Nancy Jaworski teaches the grace of new beginnings

Nancy Jaworski cover November 2017. Photos by Marie Thomas.

In her kitchen recently, Nancy Jaworski chopped vegetables for a series of customized meals for a busy family in Peachtree City as she shared what led her to her second career, her dream job, her culinary practice. She recounted the scene replaying in her mind:

It was 2002, a beautiful fall day. She hadn’t slept well. She was feeling rough, but ready for battle. After years of corporate success, Nancy found herself in a new, unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory as she began to help the company move through a corporate shift. She had spent the past couple of years “right-sizing” departments, which involved having a lot of good people lose their jobs.

“I didn’t know who I was anymore,” Nancy said. “I was on my way into my office, coffee in hand, and I realized that when I was a little girl dreaming about who I would be when I grew up, I never envisioned being the one who was firing people who were doing a good job.”

Nancy realized her job had to end. She had to find the Nancy that she lost. She knew when the next downsizing package was offered, she would be taking it. To Nancy, it felt as if she was stepping on a high dive, and she had no idea what was below.

“I was scared,” she said. “My confidence in taking care of myself was shaken.”

When the opportunity to exit came, Nancy took the deep dive. She wasn’t sure what to do next, but she did what her intuition and sense of adventure taught her: she listened to the little voice inside her. When considering a life change, Nancy knows she must be very quiet for a while. It is difficult for her, but it seems to be the only true way to connect to that tiny voice. “I started a very intentional search, a search for the Nancy Jaworski I left behind somewhere along the way.”

Nancy stopped chopping vegetables: “I searched for where I fit in, what did I love, and what fed my energy.”

A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Nancy is the daughter of educators, the middle child in a family of three sisters. Her dad was an elementary school teacher, her mother a secondary English teacher, specializing in English as a second language. Looking back again, Nancy traces the threads of family, food, and travel from childhood through her earlier career decisions.

Nancy volunteers tirelessly every year to make the Joseph Sams School’s two fundraisers as successful as possible. She celebrates with Kathy Sams at the dinner, dance, and auction.

“Growing up, we ate a specific rotation of dinners because, for Mom, cooking was never a passion,” she continued. “My mom had lots of passions, hobbies, and responsibilities yet she always made dinner every evening. We always shared dinner as a family at the dining room table set with placemats, china, and silverware. We learned the importance of the family table.”

Nancy’s parents prioritized the core values of spending time around the table and spending time together seeking adventure. She attributes her love of travel to her parents, who always ensured the family experienced amazing vacations full of fun and adventure.

Nancy continued to chop a pepper.

“We would go camping in the mountains, rent cottages, visit out of town family; some trips were very simple, but each was always an adventure.”

Nancy attended Western Michigan University to follow in her parents lead in the field of education. However, she knew when she started her student teaching component, she wanted something different than a traditional classroom situation.   

Nancy, George, great niece and nephew Coco and Louie celebrate Easter at Callaway Gardens.

After college, walking down the street in Dearborn, she saw a giant map in the window of the travel agency. She stopped in and met her future boss and longtime mentor, Joe Hallissey, and soon became a force behind the travel desk. For 13 years she thrived in the fast-paced environment of the travel industry. She loved the small company’s environment and the wisdom of her first boss and mentor. She often thinks of Joe, even years later, especially when she volunteers, since Joe taught her the responsibility of giving back to the community and how to be a leader. Those years were full of adventure, in which she had many adventures both professionally and personally.

In 1988, Nancy was rewarded for 10 years of service to Hallisesey Travel with a trip of her choice. She chose China for several reasons. She was intrigued with China and the Chinese people. She had sent clients to China who returned with amazing stories about the culture and the people. Nancy made an intense trip, which included visiting very remote villages on a Yangzee river cruise. Many people in the villages had never seen Caucasians. Nancy tucked in her pockets blue globe-like balloons with world maps printed on them. She would blow up a balloon give them to people, especially children.

“Before I handed them the balloon, I would point to where I lived, and to where they lived,” Nancy shared. “It was an amazing experience to share a moment over a balloon and mutual smiles. It was an experience I will never forget.”

The next year Nancy traveled down a familiar road to the family cottage in Bayfield Ontario, with George von Walthausen, her boyfriend for more than five years. The two eloped, wanting their wedding time to be a quiet, intimate service. With Lake Huron as the backdrop, the marine blue water blending into the sky, the two shared vows with George’s childhood minister overseeing their private ceremony. This past year they celebrated 28 years of adventures in daily living.

Nancy and George have traveled throughout the continents, seeking culinary experiences such as the secret of a soufflé in Provence, France, the art of folding empanadas in Chili and preparing wild boar in Italy. There were often language barriers, but passion and love for good food cross-cultural obstacles.

Even the dogs in Nancy’s neighborhood benefit from her zest for good food. Rhonda Jones knows first hand Nancy’s devotion to the entire family, “Our dog has a path through the woods to their house and they keep bones and a bowl of fresh water for her. My grandchildren love to run on that same path to see “Miss Nancy” and Mr. George and our dear neighbors greet them fabulously. Nancy helped to make my mother’s 90th birthday a memorable event. They have shared with us many events of life, both joyous and sad. Nancy is much more than a great neighbor, she is a friend who lives next door and I am blessed to share life with her!”

After working at the travel agency for 13 years, technology crept into the industry and Nancy seized the opportunity to jump on board with Worldspan, the information services company dedicated to putting computers into travel agencies. For two years, Nancy circled the country to big cities to tiny towns helping travel agents automate their work. After completing a very successful role at a Proctor and Gamble conversion to Worldspan, Nancy was offered a management job in Atlanta. Nancy and George found themselves amongst the pine trees and streets with the word peach in various forms while they circled neighborhoods in the Atlanta area looking for a new home. Nancy managed staff in New York. Fayette County, with its proximity to the airport, was a natural fit for the couple since George’s company relocated him as well, and was near the airport. All the things fell into place as the couple moved to Fayetteville in 1994.

This era that followed was a series of career moves from training, sales, and national accounts to customer service. Nancy and George explored the south, worked and traveled and worked and traveled. Life raced along with job promotions and more and more time demands. Soon she was in the shuttle van, faced with difficult decisions and that deep dive into the unknown.

For a year following her exodus from the corporate world, she explored her own thoughts and evaluated her goals, her dreams. During this time of reflection and exploration, Nancy and George started entertaining a lot for a few reasons. One, she loves to cook and she wanted to connect with people in her community so food and cooking became a love language for Nancy during this time. The couple began sharing meals with her friends, her neighbors, and visiting family. Secondarily, she enjoyed having the time to expand her skills.

Another scene she recounted from commuting: she was in the shuttle van going to her car after a day of travel. The various passengers were discussing dinner plans, and she remembers a woman saying with sad resignation that she planned on going through yet another drive-thru for her and her young son.

“That’s a problem I can solve,” Nancy remembers thinking. “I can prepare meals for people, give them more time.”

“Life is too short to eat bad food,”  she declared while mincing garlic in seconds.

It became evident to Nancy that the two things she really needed for her “second half” career was spending her time and culinary talent helping families create their own dinner memories. She wanted each family to have healthy, specialized options based on their unique likes and dislikes. Nancy also wanted to prioritize giving back to the community something she had missed since her early travel agency days.

In 2003 Nancy graduated from the United States Personal Chef Academy and became My Chef Nancy. Since then, as owner and chef, she has created thousands of memorable meals for families, parties, funerals, and weddings. She creates remarkable meals and memories. She focuses on innovative healthy meals, prepares each with as many local ingredients as possible, for individuals, families, and large group gatherings.

Nancy and Georgia with his family, brother Rolph, sister-in-law, Mari, and his mom and dad, Peg, age 90, and Arno von Walthausen, age 96.

Anyone who knows Nancy, knows full well she cooks in and out of the kitchen with a primary ingredient, an innate item that separates her from others: passion. Yes, she is a chef, but she is more than her meals. Nancy is an inspiration.

On a day-to-day basis, she brims with positive energy and is a force for good, direct communication. Her never-ending passion, sense of humor, and gift for straightforward, meaningful conversation make her unique. Friends, clients, and family want to eat her beautifully prepared meals and sit around the table and spend time with her, hoping some of her wisdom and it will rub off.

Nancy is not just a caterer; she is a culinary educator on a mission. She is a featured educator at the Piedmont Wellness Cancer Center since 2010, now serving both the Fayette and Newnan campuses. She loves teaching others how to prepare good healthy dishes. She delights and entertains in each seminar always giving the viewer confidence that they can manage her recipes with ease.

Nancy fulfills her commitment to the community in many ways.

For more than seven years, she has been dishing up her favorite healthy recipes monthly to an adoring tribe of Fayette Woman readers. If you run into her around town, Nancy will freely share a recipe or cooking tip.

She volunteers her time and talents to organizations she believes in, willingly serving a myriad of organizations with enthusiasm.

Training the next generation in Spinach Pie.

For eight years she has served the Joseph Sam’s School in various volunteer roles from food and supply consultant, logistics, acquisition for the schools two major annual fundraising events, which this spring’s dance broke all previous attendance and contribution records. She and George love to co-host an annual quail hunt, in which she prepares the meals for the 10-person weekend, which garnered the highest bid at the Joseph Sams Spring Dinner and Dance.

Nancy helped initiate and implement the Southern Conservation Trust Farm-to-Table Dinner showcasing local chefs and farmers in a successful effort to raise money for the land trust.

Nancy honors and listens to her passions. She is most proud of that moment in 2002 when she took time to take that deep dive into the unknown to step back and get to know herself again, to chat with her community over a meal. This life-changing reset leads to her culinary adventure, to being her own boss and creative director who is able to cook and serve for those causes that mean the most to her. Nancy believes one of her greatest achievements was her ability to change careers and reclaim her authentic self.  

Now she leads others in their health journey. She leads her readers to take risks in the kitchen. She leads volunteers to be steadfast in their mission, and she leads family and friends to honor their inner voice.

At the very center of her leadership is time around her table. She knows all too well that people have wandered away from sharing mealtime. Just watch people at restaurants and see how many are on their phones.  

Nancy knows that sincere time requires a full presence. Modern life has pushed us into fast food and fast lives where we connect in 140 words and #hashtags in place of sentences, glances, and in-person laughter.

Nancy wants time at the table to be fun, a priority, even life-changing. Time at the table provides a chance to connect by pouring good food into our bodies, good conversation into our relationships, and the chance to find a bit of ourselves we may have lost along the way.

The time around the table matters and Nancy lead us to that very table in our own lives.

We love you Nancy!