Catherine Thompson cooking at stoveA common thread throughout Catherine Thompson’s career has been teaching – no matter where she has worked. 

During 30-plus years in the telecom industry, Catherine was a product operations manager, a position that required introducing and training new telephone features from Pacific Bell, Qwest and CenturyLink. After she retired, she decided to pursue a fun new chapter by getting her culinary degree, but knew she didn’t want to wind up spending long nights in a restaurant kitchen.

“I was thinking more of being a personal chef or catering,” she said.

Yet, ultimately, Catherine returned to teaching others. She became an adjunct faculty instructor at Central Arizona College. She taught cooking basics to at-risk teens as part of an alternative high school. And, starting in 2019, she began offering free cooking classes as part of Cancer Support Community Arizona.

Originally, her classes were held once every quarter on-site at businesses or senior living facilities. She’d show participants how to prepare tasty, easy and affordable meals. Some promoted healthy living and cancer prevention, while others were designed to take into consideration the side effects of treatment; meals that were easy to swallow or helped with nausea. 

Often the sites she visited didn’t have kitchens, so in addition to lugging her equipment and ingredients, Catherine would also bring an already cooked version of the meal, so people could taste the finished product.

When Covid became prevalent, the classes switched to virtual. The upside was that both her “Feel Good Foods for Cancer” and “Cooking for Cancer” classes became more frequent, meeting monthly. Plus, she got to conduct the sessions from her own well-equipped kitchen. The downside was no more yummy tastings for students.

Despite their virtual nature, a strong community has developed around these classes. “I have regulars who come to every class,” she said. “We’ve really gotten to know each other. It’s kind of neat and we are all looking forward to when we can meet in person.” 

One of the key principles in her classes is remembering that “a recipe is mostly just a guide; it can be adjusted in many ways based on our likes or dislikes,” she says.

Another benefit of teaching a cooking class is that you are also always learning. Using resources like Cook for Your Life and the American Institute for Cancer Research websites, Catherine is always learning more healthy recipes and nutrition innovations to share with her CSCAZ students. 

The latest trend in healthy eating? Cauliflower. 

“It’s not just a crudité for a dip anymore,” she said. “Now it’s a substitute for potatoes. You can even use it for a topping on shepherd’s pie.”

Or turn it into a healthy gluten-free cauliflower gratin, like in this video

Catherine’s “Feel Good Foods for Cancer” class meets at 4:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month. “Cooking with Cancer” is held at 1:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of the month. Check out upcoming sessions on our CSCAZ calendar here.