Getting Personal: Adam Wisnewski

Getting Personal: Adam Wisnewski

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, staff writer Paul Wood chats with 49-year-old Adam Wisnewski of Champaign, the owner of Breakfast, Life and Dinner Cooking Classes & Meal Services. He has a lot of good tips on using mustard and has even been to the museum dedicated to that condiment.

I haven't found  many personal cooks operating around here. Why is that? Lack of wealthy people?

I think it's more a cultural thing; the Midwest has a "I should do this myself" approach to many things. I see more people now with house cleaners and lawn care than when I was growing up in the area, and the idea of a cooking service hasn't really caught on to the same degree yet.

What interests you the most right now?

I'm pretty focused on growing the business, so the question is how do I do that? What aspects of creating the job/career need the most work right now? I'm developing my coaching skills, teaching skills. Working on recipes. Learning the marketing and sales ropes. Learning from those around me. It's quite the education.

You've been back in Champaign-Urbana for about a year after growing up here and being away for about 25 years. How has the town changed?

Physically, it looks very much the same, right up until you turn the corner and there's a 30-story building! I find that it's the same friendly town; folks talk to each other in lines and everyone knows everyone. I like those aspects of it a lot.

Why do you love to cook? Did somebody in your family get you started? Tell us something about your family now.

I consider cooking to be my creative outlet, my artistic expression. Taking similar ingredients and the techniques, you can still combine them in different ways to make different outcomes. My mom had all three of us kids cooking at a young age, because she was a single, working parent and needed us to help out. We didn't go out to eat or order in much. So, to me, cooking is settled in my brain as an essential part of eating. If you don't know how to cook, how can you eat dinner?

I think of myself as a tour guide for people who want to explore a new dish or cuisine or diet plan but aren't sure how to get started.

It sounds like you're very interested in nutrition as well as taste.

I'm interested in all the different cultures around eating. Each of us is making a set of very personal choices when we pick our individual meals and overall diets. I do think it's pretty obvious that real food is better for you than anything processed or boxed. If everyone took a walk and ate an apple on a more-regular basis, I think the pills and programs-oriented "health" industry would collapse. But our current culture pushes us toward convenience and speed.

How did you get started coaching cooking for small groups and individuals?

I've enjoyed making food and learning into a social activity. I've been hosting friends over for cooking evenings since I was in middle school. It continually surprises me when I meet people who don't know how to cook. Or, more accurately, think they don't know how to cook. If you can turn on a stove and push the buttons on a microwave, you know how to cook; you're just not yet confident in your own abilities.

You also provide in-house meal services, where clients let someone else do the planning, shopping, prep and cooking for three or five meals per week, plus fresh baked bread and ready-to-eat healthy snacks. I could use that. Is it expensive?

For a family of four in C-U without special dietary requests, it's $225, including groceries. I save you time and money from the decision-making, the shopping trips, the cooking and cleanup. I think my clients like having a variety of recipes in the fridge to choose from. So, not so expensive compared to eating out every night, but I think the real savings is from getting your evenings back and being at home.

Tell us about your work with the Champaign Farmers' Market this summer, doing their food demo tent once a month.

I love the Land Connection and their mission of supporting local farmers. The Champaign Farmers' Market is new and growing and just a great bunch of folks to be around. I was lucky to be one of their many demo agents in the food-sampling tent. We were tasked with taking the vendors' products and putting them together in a way that gave customers good ideas on how to use them up. Giving them the confidence that they can use them made them more likely to buy them.

What are some of your other interests?

Travel and culture from around the world. Astronomy and the night sky. Hiking and camping. I've been lucky enough to put those all together in some amazing back-country adventures, some overseas travel and plenty of exploration through cookbooks and recipes and reading about food choices in other cultures.

What's something almost nobody knows about you?

I'm an introvert. I know I come across as a carnival barker — big and loud and talkative — but I do get exhausted by that and need to retreat and recharge on a regular basis.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

I put my first seven-course meal together in college and like to keep challenging myself.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

Best pet ever is a cat that someone else takes care of and I get to visit with. Twenty minutes of purring cat time is one of life's delights.

What would you order for your last meal?

All-you-can-eat buffet, with infinite choices. And then just keep nibbling on it forever.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

Raccoon or spider monkey. Gotta have thumbs. Not having thumbs would drive me more crazy.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

I've been blessed with so many good memories. Traveling, I'm sure. With family and friends. Wisconsin, California, London, New Zealand. Taking in a show at a live theater. I've got lots of those kinds of high points in my life.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Lincoln. I think he constantly had to choose a path between ideals and pragmatism. That's life's essential quandary, I think.

What's your best piece of advice?

Perfection is the enemy of done. I'm entirely OK with launching yourself with an incomplete or imperfect plan. Take steps in the right direction on a regular basis and you're doing fine, as far as I'm concerned.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

First indoor job was washing dishes at the Original Pancake House. When I made it to waiter, I was making $2.17 an hour, plus tips.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

I got out of the restaurant business and went to Silicon Valley, where my sister got me a series of jobs. Literally a life-changing event. I owe so much to my current willingness to try new things to the culture of the tech/online world.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

Every day! There aren't enough hours in the day to do all the fun things, let alone the important things. I try to be mindful of taking care of the big things and not missing the little things, but it's so hard. It's overwhelming to think of all the things I won't ever get to do, but I'm grateful for the opportunities I do have.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Yelling and bitter complaining. Occasionally, I have the grace to take a deep breath and keep moving forward. But, mostly yelling and complaining.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (3):Food, People, Restaurants