Vera Stewart, of VeryVera, is a culinary crackerjack whose expertise includes an in-demand catering business, a syndicated television show (which airs on WRBL in Columbus), and a franchised children’s cooking camp. She spoke to SVM about her beginnings, her new cookbook and how to encourage the younger generation to fall in love with cooking.
By Marla Caligaris
Photos By Peter Frank Edwards
Vera Stewart has become recognized in the Southeast for her Southern cooking show, entrepreneurial nature, well-designed and beautifully presented catering jobs. Vera will be in Columbus on May 19th at the Galleria to present the release of The VeryVera Cookbook—Recipes from my table.
When growing up, what inspired you to venture into the food business? As a young girl, it was instilled in me to do my best and prepare to attend college. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began to think about what I should study once I was in college. My home- room teacher that year, Catherine Dupree, was the Home Economics teacher and she always seemed to be engaged in interesting projects when I arrived at school. I looked forward to arriving to school each day, primarily to see what she was doing, not necessarily for the other subjects. She was a great mentor to me and encouraged me to go to The University of Georgia and major in Home Economics
The VeryVera cookbook: Recipes From My Table, will be officially released on April 17th. Tell us about this book. The cookbook has been on my mind for many, many years. As a former Home Economics teacher, caterer and mail-order food business entrepreneur, my love for food, recipes, preparation and presentation always fascinated me. It took me this long into my career to write the book because my retail business was overwhelming. There was never any down time to get the project off the ground. Once I closed my retail operation in 2013, I started giving the book considerably more time. And, with the assistance of a great small team, we made the dream a reality.
The book has 78 recipes, all of which we sold through our VeryVera brand. Most remarkable are the layer cakes that have been editorialized in some of the most prominent magazines and the familiar favorites that were enjoyed by mail-order customers from coast-to-coast.
What’s your favorite go-to ingredient? One of my favorite ingredients is Heinz Chili Sauce. Whether it’s adding moisture and spice to hamburger patties, marinating a piece of salmon or concocting a great salad dressing...this stuff is magic!!!
How are you getting the younger generation involved with the love of cooking? The VeryVera Cooking Camp will be 15 years old this summer. We have grown from 12 students in 2004 to 216 for the six week Augusta area camp. We completed our franchise model in early 2017 and had our first camp franchises in Aiken, SC and Columbus, GA last summer. Columbus’ camp was conducted by Melissa and Jamie Keating at the River Mill Center. This summer, camp will also be held in Macon, Charleston and Indianapolis. Our camp’s mission statement is: “To develop culinary skills, etiquette and a sense of home economics for the next generation."
What kind of products do you sell via your mail order business? The mail order business closed in July 2013. Through that business, we sold all of the recipes that are part of The VeryVera Cookbook. You could plan a week’s worth of meals or an entire holiday weekend and we would ship right to your door! Now, you can enjoy those favorites by preparing the recipes from The VeryVera Cookbook.
The Very Vera Show is currently in its 6th season and can be viewed locally on WRBL. Tell us about the show’s concept. The Very- Vera Show is a cooking and lifestyle show that showcases my passion for Southern inspired recipes, easy go-to tips for planning, preparation and presentation ideas, which give excitement back to the most ordinary menu. With special guests and generous give-a-ways, The VeryVera Show has something for almost every member of the family. We ended season 6 in 8 Southeast TV markets and are hopeful to add more in season 7. My passion for people and enthusiasm for my craft has kept the show growing and fans following. SVM