The annual Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Trade Fair, a marquee event for the Princeton business community, takes place on Friday, September 7, beginning with a ribbon cutting at 9:30 a.m. at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Hotel. Admission to the fair is free, only a business card is required, but there is a $35 charge for the buffet luncheon, which begins at noon. Register at 609-924-1776 or at www.princetonchamber.org.

Karen Colimore, who is just completing her first year as president of the chamber, says that highlights of this year’s event include some 100 exhibitors, a keynote address by Charlie Inverso, coach of Mercer County Community College’s soccer team, and a break-down party with live jazz, light refreshments, and a beer tasting by Triumph Brewery.

Throughout the day there will be food tastings by a number of restaurants, including Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse, Tre Piani, Chez Alice, Westin Princeton, Salt Creek Grille, Fabulous Fare, and Triumph.

Meanwhile, outside, the 42-foot-long Microsoft Across America truck, fitted out with all of the latest PC software, will be open for tours and hands-on demonstrations geared toward small and mid-sized businesses.

New at the fair this year, says Colimore, is participation by area non-profits, including the Girl Scouts of Delaware-Raritan, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Greater Mercer County, and Mercer County Community College.

While the trade fair is the chamber’s biggest annual event, it is just one of scores of events that take place all year long. While a number of area networking groups have been having trouble attracting members to meetings, Colimore says that attendance at chamber breakfasts, luncheons, after-work networking, and special events is climbing.

Until recently the main focus of the chamber’s meetings has been business-to-business advice and networking. Colimore added a new element this summer when she led the chamber to create its inaugural “Mid-Summer Madness” marketing event. Held outdoors, in Palmer Square, it was an outreach to consumers, who are the target market for many chamber businesses. Some 50 chamber businesses participated as exhibitors, and, says Colimore, attendance was estimated at 500 people. She plans to make the “madness” an annual event, and would like to keep it in Palmer Square, which she sees as “the hub of the region.”

The chamber’s roster of members stands at about 1,000. In an effort to push it up, Colimore has held two “one-minute membership” campaigns. They involved asking members to E-mail one contact, explaining advantages of chamber membership, and asking him or her to join. The effort netted 75 new members, and Colimore plans to repeat it, making the E-mail blitz a regular part of the organization’s outreach.

Also in her first year, Colimore oversaw the chamber’s first job fair, which took place at Princeton University in April.

While she has been busy stretching the chamber’s menu of events on the group, Colimore has also been keeping an eye on a cyber make-over. The chamber is getting ready to launch a new website, which, she promises, will be more fully-featured than the current site. The chamber has been working to beef up its Convention and Visitors Bureau, and a key upgrade in the new site is more information for people visiting the Princeton area.

It’s a busy time of year for many organizations, and especially busy for the chamber, as it puts the finishing touches on preparations for its big annual trade fair, the unofficial starting gun for the new business year in the Princeton area.

Meet the Exhibitor:

Natural Cooking

Investors take note: Soy futures may be set for a surge, possibly in tandem with the stock of organic-leaning supermarkets and publishing houses. Manufacturers of high-end kitchen counters and appliances should be doing well, too.

Christine Waltermyer, founder of the Natural Kitchen Cooking School (www.naturalkitchenschool.com), based in Princeton, can hardly keep up with demand for her cooking classes, in-home cooking parties, and personal chef services.

She will be talking about her school, and sharing recipes, at the annual Princeton Regional Chamber Trade Fair on Friday, September 7, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Westin Forrestal Village Hotel.

“Americans are spending more than ever on luxury kitchens, but they’re spending less time cooking,” she says. Still, there is a strong attraction to the general concept of cooking, along with the place in which it is traditionally done.

“People love to watch the process,” she says. “We’re innately drawn to the process of cooking. That’s why so many people watch all of those cooking shows on television.”

A growing number of Princeton area residents are going further, and actually learning to cook. At the same time, a random sample of party goers and picnicers, undertaken over the summer, reveals that, whether or not they are into cooking, a growing number of our neighbors are eschewing meat and moving toward a vegetarian diet. This trend is especially noticeable among recent college graduates.

Waltermeyer says that the phenomenon is even more pronounced among students. “I’ve noticed that college kids and younger people are totally hip to the vegan thing,” she says. “It’s cool these days. I think it’s the connection with global warming. People want to eat lower on the food chain.”

The confluence of these trends is feeding Waltermyer’s business, which is strictly vegan, a way of eating that goes one or two steps beyond vegetarian by relying only on vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes. No fish, animals, or animal by-products — including milk or cheese — are allowed.

“It’s so good that no one knows the difference,” she says of the cuisine she prepares. But this is only true because she has spent years — all of the time since she graduated from Millersville University in 1992 — studying nutrition and healthful cooking. The uninitiated, deciding to embrace animal-free eating, are prone to just “cut out the meat, and eat a lot of junk food,” she says. The result, in her experience, is that these fledgling vegans feel worse than they did before, and drop the whole thing.

Vegan cooking is foreign to anyone who grew up on American staples — McDonald’s lunches, weekend bacon and egg breakfasts, and meat and potato dinners, served with a small side of peas. It requires a whole host of new ingredients and cooking methods.

“Learning how to cook (vegan cuisine) makes all the difference in how long people can stick with it,” says Waltermeyer. “If it’s not so tasty, they won’t. There’s a whole learning curve.”

Waltermyer’s own learning curve began in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, where she grew up in a Pennyslvania Dutch household with some Italian genes — and cooking — thrown in. Her father works in construction, and “at 74 is still very active.” Her mother, a stay-at-home mom, cooked dinner for the family every night, and relied heavily on local ingredients. Her grandmother, too, was an enthusiastic cook, and “a recreational baker.”

“It wasn’t vegetarian cooking,” she says, “but my father ate organic meat before the term was invented, and my mother always uses fresh ingredients.” She often helped her mother and grandmother out with meal preparation, baking, and canning.

Waltermyer became a vegetarian at age 22 after reading some literature from the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on the mistreatment of animals on factory farms. Then, two years later, she developed health problems, including non-cancerous breast tumors, and her doctor recommended a double mastectomy. Deciding to pursue another course, she enrolled in the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, a holistic living center. She then discovered the Kushi Institute in Beckett, Massachusetts, where she studied macrobiotic cooking, which emphasises the use of grains and vegetables, and has been linked to longevity. Her next stop was the Kripalu Institute in Lenox, Massachusetts, which teaches courses such as “How You Eat Is How You Live,” and “Conscious Cooking.”

Following the lessons she learned at these schools, Waltermyer soon regained her health — without operations.

Armed with this self-designed healthy living and cooking education, which she paid for largely by working at the schools where she studied, Waltermyer began teaching cooking several years ago. Some of her first classes took place in the Dean’s chain of natural supermarkets in Ocean County.

One year ago, she moved to Princeton, where she lives with Ed Belbruno, an artist and astrophysicist who is affiliated with Princeton University and with NASA, and who is the author of “Fly Me to the Moon,” a book that maps routes to the moon using chaos theory.

Like her parents, who serve her vegan meals when she visits them, Belbruno is supportive of her vegan lifestyle, has largely adopted it himself, and is, says Waltermyer, “feeling much better.”

So are many of her personal chef clients, she says. They tend to be busy people who do not have time to cook, but who want to eat fresh, healthy meals. Half of these clients live in New York, and half in the Princeton area. Some are vegetarians or vegans, but others are not. Waltermyers swears that her dishes are so rich and creamy that no one has complained about a lack of butter or cheese. Emphasizing fresh ingredients, she prefers to work in her clients’ kitchens once every few days, leaving meals and desserts with directions for reheating. But some clients prefer that she prepare a week’s worth of meals, and she is amenable to that arrangement.

Soon after she moved to Princeton, Waltermyer began giving cooking lessons at the Whole Foods supermarket on Route 1 just south of Princeton. Her initial work there came through the Cancer Project, a Washington, D.C., based non-profit that pays 60 chefs around the country to teach healthy cooking to cancer patients and to their families, who attend classes free of charge.

Waltermyer now also gives cooking classes to the general public at Whole Foods. The next session of eight full-day classes begins in November, and costs about $3,500, although discounts are available for early registration. Some of her students are interested in learning — or advancing in — vegan cooking, while others plan to become personal chefs. The course, she says, could also be a springboard to a job in a restaurant or to opening a small cafe.

While the well-equipped, light-filled Whole Foods kitchen is a fine learning environment, Waltermyer finds that some people perfer to learn how to cook in their own kitchens — alone or with a group of friends, and she is happy to offer instruction there, at a cost of about $250 for a two-person lesson lasting 2 1/2 hours. She estimates that a beginner might need six to eight lessons before becoming proficient in vegan cooking.

She also hosts cooking parties, including birthday parties for children. At one such recent event, the guest of honor was a 14-year-old boy who surprised her with his advanced technique, extensive cooking vocabulary, and superb knife skills. “He watches all of the cooking shows,” she explains.

Waltermyer, who began her cooking journey to improve her own health, is building a vegan cooking business just as the movement toward fresh, healthful, largely meatless eating is catching on. She would not have altered her own course even if the country was still in its Atkins-induced beef-binge phase. She didn’t plan it this way. She took no economics or marketing courses in her self-directed study. She has conducted no focus groups, but it appears that her timing could not have been better.

“We’re back to the place where we want to spend time, but not a lot of time, cooking,” she says.

Ready to get busy home cooks on the road away from pot roast and toward roasted vegetables, Waltermyer says, “I realized that healthy eating was my mission in life, and I wanted to show the world.”

Natural Kitchen Cooking School Box 373, Princeton 08542. Christine Waltermyer, founder. 646-283-9470; E-mail: christine@naturalkitchencookingschool.com. www.naturalkitchencookingschool.com

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