Empowerment in the Kitchen & What You Really Need to Cook Like a Chef

Onna Hepner is the inspiring and beautiful woman behind Full & Happy, a small culinary startup located in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood. After walking away from a career in advertising, Onna bravely pursued her real passion: food. She quickly enlisted in cooking school and went on to earn her chops in top-rated restaurants around the city.

Her dream was always to cook, and slowly that turned into a love for sharing her passion with others. Onna began creating what she calls “Culinary Experiences”, hosting gatherings in her intimate, beautifully decorated incubator kitchen, utilizing the time to share her cooking skills and knowledge with guests. From personalized classes with couples, to yoga sessions followed by a three course vegan dinner, she does it all with clear intention, understanding, and love.

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As a team here at Free People, we recently attended a group event at Full & Happy. Onna let us take over the space as she taught us how to make spiralized vegetables, vegetarian sushi, mushroom & tempeh collard roll-ups, and so much more. Read on for a quick interview with this inspirational woman, and make sure you scroll all the way to the end. You won’t want to miss her recipe for Ginger Garlic Fried Rice. Enjoy!

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What do you have to say to people who don’t think they can cook at home?

I believe that we all have the power to cook within us. Cooking is a skill, just like any other – it takes time, practice, patience, strength, curiosity, and trust in yourself.

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What is one thing you believe will make cooking easier for everyone?

Recipes need to be modernized to reacquaint people with cooking. I’m trying to figure out a way to do that. We think about cooking by recipes – when we taste something great, we say, “Oh! What’s that recipe?” But I want people to be able to understand taste, and the properties of flavor, sour, salt, sweet, savory… and be able to know and understand when/why a dish needs one of those elements.

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What keeps most people from giving cooking a shot?

There are a lot of obstacles – we’re working. Women and men are both out there busting their butts trying to juggle careers, families, friendships, personal growth, hobbies… we get busier and busier, and technology has made us accessible all the time. There is this demand to always be “on”, and I think cooking is one of those things that just takes a back seat. Some people are also afraid – they don’t want to handle a large knife, or they don’t want to touch raw poultry. But you have to have an open mind and a willingness to change if you’re going to overcome those.

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What major lessons can one expect to learn in one of your cooking classes?

There are so many things that are done in professional kitchens that would blow the minds of home cooks. Often, they are simple things – like slicing a lemon in such a way that you don’t get any seeds. I love it when I show someone something and they say, “Holy s—-, I’m going to do that all the time from now on!” Do I want them to have a good time? Absolutely. But on a deeper level, it’s really important to me that the experiences people have at my studio are both fun and useful.

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Do you have any tools you recommend readers get to make their lives easier?

There are definitely some essential tools that I think everyone should have. Cake testers (used for so much more than just cakes), Swiss peelers, a micro plane, a Japanese mandolin, a great chef’s knife, an excellent serrated knife – I don’t sell products, but I send people to Amazon with a wish list. And it’s not just a list of personal preference, they’re industry standards.

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What makes Full & Happy different than dining at a traditional restaurant?

I’m educating in a very real, very live and very passionate way. I call my events “Culinary Experiences” because I’m not simply serving a meal. I have a chalkboard in my studio that I personalize for every group that comes in. I want people to feel so special, to feel like every detail has been considered just for them. Even if a group doesn’t want a full hands-on cooking lesson, I’ll always share useful information. I’ll take a cutting board over to the table and demonstrate a knife skill. Or I’ll be searing something in a pan and I’ll take the pan to the table and show everyone what they should do at home.  It doesn’t mean anything if I keep my skills to myself, I want to show and explain them for people to replicate at home, because I really believe that they can.

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Lastly, why do you love what you do?

Growing up, my family threw tons of parties. Now, I get to do that multiple times per week. Every day that I have an event feels like a holiday. I’m preparing a space and a meal that’s going to become a part of someone’s body (through the food) and their mind (through the memory of the experience). To celebrate someone in such a special and unique way – that’s really an honor to me. When people come to the studio, we’ll shake hands, but when they’re hugging me as they’re walking out the door, I really feel like I’ve done something meaningful.

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Full & Happy Ginger Garlic Fried Rice

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked jasmine rice, cooled overnight in the refrigerator

1 carrot, sliced thinly

1 cup asparagus, sliced in 2 inch pieces, blanched and cooled

2 eggs, scrambled

1 Tbs minced garlic

1 Tbs ginger, grated on a micro plane

1 Tbs fish sauce

2 Tbs soy sauce

Sliced scallions, for garnish

Sesame seeds, for garnish

Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Directions:

  1. To make perfect fried rice, the rice really needs to be cooked and cooled before assembling the dish. I make it the day before. The best way to cook rice is to place it in a fine mesh sieve and rinse it thoroughly 3-4 times to remove as much starch as possible. This will prevent your rice from clumping together. Place the rice in an oven proof baking dish or stock pot and cover with water. You want to have a ratio of 2:1, water to rice. I cover it with aluminum foil and bake it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, checking for doneness after 15. When it’s done, I spread it out on a sheet tray to let it cool.
  2. It helps to have a large wok (I use the Joyce Chen 14-inch carbon steel wok), but any large sauté pan will do. Cook the ginger and garlic in hot oil (vegetable works great), then add your carrot, asparagus, and rice. Add the fish sauce and soy sauce (feel free to taste as you go, and add more soy sauce and fish sauce if you’d like). Add in the scrambled eggs, which you should pre-cook, and have ready to just toss in.
  3. Garnish with plenty of scallions, sesame seeds, and cilantro leaves. Enjoy!

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Comments

  1. I love reading stories about people who leave a ‘traditional’ career to follow their passion — and make it work! It’s so inspiring to read about Onna and I think everything she says about why people don’t cook is totally spot on. I’ve always loved food and cooking but by far one of the most helpful things I ever did was take a cooking class with a professional chef years ago. I learned all those basics like how to hold knives, cut ingredients properly, the right heat for different recipes — it was a bunch of small things that gave me so much confidence and really encouraged me to cook at home even more than before. I would LOVE to take a class at Onna’s studio — they all sound like so much fun! I’ll have to see if there’s something similar in my hometown, at least until I can make a visit out to Philly =)

    Your photos are so lovely Naomi! Thanks for sharing this amazing woman’s story!
    xo

    http://www.threadandbones.com

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