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Financial planner teaches money lessons through what’s on the menu

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Joe Clark’s Chicken Marsala

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Pepper to taste
Old Bay Garlic and Herb to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter 1 cup fresh sliced mushrooms
A few tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 cup Marsala wine
Italian parsley
Pound chicken under wax paper to an even thickness. Use spices to season chicken directly, at least one side. Put same seasonings in flour and mix thoroughly. Dredge chicken in flour and make sure it isn't too heavily coated — no clumps. Put oil and butter in frying pan and heat. Place chicken in pan and reduce heat to medium for 2 minutes on each side. Place on warming rack. (Clark recommends putting it in the oven at 225 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes to ensure it is cooked through and to get a crisp taste.) Use same pan — including juices — and add mushrooms, whipping cream and Marsala wine. Simmer until sauce is desired consistency, usually reduced by half. Serve over cheesy polenta, fettuccine Alfredo or mashed potatoes. Garnish with Italian parsley.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 12:01 am

Most people might not see how spices relate to stocks or how carrots connect to your 401(k), but Joe Clark does.

Clark spends most of his time as a certified financial planner and the managing partner of Financial Enhancement Group in Anderson, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Indianapolis. But some nights, he can be found helping his clients out of the office and in the kitchen.

Clark is a financial foodie, and he uses simple recipes and ingredients to make a connection not only between complex accounts and familiar food, but also with the people themselves.

“At the end of the day, I want to matter to people,” Clark said. “And the easiest way I've found to do it is through the belly or the billfold.”

Growing up with parents who were teachers with a lot of love but not a lot of money, Clark always knew he wanted to go into finance. Cooking, however, sneaked up on him.

In 2000, the TV show “The Sopranos” was popular. The show marketed a cookbook, and his wife, who had decided he needed a hobby, bought one. There are still stains on the ceiling from his first attempts, Clark said.

But it didn't take long for Clark to fall in love with it. He learned to make a great Italian gravy and a top-notch chicken Marsala.

One day, he put his work and his hobby together.

He promised a few clients in Indianapolis that if they moved some money in an account, he would cook for them. They did it, and they expected him to follow through.

As Clark was cooking, he began connecting food and his financial lessons.

When he was done, the clients wanted to move more money so he would come cook again, Clark said.

Since then, others have asked Clark to share his lessons. And it's a natural fit, he said.

“(Food and finance) just make sense together,” he said.

He has since cooked in Tuscany with a class — he also incorporates his food lessons as an adjunct professor in consumer science at Purdue — and he has visited the Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Now, he comes to clients' homes armed with essential pans and spices, and he whips up a meal. While he does it, though, he draws attention to some similarities.

The spices you use in a dish can be like the stocks that make up your portfolio. When you chop up an onion, you want the pieces to be about the same shape and size so they cook evenly — much like how you want your portfolio to be balanced.

And when it comes to cooking, you don't want to just throw the onions and meat and carrots into a pot all at once and leave it. There has to be an order, just like when planning for your financial future.

“It's the art of knowing what to put in and when to put it in and what to focus on,” he said.

Too often, Clark said, people simply “follow the rules” of investing without understanding what they're doing, just like they blindly follow a recipe without really understanding why they're doing it. Are you adding carrots for texture? Should you season the chicken before breading it or just mix it together?

But by using something people understand, it makes the long-term venture of saving for retirement real.

“If you're not proactive in the kitchen, you know quickly and you can try again.” Clark said. “With retirement, you only get one shot.”

But for Clark, what it really comes down to is being out of the kitchen, around the table with friends. He wants to help people feel secure in something that seems confusing, just as the meal on the table provides nourishment.

“It helps connect people to an area they understand,” Clark said. “And what is more universal than food?”