A West Islip woman is proving that a job switch in mid-stream of life, and a big dose of passion, can lead to career success and fulfillment.
Jackie Valenti, a longtime resident who’s been active in community, local sports and school organizations since her son began school, had been working in sales and marketing for 25 years when a layoff hit.
The 42-year-old realized she wanted to pursue her real passion: cooking and baking, and enrolled in culinary school.
“Anyone wanting to cook or bake just do it. Go for it,” she says. “Go to culinary school if this is your passion. I would encourage anyone to try, it's worth it.”
After graduating from the Culinary Academy of Long Island she interned at the former La Grange Restaurant, and then continued on to work at many four-star and local high-end restaurants.
It was during those years she began to realize that her new career offered another exciting role: cookbook author.
“I began re-creating the same expensive meals for my family and friends at home for a fraction of the cost,” she said, adding that she quickly realized that other parents would likely benefit from what she was learning.
So she decided to write not only a cookbook, but a series of cookbooks, called “Cooking Kept Me Sane - Simple, Easy Dishes That Won’t Drive You Crazy,” to help families enjoy great meals while staying on a budget.
The first book is available online through Valenti’s website.
She plans to write several more, likely focusing on summer BBQ fare and cooking for a crowd for the next two. Her attitude toward authoring a cookbook is exactly what her attitude was in embarking on a new career.
“Writing a cookbook is not for the faint of heart, but, again if it's something you really want to do I say go for it,” she said.
“Great recipes are daunting for most people,” said Valenti, explaining many recipes require exotic ingredients and spices that are not only expensive but don’t need to be in the dish.
And she’s not into specialty food stores for ingredients. She sticks to local supermarkets for her recipes.
“I shop where everyone in West Islip shops; Best Yet, Stop n’ Shop, King Kullen and Costco. Having a recipe printed out, with a list of ingredients with step-by-step directions to follow, is an essential part of great cooking and that’s the cookbook approach,” she said.
"Cooking Kept Me Sane" features 186 pages of photos, ingredients and directions to prepare appetizers, salads, soups, entrees, desserts and even a bonus ‘Kid Friendly’ section as well.
“Knowing many young families whose children are very picky eaters, there are numerous recipes all children love,” she states in release about the book.
“As a former head cook for a 100-child day care center in Babylon, every one of the children, as well as some of their parents, would tell me all the time how much they loved my mac and cheese or chicken fingers and even the meatloaf.”
In addition, the cookbook’s website provides a free recipe of the week, as well as tutorial videos.
Each recipe has been tested numerous times by Valenti, who said that was the big lesson she learned in writing her first cookbook.
“You have to test every recipe until you get it right. The book was a labor of love for me,” she said.
And if you were wondering what Valenti's favorite dish or recipe is, it’s hard to pin her down to one answer.
“I pretty much love food in all its colors. However, I do love my Crème Brule. I am a real foodie.”