My Culinary Story (with a dash of music)

2008, with my Heirloom Cake Collection (American historical cakes from the 1750’s-1950’s). Although now I am most reminiscent over this photo because I was pregnant with my son John when it was taken. 🙂

I started working in the food industry thirty-five years ago, at the age of twelve, in my family’s fish market, The Krab Kettle, in Florence, Oregon. I was born in Santa Cruz, California. My father was a commercial fisherman off the coast of Oregon and California.

So, to say I was literally raised in the food industry would not be inaccurate. One of my very first memories is of sitting in the fish box of my father’s commercial fishing vessel, The Lady Francis. They put me in the fish box so I would not fall overboard. I remember it smelling really bad, but looking back I can appreciate that it was a completely authentic and unique experience.

The Oregon Coast. Photo Credit, Carol Tripp. Thank you Carol!

My parents bought and operated The Krab Kettle in the late 80’s, and I started backing, cleaning and “shaking” Dungeness crab there when I was twelve. “Shaking Crab” is the term for de-shelling crab meat. In retrospect, I’m grateful for that inside look into the food industry. The work ethic I started learning at that fish market has served me well and given me a realistic expectation of the kind of grit and stamina one needs when they work in the business of food.

Florence, Oregon. Photo Credit, Carol Tripp. Thank you Carol!

When I was fourteen I started working in restaurants. Florence, Oregon is a unique place on the map. It’s a small town, but full of culture. The restaurants in Florence are still some of the best I’ve ever been to. Even now, as a world traveler, I’m frequently disappointed with restaurants, as I compare them to the establishments of my hometown. On the Central Oregon Coast, there are no hard-and-fast cultural food rules. Chefs, for the most part, are allowed to be creative. Access to the bounty of the Pacific Ocean (to the west), and both the temperate rainforests of old-growth conifers and Willamette Valley (to the east) make for a cornucopia of culinary treasures.

The Dunes of Florence, Oregon. Photo Credit, Carol Tripp. Thank you Carol!

In high school, even while working in restaurants, I excelled in music, and in speech & debate. I won local, state and regional competitions. I went to the University of Oregon with my scholarship winnings and studied classical vocal performance and Russian. (I was also immensely lucky to study voice at Cambridge University in the early 2000’s, albeit, briefly).

In 1996, I married my husband (also, originally from Florence, Oregon) who was at that time a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. I moved to North Carolina to be with him and continued my studies in vocal performance (opera). Being a “grown up” with my own kitchen and a reliable food budget was an absolute thrill for me. I could cook whatever I wanted, and I did. Biscuits and gravy, pizza, roast chicken, pies and more. Having my own back yard meant I could grow my own vegetables, and my first summer there I planted 24 tomato plants. I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with.

After a few years, we decided to start a family, and I decided not to be a professional singer (although I do still sing at church as a soloist and Catholic liturgical singer ((cantor)) when I am able). I have served my parish as a singer/musician in some capacity for 26 years. Because of my training as a classical vocalist, I can sing in Latin, Italian, French and four other languages. I am very grateful that my education can be utilised in this way, even as a volunteer. It brings me great joy.

In my third trimester of my first pregnancy (back in 1999), I signed up to take a Wilton cake decorating course at the Marine Corps Main Exchange on Camp Lejeune. I thought at the time that it might be the last thing I did for myself before becoming a mother. Before every lesson I would bake my practice cakes and make buttercream icing with a KitchenAid mixer that I borrowed from my gracious neighbor. I remember standing in the kitchen prepping my ingredients; my pregnant feet and back aching. I was determined, and that old fish market work ethic was paying off. I would put all the icing into portable bowls, and pack up my little cake decorating kit, and go to class. It was the most fun I’d ever had in my whole life. I had so much fun making and decorating cakes that I insisted on making my own baby shower cake, and when my little daughter was three-months-old, I started my in-home cake business. I used my first earnings to buy myself a KitchenAid mixer of my own. I didn’t have to borrow my neighbor’s anymore.

Over the next eleven years, I made hundreds of cakes. Maybe even into the thousands. When I wasn’t filling an order I was developing new techniques, recipes, concepts and cake engineering techniques. In 2001 I made a three-foot-long replica of the II MEF building on Camp Lejeune. All in cake. It took four Marines just to lift it. In 2006 I made a Marine Corps Ball Cake for 800 people for the Naval War College Marine Corps Birthday Ball. It weighed 250 pounds and was topped with an edible, sculpted Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Basically, wherever we moved, I filled orders. I loved working so much, I would work into the night on most days, pulling the occasional “all nighter” for really big jobs.

I worked at night because our family was quickly growing. Working while my children slept became a little refuge for me. An oasis of quiet and creativity.

My husband’s military career has taken us all over the United States, and on three overseas tours. Not only have we been moving almost constantly, but we have added six more children (for a total of seven) to our family. We wanted them all. As I say tersely if anyone is rude enough to ask, “None of my children are accidents”. Right before I go full Irish/Italian on them. Just kidding(or not). Large families are not for everyone. My husband and I have built our family intentionally, mindfully and by choice. We have been immensely blessed to have adequate health care and the resources to support our large family, as well as equality in our marriage.

In 2009, after having my fifth baby, I realized that operating an in-home cake business was probably not a good idea anymore. I began teaching cooking lessons and writing recipes. My growing family was always in need of good food, so I had ample opportunity to cook and write recipes – and make cakes for our own private family birthday parties. Also, in my mid-thirties, I was ready to go to sleep at a normal time and stop working into the night. It was time to shift my focus.

As we moved every 1-4 years, each new duty station and travel destination became my classroom. To date I’ve studied food and cooking all over the United States, including Boston, New Orleans and Pennsylvania Dutch Country, as well as internationally in Italy, Spain, France, Greece, England, Morocco, Switzerland, Japan, and now Germany, where we have lived since 2019.

It’s that fish market work ethic. That, and a perpetual sense of gratitude for the opportunity to travel, as well as the means (from my husband’s financial support) to work the way I want, when I want. Having the latitude to work the way I have has definitely been a privilege.

I’ve done a little catering here and there, and in 2017, I opened an in-home cooking school complete with four work stations and four KitchenAid mixers. My lessons were always booked solid with eager students, and each class had a waiting list. Since 2009, I’ve taught hundreds of students. My cooking school is now in storage in the United States, as we are currently living in Germany per military orders.

Now that my youngest child is 8 1/2, I am finally putting my writing career into focus. I’ve written hundreds of recipes over the years, but I haven’t had the time to type them, much less share them.

I now work quietly, during the waking hours of the day, in my home in Germany. I have a large upstairs studio with a little balcony and a working-kitchen attached. Imagine, a whole kitchen just for my work. Imagine that. And to think I took that cake decorating class in 1999 because I thought it was the last thing I’d do for myself before becoming a mother. It turns out, my work has been my peace and identity in the middle of this military life. I took that cake decorating class as a gift to myself, and the smartest thing I’ve ever done is to continue to prioritize the kind of work that makes me jump out of bed in the morning. This work has been an integral part of my wellness.

My upstairs studio in Germany. I call it my “squirrel nest”.

We have five children at home now, and two adult children who are thriving. Our oldest daughter is a college graduate and is entering the Air Force, and our oldest son is a Marine Corps Infantryman. All of our children are excellent cooks and they each have a work ethic that make their parents proud.

My husband is now a Colonel, and we have been married for 26 years. I don’t know when we are moving next, or to where. But I do know I’ll make the best of it.

Thanks for being here,

Shannon Vavich


While I have worked very hard, I have worked from a place of privilege. Also, with the help of mental health counseling (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) throughout the years, I have learned the vital skill of setting boundaries. Without this skill, despite my work ethic and privilege, none of my dreams would have come to fruition. I have had the ability, through quality counseling (provided by our military health insurance), not just to learn how to set boundaries, but how to foster truly healthy and non-destructive relationships.

I have not accomplished what I have on my own. These are just some of the people who have helped me:

My husband, Nick, has been a constant source of emotional, physical and monetary support in all my endeavours. When we were newly married, he insisted on paying for my voice lessons to fill-in-the-gaps between formal institutionalized study. I was able to study with world-class professors because of his support. We could barely afford it, but he always made it happen. In my culinary career, he has been the supporting giant behind my work and has always been willing to run to the store to buy ingredients, wash dishes, build cake stands and transport cakes and catering supplies. He would also, whenever he could, make sure I was fed and tucked-in for naps after pulling all-nighters – and would take care of the kids as I rested. If I was working over a weekend, he’d whisk the kids away for a fun day out and give me the house to myself. Whenever I had artist’s angst, he’d say “Babe, your kung-fu is the best”. Whenever I’d run across a difficult person he’d say, “Screw’em”.

Our part-time nannies over the years: Agnese, Jill, Kim and Lauren. All wonderful people; patient, hard-working, compassionate. Jill and Kim were young Marine Corps Spouses who took a chance, came to my house to meet me and my family, and became invaluable to us. All four of these ladies were absolute consummate professionals. They understood my “bigger picture” approach to parenting and enacted these principles as they lent me a hand, watched the kids for “date night”, and took care of them as I was delivering cakes, working catering jobs or meeting with clients.

My professional organizer-turned-great friend, Jenn. I found Jenn through an ad on Craig’s list when we lived in Pennsylvania. I hired her for one day, and she was so amazing, I had her back time and time again. Without her, our move to Japan would have been a disaster. She helped us organize the house, she took care of huge jobs and clean-outs, and she even came to our house in North Carolina to help reorganize after we got back to the United States after four years. She has visited us regularly ever since, and still helps us organize, but is now more of a family member than organizer.

My cooking school assistant, and fellow Marine Corps Spouse, Mary. She was fun, interesting to talk to, whip-smart, hard-working and just a great person to be around. I only wish we could have worked together longer.

My current part-time virtual assistant, Melody. She vets all my emails and takes care of correspondence, which helps me stay in my “art and writing brain” so I can do the work I want to do without distraction. She’s hard-core tough. She’s “good people” with just the right amount of sarcasm, humility and good humor.

My German teacher, Nadja. Nadja is a force of nature. From a small town in Germany, she went to the United States at the age of 19 as an au-pair, became fluent in English, and later graduated from an American University. She worked in Washington D.C. for a time and even met Michelle Obama! She’s now an entrepreneur and runs a thriving virtual teaching and coaching business from her current home in London! A world traveler, she has a world vision and zest for life that is truly inspiring.

My first graphic artist, Raundi (RIP). She built my first website in 2010 and she became a good friend. A Marine Corps Spouse like me, and from Oregon too! So funny. Lover of dogs. We lost her tragically in 2015. She died of depression and I miss her every day.

Also, my dear friends near and far like Julia, Lynda, Scott, Crystal, Jamie, Jami, Jess, Betsy, Brenda, and more; who have always supported my endeavors, never uttered a backhanded compliment, snark or passive-aggressive barb, and who respect the fact that I have seven people (my children) and a husband who are the star players in my life. When we reconnect, it’s like time never passed. Some of us went to kindergarten together, some of us stayed up all night at pre-teen slumber parties together, some of us never really connected in school but have become great friends in adulthood over the internet, some of us are military wives who have been like family in the hardest of times, some I’ve met in my travels and they became like family, and some I’ve only just met recently. My life is further blessed because I have a garden of beautiful friends who I can trust.


1. Please follow me on facebook. I’ve run my facebook page for 12 years and have built a strong rapport with my “regulars”. They have been a constant source of support. I’m also active on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and I have a growing YouTube Channel.

2. Please sign up for my newsletter if you’d like recipes delivered to your inbox every week.

3. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with the workings of my kitchen on-the-go, subscribe to my podcast on Apple Podcasts or Amazon Music. You’ll also get ideas for fresh, fast cooking, kitchen advice and more. Just search “The Flying Kitchen” on your podcast app.

4. I currently (although hopefully not for long) do all my own tech work including website design, graphic design, newsletter design, social media engineering/analytics, podcast production and video production. Occasionally, I shut the whole thing down to do maintenance work. Thank you for your patience!

My advocacy work:

I am currently setting up a series of advocacy platforms to bring awareness to Non-Consenting Pelvic Exams Under Anesthesia. This is the little-known practice of using a woman’s body as a “teaching” or “research tool” for pelvic exams (by multiple people) while she is under anesthesia for a routine surgery – without her knowledge or consent. This happened to me in 2017, and now I’m working to raise awareness of this issue. My goal is to see it made illegal in all 50 states, and federally run military hospitals. If you join the group you will be able to check on the status of which states have currently banned this practice, and you will be able to participate in making this abhorrent practice illegal. For more information, click apply to join my private facebook group here:

Thank you