Twenty-six-year-old Juanita Smith of FishHawk learned how to cook by watching The Food Network as a child. But many of her peers from the so-called millennial generation are more comfortable opening take-out boxes than using the oven in their kitchens.
Smith, who leads the FishHawk Ranch Home Chefs group, said not everyone in her group knows how to cook. However, they all share the love of food and desire to fit cooking into their hectic schedules. She said the more experienced cooks in the group mentor the ones who are trying to swap frozen processed packaged meals for the home-cooked variety.
"A lot of them are interested in cooking - they just don't know how," she said. "We give them recipe cards and they start making up their own versions."
Smith, who had a German father and Puerto Rican mother, said club members can share recipes that come out of their ethnic heritages.
"Everyone has a different cooking style and ethnic background," she said. "Some people cook more 'green' with no preservatives and all-natural ingredients."
The group plans to meet up again in July after taking a break for summer vacations. In the past, they have met for "grown-up field trips" at places such as Park Square Pizza, where they went behind the scenes to make their own pizzas. They've also met up for appetizers and wine at Park Square Cellar. During the holidays, they enjoy the traditional cookie swap.
Originally from New Jersey, Smith moved to FishHawk two years ago. Married to Kevin, she works full-time as an office administrator at a lab in Apollo Beach while also raising a 3-year-old son.
She makes Sunday dinners using the slow cooker as well as prepares dinners about three times a week that, she says, can be ready in about 30 minutes.
"Everything I make is from scratch," she said. "I don't really like anything canned because of preservatives."
Her favorite dish is a rice and beans stew made with potatoes, garlic, green olives, tomato sauce and spices she finds at a Spanish market.
"When you have a 3-year old running around and a dog, it doesn't leave a lot of time to cook," she said.
Smith said the group is open to FishHawk residents and their guests. For more information, email her at email@example.com.