December 3, 2022

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Welcome to the Food

Join the Storytellers Project for stories of food and family at holidays

Tracy Schuhmacher didn’t feel great about her housekeeping skills and the ins-and-outs of being a self-described stay-at-home-mom in 2004. But she loved cooking.

“The one thing that gave me a sense of confidence and accomplishment was cooking and baking for friends and family,” she said. “I decided to use those skills to enter the Pillsbury Bake-off and try to win the grand prize of $1 million.”

Staff photo
Tracy Schuhmacher
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle staff photo.
Tracy Shuhmacher

Now a food, drink and culture writer at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, Schuhmacher will talk about whether she won or lost, and how she felt about it, on Nov. 16 as part of the USA TODAY Network’s Storytellers Project show, “Food and Family.”

Tune in online at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET for five true, personal stories. Register in advance to receive a reminder and watch on USA TODAY’s Facebook page, YouTube channel or website.

Schuhmacher will be joined by:

  • Stephanie Laska of San Francisco
  • Rohini Chandra, 31, of Los Angeles
  • Melissa Soza Fees, 54, of Phoenix
  • Gabrielle Shea, 41, of Brooklyn, New York
Rohini Chandra, 31, of Los Angeles will share a true, personal story about food and family.

Chandra, a first-generation Asian-Indian American and filmmaker, will share a story about traveling to see her parents in India about two years ago. During the visit, she noticed smoke in the distance while looking from the 10th floor of her parents’ high-rise building. She investigated and discovered a protest led by farm laborers.

In talking with them, Chandra said she felt a kinship and developed a deep respect for their work.

“I hope people will relate to the poignant and heartwarming experience I had in meeting a farmer family in India whose world is so completely different from ours,” she said.

Melissa Soza Fees, 54, of Phoenix is among five people sharing stories about food and family on Nov. 16.

Soza Fees will tell a story about her grandmother, whom she lovingly calls Nana, teaching her how to cook. She says those lessons were more than just learning technique and process. Her Nana also imparted wisdom, and the importance of handing down family traditions and stories through food.

“I hope listeners take away how we can honor the memory of a person when we cook their recipes,” she said.

Gabrielle Shea, 41, of Brooklyn, New York, will share a personal story about serving macaroni and cheese for the first time to her now-husband's family as part of the "Food and Family" virtual storytelling show.

Shea’s story is about failing at something and then getting a shot at redemption. It centers around Thanksgiving, when she was invited to meet her boyfriend’s family for the first time and decided to bring her specialty dish of macaroni and cheese.

“I put sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk. It was absolutely disgusting and I was mortified,” she said.

But at Christmas, Shea got a second chance at making the dish.

“His entire family loved it,” she said. “We got married. And 20 years and three children later, I still make mac and cheese for every occasion and it is still the most sought after dish on the dinner table.”

Stephanie Laska of San Francisco, author of "Dirty, Lazy Keto," will share a personal story about food and family through the Storytellers Project.

Laska’s story is about her desire to change some bad habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Her wake-up call was at Disneyland when her son was left unprotected on a ride because the safety bar stopped at her waist and he was much smaller.

“It wasn’t until my son nearly lost his life on a roller coaster that I finally kicked losing weight into high gear,” she said.