There are a lot of people who benefit from Roberta Fahey's philosophy.
"I put my whole heart into whatever I do, whether I get paid or not," she says.
Today's Cook of the Week was nominated by a teenage recipient of Roberta's creative energy. "Her French toast casserole is amazing." he assures us, having enjoyed the meal at the Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates where Fahey prepares a kosher meal every Tuesday evening for 25-30 people. The synagogue began providing meals to the students, teachers and the rabbi as part of the youth fellowship about three years ago.
"I usually plan the meal about four days ahead of time," says Fahey. She follows certain rules when cooking kosher meals, such as not mixing meat with dairy. Fahey has two fellow volunteers who help with the chopping, table set up and clean up.
Roberta is no stranger to a kitchen, even one with industrial-sized equipment. During the day, Roberta cooks for Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25.
"Our school district is known for their school lunches. We offer a huge variety of choices. Nothing is canned; the kids are getting great meals," she says, "We even make fresh fruit smoothies."
This last is one of Roberta's specific duties she particularly enjoys because it gives her a chance to interact with the students. Is it a coincidence the number of smoothies served this year has tripled?
Roberta is excited about the innovations to school food services that are being made and loves the emphasis on healthy food.
At home, Roberta sticks to healthy menus as much as she can and confesses she never scrimps on quality. As the mother of three, two still at home, Roberta tries to provide family sit-down-together meals as often as possible.
"We eat a lot of fish, chicken, and a lot of soup. Of course, I make salads and vegetables, too."
You might think with the near-professional status of her cooking Roberta has had some formal training. This is not the case. In fact, instead of going to college, Roberta's wanderlust took her to Israel where she lived on a kibbutz, and then led her to explore Europe. She credits her culinary education to the years she spent as a single mother to her oldest daughter.
"I had to learn; we couldn't afford to eat out," she says. "I really think that with cooking you have to enjoy it because it comes from your heart."
Roberta has remarried, added to her family, and still doesn't eat out very much. She loves nothing more than a Sunday spent at home cooking.
As if all that doesn't keep her busy enough, she also runs her own business, Roberta's Creative Creations. The business, started 12 years ago, showcases her tie-dye designs, elaborate centerpieces (perfect for your next bar or bat mitzvah) and homemade candy. She provided the entire sweet table for her daughter's wedding last year.
"I've always said that when I don't enjoy what I'm doing, I'll stop."
She hasn't even begun to slow down.