Welcome to Cook Smarts. I’m Jess Dang, also known as the Chief Kitchen Cheerleader around here.
I started Cook Smarts in late 2011, but its history goes back to 1998; I was 17 and was just diagnosed with Hepatitis C.
For those of you who don’t know what Hep-C is, it’s a virus that attacks the liver and in some cases can be life threatening. I got it through a blood transfusion I received when I was born, and back in 1981, donated blood wasn’t yet tested for the virus. By 1998 when I was giving blood at my high school’s blood drive, donations were testing for the virus. As a result, I found out that I could have a life-threatening virus in a generic form letter from the organization that ran the blood drive.
Up until that point, I was just like any other teenager. I was in the middle of applying for college and determined to go places, but that letter made my future incredibly uncertain. Instead of finishing up high school like a normal senior, I began a series of unending doctor’s visits and tests. Till this day, I resent missing a Tom Petty concert because I was recovering from a liver biopsy. It’s not exactly how I thought Friday nights were going to go at 17.
Each test result came back with not-so-good news. The virus had progressed. I was at high risk for cirrhosis or cancer, and my doctors determined that I should start a year long course of medical treatment that some liken to chemotherapy. I made the decision to start treatment the summer after my freshmen year. I thought, “Hey, if life was going to get cut short, I deserved to have at least 1 year of college fun.”
Fortunately treatment went well for me. While the side effects were pretty standard and terrible – hair loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, cognition loss – my test results were good. If they continued to be good, my doctors said I had a good chance of leading a normal and healthy life.
Even with the good news, I wasn’t quite ready to believe that everything was going to be okay. Not surprisingly, my faith in life had been shaken up. Instead, I promised myself that if I lived to see 30, I would do something to help others lead a healthier life because I knew how much it sucked to feel unhealthy and helpless.
Until 30, I would try to live life as normally as I could. Every year, I anxiously went to my medical check-ups, but luckily my results remained positive. Birthdays were celebrated, and then I turned 30 in 2011. I had made it. To keep my promise, I resigned from my job at Visa one month later to start Cook Smarts.
Today, I’m healthier and happier than I could ever imagine. I’m now 2+ years past 30 and Cook Smarts has turned 2. I never imagined that it would become such an amazing community of home cooks like you, all hoping to achieve a healthier life.
For me, Cook Smarts is more than just a project or a company. It’s a testament that great things can grow out of difficult experiences. It’s a daily reminder of what health means and the joy that health can create.
I am truly grateful for this opportunity and the privilege to play a part in the health and home-cooked meals of tens of thousands kitchen heroes all around the world. I promise to always remember and honor the real reason why I started this community. I hope you’ll become a part of it, because I look forward to creating a future of continuing health and delicious meals together!
Always your kitchen cheerleader,
PS – I get lots of questions about:
- Cook Smarts
- Learning to cook
- Yours truly
- Starting a cooking instruction business
- Food photography and videos
I’ve tried to answer some of the most common questions I receive below. If you don’t find an answer to your question, I’d love to hear from you. I or one of our other kitchen cheerleaders will get back to you as soon as possible.
Common Cook Smarts Questions
What exactly is Cook Smarts?
Cook Smarts’ mission is to empower home cooks with the inspiration and education needed to live their healthiest and happiest life in the kitchen. We do this by creating lots of practical cooking resources (think the Home Ec class you never got to take), free recipes that work for your busy life, and weekly meal plans that also teach you how to cook. I’ve been lucky to find a great team of kitchen cheerleaders to help me slowly expand the content, products, and services we offer.
Why did you start Cook Smarts?
How did Cook Smarts start out?
I loved teaching and learned so much from my students. Every single one wanted to do better in the kitchen but felt like they lacked the knowledge, time, and confidence to make it happen. From my teaching experience, I knew I had to build a product that addressed all three of those challenges.
Is that how the idea for your meal plan service started?
How do you come up with the meal plan ideas?
Is Cook Smarts just you?
Where are you located?
Are you a start-up?
Are you hiring?
On ‘Learning to Cook’
How did you learn to cook?
I am a completely self-taught home cook. I officially started learning to cook between my junior and senior years of college while doing a summer abroad in Florence, Italy. If I can do it, you can too! Believe me, I have no special talents in the kitchen and have had plenty of kitchen and dinner disasters, but I just kept on trying. My approach to learning to cook can be summed up by a quote from the great (and my idol) Julia Child: “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing.” Since my time in Florence in 2002, I’ve just tried to do as much as I can in the kitchen.