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Alana Chernila

by Joseph Montebello

Listening to Alana Chernila talk about food makes you want to run to the kitchen and start creating – even if you hate to cook. Hers is not the picture-perfect kitchen but it emanates her love of food and family.

“I grew up in Great Barrington,” Chernila said. “My mother and I lived with my grandparents who ran the Turning Point Inn, a vegetarian bed and breakfast. I spent a lot of time helping out with the guests and baking. That introduced me to a food-based life. My grandparents really taught me how to feed people and to enjoy the labors of cooking.”

Even though she spent a lot of time in the kitchen when she was growing up, Chernila went to St. John’s College in Santa Fe thinking she would have a career in academia, having studied philosophy and literature. Life stepped in, however, and her plans changed.

“Two months after graduating, I was pregnant with my first child, so my husband and I moved back to Great Barrington to be with my family,” Chernila said. “For the next few years, after our second child was born, I was open to any job that would pay me and allow me to have time with my children.”

Chernila worked at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market and it was there that her career in food and cooking began to take shape. She felt a certain tingle when she talked to customers about what they were planning for dinner. She would make suggestions and looked forward to hearing about the results. While it was economically unfeasible for her to attend culinary school, Chernila began teaching herself how to cook by reading cookbooks.

“I decided to start a blog so I could direct customers to my recipes,” Chernila explained. “In the beginning I was mostly sharing other people’s recipes and I would add my own variations. There was something about writing that made me come alive and I began to broach other topics. The blog became a window into what was going on in my life and allowed me to share my thoughts. The response was amazing.”

The blog, eating from the ground up, inspired Chernila to begin creating her own recipes and making her own products, like yogurt and cheese. She was determined to wean her family off packaged foods and lamented the fact that there was no good book about how to make things from scratch. Anything that she could buy at the store she would now make in her kitchen.

“I quit my job at the Farmers’ Market and wrote a book proposal. I gave myself six months to sell the book and it all fell into place. In 2010 Clarkson Potter bought my book The Homemade Pantry.”

This book illustrated Chernila’s love of sharing recipes and her ability to create delicious meals on a tight budget. Arranged along the lines of supermarket aisles, the book presented ways in which everyday staples could be made at home with less money and more nutrition. The Homemade Pantry exceeded everyone’s expectations and made the author a rising star in the food world.

Now with her latest book, The Homemade Kitchen, Chernilla continues her campaign to get families to eat together, to keep meals simple, creative and, above all else, healthy. For her cooking is an art to be enjoyed.

“I’m writing recipes,” Chernila said, “but I’m also writing about our relationship to food. I feel as if we have put up all these rules and boundaries around food and it generates a lot of fear and judgment. I want people to feel comfortable with what they cook and eat. I have these phrases taped to my refrigerator: Start where you are. Feed yourself. Do your best, and then let go. Be helpful. Do the work. Slow down. Invite people over. Don’t be afraid of food. Things don’t have to be perfect. The important thing is to enjoy oneself and one’s family and friends. That’s what eating is all about.”