ALBANY COUNTY Gail Sokol jokes she was forced to learn to cook at a young age in order to survive.
“My mom was not a good cook and she didn’t enjoy being in the kitchen. She still doesn’t,” Sokol said. “But that gave me an advantage, because she allowed me to be in the kitchen and do what I want, as long as I cleaned up afterward.”
Unlike her mother, Sokol found she loved being in the kitchen. Her grandmothers helped her to refine recipes and cooking time was seen as a special bonding experience. She learned early on cooking would be a lifelong passion. While she thought of turning it into a career, others saw it as a hobby.
“At the time, people told me cooking was nice but asked what did I really wanted to do,” said the Slingerlands resident.
Sokol ended up with degrees in chemistry and business, but at 40 years old opted to change career paths and went back to school for a culinary arts degree from Schenectady County Community College.
“I wanted to cook professionally instead of just having people over for dinner,” she said. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Fifteen years later, Sokol is an adjunct professor at both SCCC and Russell Sage College teaching baking, nutrition and sanitation, and is the director of SCCC’s cooking and baking summer camp for children. She is also a cookbook author, freelance writer and a former local television show host.
Since beginning to cook professionally, Sokol said her main goal has been to inspire healthy eating at home. She has begun giving demonstrations at local schools, nonprofit organizations and medical institutions to show people how making substitutions in what they eat can still be delicious and good for you.
“It’s really taken over my life and it’s something I want to emphasis because we are becoming such an obese nation,” she said.