Chef Jennifer Johnson has been cooking as a pro for almost 23 years, but she had an unusual start in the industry.
Jennifer never intended to make cooking her career, but when her 2nd grade son wrote a loving Mother’s Day card full of all the reasons he loved her, it included a side note… he hated her cooking. The perfectionist in her decided to go to culinary school, and 23 years later, Chef Jen has never looked back.
Jennifer’s passion for cooking has made a great companion for her desire to educate and give back to her community. As an active volunteer for A New Leaf, Chef Jen brings delicious, healthy food, wellness education, and organic ingredients to the residents of A New Leaf’s shelters. She believes that organic, healthy foods should not be available only to those who can afford it, and she strives to educate A New Leaf residents about the ways they can find the produce they need.
According to Chef Jennifer herself, “When I started my business, I knew I wanted to have a community service aspect. I met Deb at A New leaf, and I loved that the organization catered to whole families, from young kids to adults. You offer complete services to them, like getting jobs, teaching skills, and taking care of the kids. It was easier for me to visit here and not feel like I needed to solve all of their problems. A New Leaf was already helping in so many ways. I still love volunteering here because everyone comes to the cooking classes, from children and families to adults who want to learn. Everybody helps and works together, so I really feel like I can teach them how to cook and eat healthy on a budget.”
Volunteering is an important part of Jennifer’s life because she once needed a hand up, and she says “I know what it feels like to feel like you’re drowning and you’ll never get out of it, but it’s good to know there are people that will help pull you out.”
When it comes to health and wellness, Chef Jen is a passionate advocate for making smart, long term choices. “There is so much junk in our lives already. We all have complete control over what goes in and on our bodies, and while we may not care about it now, we will when we’re older.” One thing she wishes more people understood about food is “If we all knew that food could heal, then we might be more willing to care about it for the long term.”
An easy way to get started cooking with health and wellness in mind is to try Chef Jennifer’s Eggplant Parmesan recipe. “A lot of people think they don’t like eggplant,” says Chef Jen, “but my eggplant is awesome. I don’t bread it, I don’t use any flour, and I don’t fry it, so it’s made deliciously, healthfully, and it’s easy to do!” The full recipe is included below, so don’t be afraid to try it for yourself!
In addition to her volunteerism, Chef Jennifer operates Witnessing Nature in Food, an organic food full service catering company. The company focuses on using distinct ingredients that are organically grown and cleanly made to deliver delicious, nutritious, and educational meals to individuals across the valley. To find more information on the catering, meal planning, or cooking classes offered by Witnessing Nature in Food, visit the following website:
My recipe is flour and gluten free. It also uses 1/3 the amount of oil found in traditional recipes. I also always use all organic sustainable ingredients.
- 2 Large Eggplants - Sliced in thing long slices like lasagna noodles
- 16 oz. Tomato Purée
- 8 oz. Parmesan Grated
- 8 oz. Buffalo Mozzarella - sliced into thin strips
- 6 - 8 Sweet Basil Leaves ripped into 4s
- Olive oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Prepare eggplant
- Preheat oven to 350
- Spray 2 cookie sheets with olive oil and sprinkle olive oil with salt and pepper
- Lay out eggplant slices onto cookie sheets
- Spray eggplant with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
- Cook eggplant in oven for 10 minutes (checking so it doesn't burn). It should now be starting to turn brown on the bottom. Turn eggplant over and cook for 5ish minutes more.
- Once cooked and slightly brown, remove from oven and use immediately (if it cools a lot you have to reheat and baking takes longer)
- Spray a 9" cake pan with olive oil (if you double the recipe use a 9x13 pan)
- Layer eggplant on bottom of pan then add a light layer of tomato purée
- Sprinkle grated parmesan, salt and pepper (remember can always add salt later but you can't take it away, so be sparing until you know your likes)
- Again layer eggplant, tomato puree, parmesan, salt and pepper until all eggplant is layered
- On top add buffalo mozzarella and sprinkle on torn basil leaves
- Bake about 20 min or until buffalo mozzarella is bubbling and turning light brown
- Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes and serve!
Note: Contrary to American opinion, Italians do not put garlic and onions in every sauce. They use simple tomato puree and Eggplant Parmesan most certainly - in tradition - does not have any onion or garlic in it.
If you want more spice then you can add an Italian mix of herbs from Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, and Sage. Use equal parts of each, minced. You can lightly use the spice blend in the Parmesan in the middle and on top. Enjoy and Have Fun!!!