click to enlarge David Radwine.
David Radwine.

There are so many benefits of learning how to cook. You can control what goes into your body. You can prepare the foods you want to eat the way you like to eat them. You can set a budget that works for you and you can then stick to it.

It became apparent to me at an early age that it would be easier for me to learn how to cook the foods that I wanted to eat rather than chance finding someone who would cook for me. At this point in my life, as a 62-year-old who enjoys the pleasures of the table, cooking is second nature. How did this happen?

It's 5:30 p.m. in Taylorville and the Radwine family is seated around the dining room table eating dinner. The year is 1964 and we had just returned from a family trip to the New York World's Fair in a brand new Buick station wagon that had carried three young brothers; Sam, Nat, yours truly, two parents – Leila and Harry – and one grandfather, Zaide (Yiddish for grandfather). I'm sure we reminisced about all of the good times and great meals we experienced during this memorable family trip. I'm also sure that at some point during the meal, we were discussing what we would be eating for meals to come. The dining room table scene had been and would continue to repeat itself for many years. We mostly always ate dinner together as a family. Food was important to us, not only for sustenance but for enjoyment. Both of my parents worked, so my mother would make dinner using various scratch cooking skills learned from extended family members who were experts in the kitchen.

My mother's alchemy in the kitchen fascinated me. While she was chopping and mixing, I would ask questions. I know I was a bit of a distraction to her but I did learn a lot watching her. One thing was for sure, when my mother cooked, whether for family or friends, she always got rave reviews. That's one of the reasons that I was drawn to the kitchen. Cooking could give me a chance to express my creativity while nourishing people and pleasing them at the same time.

Once I turned 15, I got a job at the local Baskin Robbins dipping ice cream. Eventually I started to learn about the restaurant business at Taylorville's One Mile Inn (now just a wonderful memory). I was grilling steaks, frying chicken and catfish, and busing tables. There was a stint in the kitchen at the Taylorville Country Club where I was able to put some of my skills to practice. Barbara Crites was the manager and a well respected local food authority. She let me do pretty much whatever I wanted when it came to special dishes. She encouraged my culinary pursuits. From there I studied restaurant management at University of Illinois and then headed to New York to the Culinary Institute of America where I studied to become a professional chef.

In my career as a culinary professional, I've worked in restaurants, hotels and private clubs. I've worked a stint at the Illinois Executive Mansion and taught cooking classes at Lincoln Land Community College. After all these years, cooking became second nature to me. But as my age increased, so did my waistline.

While taking the train home from Chicago one afternoon several years ago, I ran in to Dr. Craig Backs. I had seen his picture on the cover of Springfield Scene, showing how he had transformed his body and health in a very positive way. Three and one half hours later, the train pulled in to Springfield and Dr. Backs had convinced me that I should give his "protocol" a try. The next day I signed up for Crossfit Longevity where Mike Suhadolnik coached a group of people that ranged in ages from the mid-50s to upper 70s. There I learned about the importance of exercise and nutrition to promote optimal health. I learned about the dangers of sugar, refined carbs, processed foods and refined cooking oils. Since then, I've adjusted my diet to reflect these concerns. I've also learned about the importance of drinking lots of water, moving throughout the day and getting plenty of sleep. I'm also practicing intermittent fasting. I don't follow this lifestyle 100% of the time, but I try to adhere to it a large percentage of the time.

If someone wants me to prepare foods like I was used to preparing prior to changing my lifestyle, I can still do so but I prefer to cook and eat as healthy as possible. It's easy for me to prepare healthy foods knowing the fundamentals of cooking. For those of you who would like to know more about how to cook and prepare healthy foods, there are several ways to go about it. If you have a basic knowledge of how to get around the kitchen, you can check out many YouTube videos on how to prepare healthy meals. If you are interested in taking cooking classes, Lincoln Land offers many opportunities as does Chef Denise Perry at Copper Pot Cooking Studio.

Whether you want to eat healthy or just learn about cooking principles, learning how to cook can be a beneficial skill in your toolbox for good living.

David Radwine is a local culinary consultant and instructor. You might find him in a kitchen with a knife or on a wooded trail with Bella the Boxer.

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