About Home Away Café

This site is meant to inspire and promote home cooking in a simple, broken down manner as you would learn at home. I will provide categories and general flavor combination suggestions so that you can modify to your tastes and ingredients available to you to cook great meals. I will give you only the best recipes that I have found and tried in my own home for specific dishes if that is what you are more comfortable with. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

Right now I am preparing to begin ‘At Home with Mama J’, where home cooks will come and teach me their favorite family recipes and I will post those videos here on my site. I hope to one day have ‘Mama J’s Home Away Café’ that will be a casual dining breakfast and lunch spot with incredible food and drink with a seasonal menu. I will have retirees come in and teach kids in an open kitchen to foster the appreciation of the generational gap. I will also host workshops on food waste and practical sustainability. 

About Julie Parkis aka ‘Mama J’

 I am a proud mom of two incredible kids that just had the adventure of a lifetime and learned a lot about myself along the way. In January 2018 I went back to school at The Culinary Institute of America to pursue my dream of a career in the food industry and get my second Bachelor’s degree- in Culinary Arts. I also hold an Associates degree in Social Science, a Bachelor’s degree in Management Relations and an MBA with a concentration in Finance. I just graduated from the CIA at the top of the class after a whirlwind 21 months with an intense workload and immeasurable joy. 

My love for food grew in the kitchen with my dad. When I was 6 years old he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, he beat it, but was then home for most of my childhood and so became the main cook of the house. He was the best cook, he would find the most random things in our fridge or pantry and pair it with whatever was on sale that week and everything he made was incredible. He worked his way through law school in the early 60s and his short order cook job certainly paid dividends well into the future. That’s the thing about working in a kitchen, it offers benefits you may not even consider when you are in the thick of it. 

The other people that had an impact on my love of cooking was his mom, my grandma, who would come and spend summers with us and we would play gin rummy and make noodles from scratch, lasagna, eggplant parm, lemon meringue pies and countless pots of zucchini and eggs with noodle scraps, my favorite! My Nonni was also a great cook, on Sundays we would go to her apartment and eat ourselves into food comas and fall asleep on her plastic covered couch. The gift of two Italian grandmothers is priceless. 

My first food service job was at the town bagel shop when I was 14. The experience was scary, bagel cutting is dangerous and it was so busy we were never not moving quickly. More than anything that job taught me responsibility and reliability. I was late one day and I will never forgot how terrible it felt. That day I blamed my father for my lateness and realized that I needed to take responsibility for myself and from then on if there was any chance of my ride being late I would walk to work so I never had to feel that terrible feeling of letting my boss and coworkers down again. 

In 2001 I started working for Jean-Jacques’ Culinary Creations, it was the beginning of my last year in high school and I ended up doing my senior project there and staying there as café manager for 9 years in all. At this job I learned how to manage people and operations, most importantly during this time I learned to manage my time to be as effective as possible. I was managing the shop full time and going to school full time (for my Associates degree, 1st Bachelor’s degree and MBA) at one point I also had an internship in NYC which became a part time job and managed to maintain high standards in all of my responsibilities. I learned how great it feels to “hustle” I spent all of my waking hours working or studying. It was a great foundation to realize my most recent dream of pursuing another Bachelor’s degree while maintaining my duties of a stay at home mom and housewife. Jean-Jacques’ was a lifelong blessing as the family became like family to me and it taught me that I thrive under pressure. 

I had my first child when I was working at Jean-Jacques and months away from earning my MBA degree. I became a stay at home mom in 2009 and spent the next seven years “not working”. During that time we bought a house and immediately after that my father was diagnosed with cancer, I had my second child, lost my father after he fought a 3 year cancer battle and had my own health scare of a brain aneurysm and subsequent brain surgery. My father was my best friend and confidant and I truly thought that I couldn’t go on without him. I was so blessed and grateful to my husband that I was able to be home during that time not only to raise our beautiful children, but to have so much quality time with my father before the end of his life was an immeasurable gift.  

Both of my children have food allergies, which is a whole story of it’s own, but during the time that they were little and I was learning about allergies I started Mama J’s Homemade (Peanut and Tree Nut free) baked goods and sold them through local markets and donated items to charity events. I hit a road block when I was setting up my LLC and spent countless hours on the phone and writing emails to try to get The Cottage Food Law passed which was finally done at the end of 2018. 

In 2013 I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and had surgery to repair it, I had gone to my church to receive the Anointing of the Sick before I had the surgery and after that I continued to go to mass as I had finally felt a connection to God that I hadn’t felt before and for the first time going to church was something that I longed for. An embolism formed after the surgery which is as dangerous as the aneurysm (through some miracle, with the 3 year check up there was a pin hole of blood flowing through the vein which the doctor said he had never seen happen before!), but those three years were pretty scary as a young mom.

I was doing better spiritually, but I wanted to get in shape physically and I was scared to do intense workouts after the aneurysm. I found an ad for a Holy Yoga workshop in the church bulletin and found one of the best things that has ever happened to me. One particular class, it was the 5 year anniversary of my father’s death which I hadn’t told anyone at the studio. I was missing my dad so much and during constructive rest Beverly, the instructor who pushes me past all of my limits was talking about God as our father and telling us to look into his face and I swear to this day I can still picture my dad staring right into my soul in that moment, so much so that I opened my eyes to stop seeing it and it wouldn’t go away. I cried so much I was having trouble breathing but after I let myself experience that moment and accept it, I truly felt like my dad was there and I felt so incredible afterwards. It was not until yoga that I was able to reach emotions so raw, but it has transformed me, making me more peaceful inside and it continues to be such a gift to me. (More about HYCT in The Good Stuff tab.)

In 2016 I was putting my youngest into preschool and considering opening a breakfast concept food truck with an 80/20 menu approach of healthy/indulgent. I was hiking with my oldest friend and she told me about a CIA grad doing something similar in the area and put us in touch. I ended up working on the Eggz food truck when it opened up and while I was there learned some great lessons and met some great people, one of whom was an admissions counselor from The Culinary Institute of America who convinced me to visit the campus and consider enrolling in the program. I thought long and hard and decided to sign up. I stayed with Eggz until it closed for good and took care of some family responsibilities before starting the inaugural Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts program in January 2018.

I learned so much at the CIA, the amount of information is astonishing, but more importantly I have learned techniques and ratios that will guide me through any kitchen and I have gained kitchen confidence that I definitely didn’t have before I came. I was incredibly lucky to have the greatest teachers at the CIA, when it comes to specific faculty that impacted me, there are some that made the most impact: Chef Gabriel Ross, he paid such attention to detail and held such high standards for his students, I will never forget his lessons but also his desire to teach to such a level of perfection that we should all try to reach. Whenever I realize that I could be moving faster I think of Chef DiPerri and Chef Garnero and whenever I can utilize products or tools more efficiently I think of Chef Schneller. When I see a shortcut in the kitchen that in any way diminishes the quality of the product I never take it, as Chef Viverito teaches, “do everything like you’d do anything”. Chef Reilly taught us to get it done, no matter what it takes. I was lucky enough to be taught by Chef Bobby Perillo, Chef Dave McCue, Chef Theo Roe, Chef Jim Maraldo, Chef Joseph Utera, Chef Gianni Scappin, Chef Shirley Cheng, Chef Michael Pardus and Chef Bill Phillips, all who left such incredible impressions on me, I only wish each class could have been longer. Every chef that I had a chance to learn from has been exceptionally talented and smart but one had all the great qualities of the chefs before and is also insightful, nurturing and endlessly thoughtful in her teaching and that is Chef Anita Eisenhauer. I took her class specifically because a peer in the field said she was worth going out of my way to experience and I am so happy that I did because within the first few days she took the time to talk with me about career options and offered guidance above the call of duty. Chef Eisenhauer is the best example of a teacher who cares about what is important and what is right. I have so much more to say about my time at the CIA and all of the people who I was lucky enough to learn from, but I will save it for another time. 

One of my plans for the future is Mama J’s Home-Away Café which will offer incredible baked goods and plenty of grain based meals and salads and a soft-serve machine because I promised my kids. I plan to have an 80/20 menu of healthy menu items and indulgent items. I will have an open kitchen to teach cooking classes to people of all ages and make it a really fun and educational community space. Ideally it will be on or connected to a farm. I plan to have senior citizens come and teach kids classes in order to foster a stronger connection between generations. 

I am all about natural remedies and am always researching and expanding my arsenal. I would love to grow my network in the Wellness field and collaborate with people who are looking to help others and look out for the health of our planet. I am working on raising conscientious kids and would love to share what I learn with other parents so that the next generation will continue to look out for the good of each other and the earth. I will be posting money saving and environmentally friendly lifestyle tips. 

In writing this very abbreviated version of my experiences, I just realized that I went through my very own (mom version) of eat pray love over the last couple of years through receiving my BPS in Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America and finding strength and peace through Holy Yoga. I reconnected with all of the things that bring joy and disconnected from all of the negativity that I was able to disconnect from that was around me for many years.