About Gina Stryker

I grew up in a tiny mountain town in Idaho, population seven hundred and twenty four.

 

To this day it is the kind of town where most children of the community stick close to home, close to their roots.  But, I had always dreamed of a bigger world, more to explore.  So the minute high school graduation culminated, I found myself on a plane to Florence, Italy to study cooking. I was the first of my family to fly commercial, the first to have a passport.

 

As the plane landed in Pisa, I was enchanted with the history that permeates the countryside and was anxious to immerse myself in the culture, language & food that is Italy. I thrived! I loved the open-air markets with fresh produce, the daily jaunts to the fishmonger, wandering through the herb garden – touching, feeling, smelling.  It inspired me.  The culinary school I attended was all about creating, exploring your talents as a Chef.  I had none.  I was eighteen.  I was terrified. I faked it.  I had the time of my life.

Boarding the plane, heading back home after two glorious years of wonder, I knew that I could no longer fit into the confines of my small town life.

I needed that adventure that came with the exploration of youth.  I found myself in New York City, not knowing a soul but determined to forge a path.  Theatre and the Arts seemed to be calling.  I started doing backstage work building sets, cleaning, painting. I would have done anything really, as long as I was learning in a creative atmosphere, pushing boundaries.  This ongoing bout with wanderlust and exploration finally led me to Los Angeles and a job in the film industry.  Every film set I worked on, I found myself cooking meals for the crew, having dinner parties weekly, inviting my nearest and dearest – fifty or so people over.  At Christmas I would make hundreds of gift baskets, full of sauces, tapenades & pasta and deliver them to the doorsteps of co-workers, friends and my growing worldly family.  Back home, my brothers and my friends insisted I should be selling the baskets. But I resisted every suggestion that I make a business out of it. I had been raised to share. Feeding those around me was my nature.

 

Eventually I became a wife and a mother of twins. My husband and I decided to move to a small mountain town in Colorado. I loved the slower pace, I adored being a mom, I had found my way right back to my roots.

As it turned out, my husband, who teaches yoga and meditation all over the world, was on the road half of every month, so I took on the task of managing my twin boys. My life was consumed with getting the kids involved in school, soccer, swimming & biking.  My career ceased to exist and I simply became: Mama.

 

I cooked for my toddlers and their friends & classes. I would invite the entire kindergarten out and teach them how to clean, prep and cook little meals.  Some of the children didn’t understand that French fries actually came from potatoes.  They had no idea what Swiss chard or beets or real carrots (not the prepackaged nubs) were.  At the same time, in an effort to keep my traveling husband home more often, we decided to hold his yoga trainings in our mountain town, creating the perfect opportunity for me to cook the lunches for the hundreds of students arriving at our doorstep.  Finally my time in Italy, my love of food, had collided with the actuality of the life I was living.  The root of what would become Gina Cucina had been seeded.

 

Another set of twins and 12 years later Gina Cucina was birthed.  It was a long hard circuitous and adventurous route that brought me home to my passion, home where my creativity flourished.  My love of feeding people, my love of creating meals, using ingredients out of my very own garden was born of a spiritual and physical necessity.

“I am flying by the seat of my pants. I am exhilarated. I see a future I love and a world of possibilities.”

I am not afraid.

When my two youngest entered Kindergarten, I began in earnest doing what my brothers and friends had urged me to do 20 years earlier.  The difference was, now I had the experience of cooking under my belt. Farmers Markets––reminiscent of the open-air markets in Italy from my first adventure away from home––had popped up all over the country giving me a direct outlet for my products. I started jarring my soups, then one day I talked to my favorite farmer and asked if I could share some of his space at the market.  I wanted to share my overabundance of food, and quite honestly, I just wanted to see how I would do.

 

One Saturday in July, I crawled out of bed at 5 a.m., coerced one of my now thirteen-year old sons to come along, loaded up the car and went to market.  In one hour––we sold out!  One hundred jars of soup, non-GMO, organic, local-handcrafted with love and goodness.  The following week, I coerced my other thirteen-year boy to tackle the market with me.  This time I came prepared––165 jars.  We sold out in the first three hours.  We were selling out of hot soup in JULY.  I knew we were on to something.

After the market on Saturdays, I would buy vegetables and fruit from all the organic vendors at the stands, take them to a friend’s commercial kitchen and create soups, gazpachos, tapenades & sauces for the following week, when I would take them back to the market in mason jars with beautiful slips of fabric explaining the ingredients. Each week we sold out. I was having a blast I had found what I was meant to do it was in life and I’d never felt more alive.

I circled the wagons, and told my nearest and dearest of my plans and the wild ride began in earnest.

The result from pushing up my shirt sleeves and pulling in all my family and friends to pitch in is turning out to be so much more far-reaching than just another soup from my stovetop.  As everyone helps – labeling, branding, chopping, working the markets, driving delivery trucks, doing dishes.  At home, my two youngest make boxes for Soup of the Month shipments.  Back in Idaho, my older brother and my family have planted thousands of heirloom, Non-GMO, organic seeds and built a commercial kitchen in that tiny little mountain town I was raised in to help me. In turn, it’s brought a slew of jobs to a community in need.  We have become a seed-to-shelf business.  It has gone from a love of food to a family endeavor. We all have our jobs, and our community is growing.

 

Every step of the way has had its difficulties, every step of the way I have questioned my sanity, as has my brilliant & patient husband, and every step of the way I have sacrificed on some level, but I have not given up.

“I have been challenged, told it was impossible, told ‘NO’, and made countless missteps.”

I have never given up.