Interview

On a recent trip to Southern California, Elatia was interviewed about her cooking service by the actor Matt Sullivan.

What do people come to Lucy's Mom for?

People come to Lucy's Mom for a fresh take on what they eat. There's a high level of sophistication out there, and a big demand for food that is both adventurous and healthy. People feel tremendous curiosity about how elements of South Asian cooking, for instance, can merge with the Euro-American cooking they already know. This is what fusion cuisine is all about. But there's a special place for the classics and for comfort food, too. More than anything, people need and want variety.

I've had your cooking, and it seems to me you use spices in such a delicious way. Could you talk about what spices do?

Spices suggest a whole world of warmth and depth, and in a non-overwhelming way, they evoke your travels. The dish that does this for you doesn't have to come across as frankly spicy, any more than cooking with herbs has to produce food with a medicinal taste. Balance is the watchword here. Whenever you're truly pleased by the food you eat, the element that most pleases you is a dynamic balance of flavors.

What did you learn about cooking on your travels?

I learned how to hit the mark - how a classic dish should taste and be prepared, in the very place where it became a classic. Ragu in Bologna, bouillabaise in Marseilles, cassoulet in Toulouse. I not only studied cooking, I kept journals and collected menus from the most famous restaurants in France and Italy. And I'd ask the chefs what they did to get a particular result. I once asked Alain Senderens how he made a certain sauce I couldn't figure out, and I asked Marc Meneau how he got a cooked basil leaf to retain its flavor.

Did they tell you?

Sure ! They're not the type to be cowed by an American girl. And this was long before they both got three stars in the Michelin Guide, so they were approachable.

Other than loving to cook, what's the best thing about your job?

The people I work for.

Do you have stories?

Lots. Here's one. A few years ago a woman called me to say that her husband had just been in a terrible accident, that his doctor had told her his head injury was so bad that he would probably never again do anything but watch television and eat dinner. "If that's how it's going to be for him," she said, "then I'm making sure he gets the best dinner there is. Just cook anything you can think up -- he's a big gourmet, and we've traveled everywhere." Well, I got completely involved in the mission to give my client gorgeous, unrestrained dinners, and he began to make the most amazing recovery. His wife and I were convinced it was the food, but it turned out his doctor had been looking at the wrong brain scans all along. My client is well now, and has a full life again, so I no longer cook for him and his wife every night. But I still think it was the food...

In the main, what kind of people do you cook for?

Busy people who care about good food but lack time to prepare it. Dinner at home is their quality time together on any given day. I've made dinner for some of my clients almost every weeknight for years. But mostly, people need me for only short periods when they're especially squeezed for time. Some have medical reasons for permanently following a restricted diet, but they don't want to be bored or made miserable by it. I've proven they don't have to be. And if you are really ill, you not only can't cook for yourself, but your appetite and needs are different than when you're healthy. My opinion is that people sick enough to be in the hospital should be given only rarified food - Lucy's Mom's chicken soup, for instance. You can't eat to get well if you find no food that is palatable.

Are your services affordable?

Certainly. I'm the same as almost any person with a skill who from time to time helps you do something good for yourself, your family and your friends. A young couple with a baby only two weeks old hired me to make Valentine's Day dinner for them. They wanted a wonderful evening, but they didn't want to leave their newborn to go out. Having me cook for you is not more expensive than going to a good restaurant or buying excellent take-out - it can even be less. Your time is valuable, after all -- and you haven't squandered any of it getting organized, driving around, making decisions and waiting. You control what you eat absolutely and you enjoy a relaxed, labor-free evening in your own home.

How is Lucy's Mom different from a catering service? From a typical personal chef?

Even if you don't cook it yourself, your party food should express your thinking and your individuality. So instead of pre-designed options priced per head, Lucy's Mom creates something special for you, based on a grocery budget that you find appropriate, and bills you only for time, not for a package that may not be right for you and that includes extras you don't want. We're different from most personal chef services too. They generally cook in your kitchen, and leave food for you. We deliver to you, except when it's a party and some prep has to happen on site. With us you have the service you want and complete privacy, too.

Is cooking professionally an art form like painting?

Very similar, but when you cook, you set out to make people happy. That's not what you necessarily intend in painting. And I like making people happy.