Sybil Parsa knew from a young age she’d spend a good chunk of her life in the kitchen.

That’s how girls are brought up in Peru, said Parsa, who opened her own cooking school, At Sybil’s Kitchen, here earlier this year.

“Latin girls are always helping the grandma, always involved with cooking or baking,” said Parsa, 56.

Eventually she took cooking classes while attending school. She found a passion for it, but it didn’t occur to her she would have a life in it.

“When I graduated from high school, I told my dad, ‘I want to study law,’ ” she recalled. Her father, who was a lawyer, quickly dismissed the idea.

“He said, ‘Are you out of your mind? What will my friends say? That I can’t support you?’ ”

So it was back to the kitchen for Parsa, this time at Cordon Bleu in London. She loved it, and when she returned to Peru after graduation, her father wanted to give her a restaurant as a gift.

But romance stepped in and she wanted to get married. It was a husband or the restaurant, he said, not both.

“I chose my husband,” she said.

The marriage was short-lived, and after her divorce she returned to her father, hoping the gift of a restaurant was still a possibility.

“Get a job,” was his advice.

“I said, ‘What are your friends going to say?’ And he said, ‘Times have changed.’ To think I could have been a lawyer.”

Parsa laughs about it now, and truth be told, she is passionate about food.

“I love cooking and cultures, and you learn a lot about culture through foods,” said Parsa, who used to teach a noncredit cooking class at Pima Community College.

She especially loves cooking with fresh, healthy ingredients, such as apricots, which are coming into season this month.

“Apricots are very rich in antioxidants,” she said. “They are high in fiber, so they get your system going.”

Apricots are also touted for their richness in beta-carotene, which is good for the heart, and vitamin A, which is good for the eyes.

And here’s the best part: The fruit is darned good.

It isn’t unusual for Parsa to throw an apricot or two into her morning juice.

“It keeps me happy for the day,” she said.

And she loves cooking with them.

“When I cook, I like colors,” she said. “And they are so easy to cook with.”

When they are in season, it isn’t unusual for Parsa to make a side dish of rice made tastier and prettier with apricots and a few other colorful items.

“You take white rice, chop up a dry apricot finely, some almonds or walnuts, slightly toasted, and some red bell pepper chopped finely. Mix those in the rice and it’s a beautiful side dish.”

But apricots also make a gorgeous dessert. Parsa’s cooking class last week zeroed in on grilled peaches and apricots with almond crunch and sweet mascarpone.

“When you grill the fruit you caramelize them and it brings the sweetness out, “ she said. “It is so amazing.”

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.