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Out Of The Kitchen

11/08/2016 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Gallery: Out of the Kitchen [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Shanna Perkins  |  Submitted Photos

If the spirit of food had a human embodiment, it would be Denise Raymond. Even though there were no bubbling pots or crisping crust, when reflecting back on a culinary conversation shared with her, you would swear you could smell garlic and onions simmering in butter or cinnamon and sugar swirling together. The energy Raymond produces when speaking about food takes up every square inch of the room…and it’s divine. Raymond is a caterer, manager of the Saint Peter Street branch of the Iberia Parish Library and the leader of Out of the Kitchen – a monthly cookbook book club.

“I’ve been in the food industry for awhile and I’ve learned everything first hand,” explains Raymond of her career. “In so many ways, I think my training has been better than if I had learned from a textbook, because you can see your mistakes and your successes immediately.” 

From a very young age, Raymond wanted to be in the kitchen. As she put it, she could stand the heat. Raymond would watch as her mother and sister prepared and served meals that elicited rave reviews. She quickly decided that she wanted to be responsible for curing craving and appeasing appetites. Her eagerness to learn led her to work with local names in Acadiana’s catering and culinary landscape, like Wayne Peltier and Keith Sonnier. 

It’s rare for one person to have two careers they’re passionate about, but Raymond does. She’s a cook by night and a library manager by day. One day her assistant director at the library, Cheryl Breaux, approached her with an idea that would bring together both of her passions – a cookbook book club.

“When Cheryl suggested that, BING,” she shouts with laughter. “My brain was immediately all over the place with ideas, but I corralled all of my thoughts and started selecting a variety of cookbooks. I did a little advertising and viola. A year and a half later, we are enjoying ourselves so much.”

Out of the Kitchen meets at the East Saint Peter branch of the Library on the last Tuesday of every month. Raymond thoughtfully selects the cookbook that the group will focus on for the month; they’ve ranged from local recipes to celebrity chefs, Mediterranean to low carb, desserts to Chinese and to infinity and beyond. Each member takes their copy home and begins experimenting. 

“At Out of the Kitchen, members can check the books out and truly browse through it, read the stories and take in all of the pictures,” Raymond gushes. “You can try the recipes at home and find out what you like or what you don’t like and come back and share it with us. A lot of our members are so excited that they bring us samples of what they created. We learn so much from one another – taste testing and learning about the different ingredients and where they’re from. All it takes is a little time and the willingness to play in your kitchen. Some of our members aren’t from the area, so it’s a great free event that allows them to meet new people.” 

One such member is Mary Spreitzer, who moved to New Iberia just two years ago from a small town in the Missouri Ozarks. After falling in love with the area’s rich history and cultural pride, she began looking for ways to get involved in the community. As someone who has a love for cooking and was previously a book club member for 17 years, Out of the Kitchen was a natural fit. 

“It’s kind of like a party when we have a meeting,” Spreitzer laughs. “Everyone brings something and offers advice and tips on the different recipes they’ve tried. It’s interesting because everyone is attracted to a different recipe. It’s been such a revelation for me to see how far cookbooks have come. It’s also been a great way to meet people.” 

Another benefit of the club is breaking free from old cooking habits. Especially in south Louisiana, we tend to cook the same recipes the same way our parents and their parents and their parents did. And while that method is tried and true (and tasty), this gives members the opportunity to experiment with new recipes and ingredients. As Raymond explains, the cookbooks are mostly huge hits, but occasionally, “whomp, whomp, whomp.” And when that happens, members happily bring their own favorite recipes to share with the group. 

The group meetings consist of anywhere from 7-12 members. Out of the Kitchen membership is open to any aspiring chefs who are 18 years of age and older. You can sign up online or simply stop by the library. All you need to bring is an appetite and an eagerness to learn. If you are lacking in enthusiasm, don’t worry…Raymond’s is infectious. 

“I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity in both of my careers to be around people who love the beauty of food,” she stresses. “I can’t get enough of it. I can work all day here at the library and be so tired, but as soon as I put on that chef’s coat, I have a new life. Here,” she says gesturing at aisles of books surrounding her, “I have all of the cookbooks I can read. I love when I have down time and can really get into a new book and hear the cracking of the spine. Then I try these new recipes for my staff and family. Sometimes, I get the oohs and aahs. Sometimes, I bomb. And well, that’s all part of learning.”

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