It all starts with a lesson plan.
Even though it’s been decades since Vera Stewart first taught home economics to high school students, the cooking show host, author and entrepreneur still follows that concept.
“People ask ‘how do you get so much done?’ Everyone has to turn in a lesson plan first,” said Stewart, who will celebrate 40th anniversary of her VeryVera brand in 2024 and heads into the 12th season of The VeryVera Show this month. “We all have daily goals, weekly goals and seasonal goals. Because of that, something doesn’t fall through the cracks.”
The show airs locally at 12:30 p.m. Thursdays and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays on WJBF-TV. She’s expanding to 42 metropolitan markets this year, and The Fresh Market is the show’s major sponsor. Although the first show hasn’t even been viewed, the episodes are all mapped out for the entire season, which runs from August to May, similar to the school calendar.
Long before Stewart stepped foot into a classroom of her own or catered her first event, she imagined those career paths in her childhood.
“My play was either being a teacher or a business owner,” said Stewart.
As a little girl, she had a chalkboard and planned her lessons, but she also had a briefcase and would take the discarded junk mail and open it as if it were part of her business dealings.
She’s managed to marry those two career paths in a successful way.
She taught for four years before her children were born. She left the classroom and started catering. Soon after catering the 1983 inaugural luncheon for Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris, she created the VeryVera brand.
That brand has taken on different looks over the years. She’s operated a successful mail order company, had her own café and launched into television after beating The Food Network’s Bobby Flay with her signature carrot cake.
She recently published her second cookbook, The VeryVera Cookbook: Occasions. It’s currently on sale at her website when bundled with the first cookbook.
“My first book started with recipe cards and a story. It all started with the recipe,” she said. “This book opens, and it all starts with polishing the silver. Growing up, I knew it was an occasion because the silver came out of the cabinet and went to the kitchen and got polished.”
The recipes in the book reflect the catering side of her company. Their offerings include dishes for cocktail parties, wedding receptions or Halloween events.
“It’s written by season, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t go to fall and make something in the dead of summer. It also gives people the opportunity to cook through the book,” she said.
But don’t worry. The recipes aren’t designed to feed dozens.
“It’s written for the family but with instructions on how to make larger if needed. What freezes, how to keep cold things cold and hot things hot,” said Stewart who has always blended instruction into what she does.
And all of it goes back to that lesson plan approach. She teaches on her show, and she instructs even when she’s baking something like her famous strawberry cake which blasted into fame thanks to Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, but Stewart does confess it’s not her personal favorite.
Not only does she teach on air, but she has an arm of her business that goes back to investing in younger generations. Her camps also provide the next layer of instruction.
She started the cooking camps two decades ago. When she asked for feedback, the overwhelming response was parents wished the camp was longer.
“We had to create another curriculum,” she said. She reached back into her home economics days and created another lesson plan. “We did home management.”
This summer, children learned skills outside the kitchen such as folding towels and sheets, organizing the refrigerator and setting the table.
“The feedback’s been amazing,” she said.
While she’s accomplished a lot of things she’s proud of in her career, Stewart doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. She said she’s got a lot to look forward to. She’s working with a coach to hone her own skills, and she’s got a vision for the next few years which includes one more cookbook that will be targeted toward children.
“I don’t do well if I don’t have something to look forward to,” she said.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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