A Remarkable Journey

From Lerwick, Shetland to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - a remarkable journey.

Imaging leaving a small, tightly knit community on an island way north of Scotland where you had lived for 17 years and arriving in a major, metropolitan city where to my teenage mind "the tall buildings almost blocked out the sky."

But that's exactly what l did.  I had been accepted to Glasgow's College of Domestic Science - the Do' School.  So, in the Fall of 1955, my mother, Jean Greenwald, and l took the 14 hour boat trip from Lerwick to Aberdeen, and then the train to Glasgow.  I was excited and just a little intimidated.  The big city was a real culture shock.  Tall buildings, smelly fumes from cars and buses, people jostling each other on the pavements - what a change from Shetland's tranquility, clear skies and pristine air.

The heavy wooden doors and imposing entrance to the Do' School was daunting.  But for my mother's firm hold on my arm, l would have turned and run off.  Thankfully, she was determined that l get a "proper education" and be exposed to a Jewish community (the Greenwalds were the only Jewish family in the Shetland islands).  After a lengthy meeting with Miss Gibson, the principal, she was satisfied that l would be safe in this new environment.  She left for the train station to return to Lerwick.  I was alone.

Ethel Hofman - Alumni Achievement Award Winner 2009But not for long. My room mate, Margaret Jack, burst in a few minutes later.
We bonded immediately.  Together we romped thru classes, studied together and laughed and cried over loves lost - mostly from the men at McClay Hall across the park.  And what did we do when we had a week off to study for final exams?  Margaret and l went hitch-hiking through Scotland - and somehow managed to pass every exam.  When we connected a few years ago, the years fell away and we talked for hours.  I loved the college camaraderie, the Institutional Management curriculum, the teachers and the city life.  But on weekends, we made sure we were back to sign in before the 10p.m. curfew.

Memories remain vivid. Miss Gibson, a stately, strict and rather frightening figure but as l came to know her, she was understanding and fair. With my mother's wishes in mind, l enthusiastically joined every Jewish organisation l could find - the Jewish Students Union, B'nai Brith. This resulted in being invited to spend almost every weekend at local students' homes for parties and dances.  My wardrobe was practical but sparse.  In Shetland, school wear was skirts and hand-knitted sweaters.  But Magda from Jamaica who roomed down the hall, had a wardrobe filled with "date" dresses.  She would generously lend me a frothy pink or floral item for these occasions to which l am eternally grateful!

My diploma from the Do’ School was my passport to an exciting career. After a stint teaching Domestic Science in Unst, Shetland, where I received isolation pay, I emigrated to Chicago to stay with my Aunt Sherry. Although it was hard to tear myself from my family, my working visa was for a year. I figured I’d soon be back. It seemed that the reputation of the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science was highly regarded in the United States. I had no trouble finding a job. In fact, wherever I applied, I was accepted. But, I was completely ignorant of the vast variety of fresh produce. I’d never seen an eggplant (aubergine) or a zucchini and the single servings of fresh vegetables were enormous. Ordering a salad at a New York cafeteria I returned it saying “I ordered a salad for one – this is for four.” The reply “Ma’am, that’s a single serving”. So, I took a 1-year dietetic internship at the University of Chicago where I learned everything about special diets, unfamiliar foods, and administration.

When offered the post of Chief Administrative Dietitian at Chicago’s 1200 bed Michael Reese Hospital, I accepted. Was I naïve! Suddenly, I was in charge of 150 staff, most of whom had deep Southern accents. I could barely understand them and they certainly didn’t understand me. Somehow, we managed to work together efficiently. I was there for 3 1/2 years making many friends along the way. This was the best move of my life. My future husband, Walter Hofman, was a Fellow in the Pathology department and I was in the basement Dietary office but somehow we found each other. So much for returning to Shetland although I saved enough to get back home each year.

Ethel Hofman pictured with son Andy and husband WalterFrom Chicago to Basel, Switzerland, where Walter graduated from medical school. Since my knowledge of German was at best, fair, I worked as an English secretary at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals. Basel cuisine is influenced by the bordering countries of Germany, France and Italy. We lived next door to a Swiss chef who took pity on us and invited us to dine at least once a week. These sensational dinners sharpened our taste buds and gave us a lifelong appreciation of good food. We returned to the United States. In Boston, I worked at the Harvard School of Public Health on community projects with the late Dr. Jean Mayer. Walter took a position in Philadelphia. We moved with two small boys and a Sheltie. I was anxious to get back to work. But caring for home and family took up most of my time. So, I opened The Instant Gourmet, the first cooking school in Philadelphia where I duplicated some of our best loved Swiss dishes. However, to attract the young American homemaker, I focused on easy and time saving. Convenience ingredients like canned chicken broth was substituted for the long simmered broth.

I started off with 5 students in my tiny kitchen. They had to leave by noon. That was when my two toddlers woke up from their nap. From there, my culinary career took off. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a feature article on my cooking school, I became spokesperson for Lenox China traveling all over the country and my first cookbook, Making Food Beautiful, was published.

Ethel Hofman - Alumni Achievement Award Winner - IACP President celebrations“Networking” is the buzzword for all professionals. I joined the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). Members included the late Julia Child who I traveled with and got to know well, Graham Kerr of UK television fame, and Emeril LaGasse, now a celebrity chef. In 1995, I was elected IACP President. This brought more amazing opportunities. I traveled to Australia, Paris France, Norway and all over the United States. During that time, I had three more cookbooks published. My expertise in Jewish cooking reached the Seinfeld offices in New York. “Send us a recipe for rye bread” After baking about twenty loaves, I had a full-proof recipe which was published, along with photos, in Seinfeld Forever, the special magazine edition of TV Guide. As the program co-director of Greenlee Concepts and working with a talented team, an on-line training program for restaurant waitstaff has recently been launched; essential at a time of rapidly spreading food-borne illnesses.

But my proudest achievement was the publication of my memoir and tribute to my parents. “Mackerel at Midnight – growing up Jewish on a remote Scottish island” It was published in Philadelphia as well as in UK and was a featured book at the 2007 International Book Festival in Edinburgh.

America has given me the chance to expand my horizons and talents beyond all my expectations. Food editor, culinary consultant, author, syndicated food columnist – these are careers I never dreamed of as a young student and opportunities continue. But my training and values go back to my Do’School education where efficiency, responsibility and knowledge were firmly fixed. Thus I had the confidence to grasp every opportunity presented. To every student at Caledonia University, there is enormous diversity and opportunity in every area of the global market. Do what you love, persevere - and you’re bound to succeed.