
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!