Pamela Salzman looks like a classic Hollywood movie star, but it is while crafting delicious dishes in the kitchen that she truly shines. “Food has always been a huge part of my life because it was around meals that we all came together.”
Pamela grew up as the eldest of three girls in a traditional Italian home on the East Coast in Long Island. Her father, an Italian immigrant to the States, was one of eight children. He grew up on a farm in Italy, which had a lot to do with the way Pamela was raised. She is one of 29 cousins, and most Sundays were spent with her extended family.
In the old country everybody had gardens, and making real, fresh, homemade food was just the way it worked. Her father would go to Italy for a month to teach, and the children were left in charge of the garden at home. So they learned the skills firsthand.
Pamela’s mother was a decent cook but also worked hard, so she didn’t have a lot of time to play in the kitchen. She cooked simply and made the same meals routinely, but she did have a subscription to Gourmet magazine. Pamela would wait eagerly each month for the magazine to arrive.
She showed a keen interest in cooking from a young age and started baking at the age of 5 after buying a cookbook at a book fair. By age 11 she was making dinner for the whole family. And this was how her love of cooking began.
“In the old country everybody had gardens, and making real, fresh, homemade food was just the way it worked.”
Pamela went to college in Philadelphia, where she studied economics and met her husband, Daniel. Even then she continued to pursue her love of food, cooking for Daniel and friends. Pamela followed her husband back to Los Angeles for his graduate school education and soon after decided to pursue a business degree at UCLA.
They got married, lived on the Westside, and in between her first and second year of grad school she got pregnant. When her daughter was 13 months old, she got pregnant with her second child and decided to quit her job at Disney to focus on her kids full time.
She still took pride in cooking fresh food for her family and friends, making grocery lists and meal plans and teaching them how to cook. This was all very natural to her. “I never thought that all that was important to get me to where I am now, but it was,” she says. “I always tell people the path you are on is the path you are supposed to be on.”
In 2006 the young family—now with three children—left the Westside and made the move to the South Bay when her husband started a new business venture. They fell in love with the relaxed, family-friendly community. Once all three kids were in school, she decided she wanted to go back to work but didn’t necessarily want to go back to the corporate world.
She started by teaching for the nonprofit Growing Great. It was during this time that she noticed a huge disconnect between parents and their kids’ eating habits. She also realized that there were so many moms out there who didn’t know how to cook. A Michael Pollan book inspired her to get into health and wellness, so she thought to herself, “How can I help people be healthier?”
At the same time, Pamela was still attending a cooking group once a month in L.A. for fun. The stars aligned when a friend from class suggested that she take over with the intention of teaching people how to cook healthy meals. She taught her first class and knew that this was what she was meant to do. She felt everyone’s positive energy and open-mindedness. It also felt incredibly rewarding to empower others.
One class grew into teaching many more, and soon after her cooking classes exploded into a business. A key career moment transpired in an Elle magazine feature with one of her clients, Jenny Kane. This in turn brought more celebrity clients her way. Since then she has been featured on Goop, Mind Body Green and Chalkboard magazine. She also appeared on TV shows such as Today, Hallmark’s Home & Family and Rachael Ray.
In 2015 Pamela secured her first book deal and published Kitchen Matters to great acclaim. Her second book, Quicker than Quick, will be coming out in March 2020. She continues to teach groups in kitchens (including her first original group) as well as on her online platform to reach a wider audience.
“When I first started teaching, I was trying to help people become more comfortable in the kitchen,” she shares. “Then I encouraged them to work with new foods and open up to using more vegetables and grains. Now I feel like it’s more important than ever to be cooking from scratch. My goal is to teach people to be independent and look at the ingredients themselves. Even something as simple as choosing which peanut butter to buy can make a big difference over time. There is so much in our food supply that is so detrimental to our health, so when it comes to what we eat, we need to control as much of that as possible. These small choices add up and they matter.”
For Pamela, making healthy food is a way of showing love. From a simple meal made from her father’s garden as a young girl to TV appearances and book deals, Pamela’s humble goal has always been to make food with love and to love the food she makes.
But its most famous guest may have been The Black Dahlia.