Coast Cooking

Stay-at-home mom makes cooking a career

Teresa Fortier cooking at the Mary C. Cultural Center Culinary Café.
Teresa Fortier cooking at the Mary C. Cultural Center Culinary Café. SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD

Teresa Fortier of Ocean Springs was a stay-at-home mom for years and it was a vocation she loved.

Her lifelong passion, however, is for cooking and she finally found a professional outlet for that passion when she landed a job cooking at Lola Fleur Catering and Market in Ocean Springs.

Getting to that point, however, was the result of a lot time and effort.

“I grew up loving food,” Fortier said in an interview with the Sun Herald at the Culinary Café, a teaching kitchen at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs. “I love everything about it. As long as I can remember, food has been my passion. Most kids grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. I grew up watching Recipe TV.”

“I love to experiment and play with my food, coming up with different and unexpected flavor combinations. My style of food is local, seasonal, clean and simple.”

For example, she said that in the summertime, she likes to create fresh salad combinations using all the sweet fruits and vegetables summer has to offer, including watermelon salad with a reduced balsamic garnish or a green bean and spring mix salad tossed with a light Dijon vinaigrette, served with warm goat cheese and baked in crispy phyllo.

Those recipes would impress even the most hard-bitten chef, but also keep in mind this is the style of food that Fortier cooks for her family.

“My food philosophy is simple,” she said, “life’s too short to eat the same thing twice.”

True to her philosophy, Fortier seldom repeats a recipe.

Her husband, Sean Fortier, confirmed that fact when I asked him about some of his favorite dishes: “There aren’t any. She is always cooking something different.”

So taking the plunge and getting a job as a professional cook at Lola Fleur Catering and Market was a game changer and in more than one way.

As you might guess, her family sees a bit less of her and she has learned skills that only a production kitchen can teach.

There is quite a bit of difference between cooking for a small family and preparing lunch for more than 100 customers.

The pots and sauce pans are bigger, as are the oven, mixers and other appliances, but time is also of the essence.

On a typical weekday afternoon, Fortier may have an hour or two to get supper ready for her family of four, but when working at Lola Fleur, the number of orders may change from 100 to 150, but the length of the shift always stays the same.

Perhaps more importantly, the biggest change for Fortier is that she has begun to develop her own line of specialty products, including an extensive list, and it is growing.

A short list includes blueberry bars with raisins and lemon, Parmesan rosemary crackers, honey sweetened tomato jam, blueberry jam with lemon and black pepper, a peach barbecue sauce and a chipotle barbecue sauce. And that’s the short list.

If you want to sample some of these goodies, you can text an order to 228-238-4858, visit the Mary C. Cultural Center Gift Shop or purchase through the Sweet Grass Pastures buying club .

Teresa’s Watermelon Salad

½ of a large seedless watermelon

2 limes

4-6 tablespoons chopped mint

8 oz. feta

1 English cucumber

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Cube the watermelon into bite size chucks. Zest and juice the limes, then combine with the watermelon in a large bowl. Crumble the feta into large chucks, small chunks will disappear into the salad and larger chunks help with presentation as well. Dice the English cucumber, you do not have to peel it, and then add it to the mix as well. Take 2 cups of good quality balsamic vinegar (the quality of the balsamic you use will determine the results. Use cheap balsamic and the results will be poor!). Place in a non-stick sauce pan and reduce by half, this should take 15-20 minutes. As with all sauces of any sort, it is ready when it easily coats the back of a spoon. Give the salad a good toss, then drizzle the reduced balsamic on top. Serve at once.