Chef Cassandra Cotoia is the owner of Empowered Foodie, which offers several different culinary experiences, including personal chef services, dinner parties and cooking classes for both adults and kids. She spent years honing her skills after learning her trade at the Culinary Institute of America and knows what makes a great meal. Learn more at empoweredfoodie.com.
Tell me about Empowered Foodie, what you offer and how people contact you for your business.
I started Empowered Foodie as a way to help busy people with complicated diets and meal plans enjoy healthy and delicious meals at home with their family. We believe you have to be nourished and nurtured before you can truly connect with those you love. Our services include weekly meal preparation, in-home cooking classes and dinner parties.
You obviously love cooking and preparing meals. Tell me how you developed an interest in this field and about your education.
I originally began this company in New York at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. TERRIBLE timing — or so I thought. What began as a desire to bring connection and joy to others through food took shape in a time of crisis. Families who were now home with their kids 24/7 were pulling their hair out while homeschooling and working from home.
Empowered Foodie quickly went from catered parties (my original plan) to meal prep and then to in-home private cooking classes for kids and adults. All of those parts of my business I enjoyed so much that when I re-opened my business here in Florida I decided to keep them all. I love being able to nourish others through food in all of these ways.
Tell me a bit about your career as a chef. Did you hone your skills at restaurants or other venues for food preparation?
I was born in Vermont, but my parents moved to the Hudson Valley outside of Rhinebeck, New York, when I was 4. I grew up there and began working in food service at 16, and at 18 I enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
I worked in various Hudson Valley restaurants for 14 years before becoming a private chef for a family in Westchester County for seven more years.
In 2020, I decided I wanted to step out on my own and created Empowered Foodie to offer personal chef services. Through a series of circumstances my husband and I were able to relocate down here to Ponte Vedra Beach in October of 2021. So I decided to move Empowered Foodie down to St Johns County with the hope of bringing that same element of connection to everyone here.
What kinds of culinary creations do you most enjoy making in the kitchen?
I LOVE making Mexican food! Throughout my time in restaurants, I helped open and run an authentic Mexican restaurant and even became the executive chef there. It was an amazing time in my career, and I was so fortunate enough to work with so many talented people who taught me so much. I also am half Italian, so that is a true love of mine along with French food since it was part of my classic culinary school background.
Do you have any secret recipes handed down to you through family or special dishes you have developed over time?
I most enjoy creating new things in the kitchen. Some of my specialties include my Almond-Sesame crackers (gluten free and dairy free), Pork Carnitas, My grandmother’s chicken soup and meat sauce.
What do you like best about living in this area?
Living here has been a dream realized. My husband and I dreamt for years about living near the ocean; the fact we are here is amazing to me. Everyone is super kind and considerate. It has been a joy to settle into such a warm and welcoming place. Ponte Vedra Beach is so beautiful, and we feel truly lucky to be here.
How do you like to spend your free time?
In my free time I like exploring some of the local towns like St. Augustine. We are huge foodies so trying new restaurants is absolutely a must! I also love my profession so whatever I can do to educate myself on new techniques or flavors is something I am passionate about. I love my dog Maggie, and you can often find us walking the beach here on nice sunny days (which is most days thank goodness!)
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