learn to cook.

this school sounds like a good place to start!!!


The education of Emily Can cooking school help this kitchen klutz?

Emily Seftel The Arizona Republic Feb. 1, 2006 12:00 AM

It's hard to pinpoint the moment I realized I was the culinary equivalent of Chernobyl.

Maybe it was the time (OK, times) that I ruined canned soup by adding water when none was needed. Or the time I made pasta and put the noodles in the boiling water in batches, resulting in a somewhat lethal combination of gum-jabbing spaghetti strands and overcooked pasta.

And let's not forget last Thanksgiving, when I was assigned the mashed potatoes, and found out what happens when you forget to soften the butter and then turn on the electric mixer. It looked like the Enola Gay had dropped an atomic butter bomb in my kitchen.

Clearly, I needed professional help. So two months after the ill-fated potatoes, I enrolled at the Phoenix cooking school, Kitchen Classics, as a student in its 12-week Essentials series.

The class is designed to teach cooking skills to beginners and to help veteran cooks brush up on the basics. Each class deals with a different ingredient, such as meat, fish, pasta and soups.

This is just what I need. Maybe I can reinvent myself as Iron Chef Emily or, at the very least, learn to serve food that doesn't trigger gag reflexes.

As extra incentive to learn as much I can: At the end of the series, I'm going to cook a multicourse meal for my friends and family, including my dad, a food critic.

I am not alone in my quest for culinary basics. The series, a relatively new offering, has become extremely popular, says shop owner Shauna Halawith. In fact, this is the third time Kitchen Classics has offered it in less than a year.

There are 13 people in my class, with ages ranging from just out of college to longstanding members of AARP. The people at my table are Kim Daniel, 48, Jamie Philopoulos, 27, and Lauren Cross, 23, all cooking-class novices. Philopoulos and Cross are friends and got gift certificates for the class from Cross' parents. Daniel received a gift certificate from a friend who knows his way around the kitchen.

"I think it's so he won't have to cook for us all the time," she says.

The impression I get from the table's combined culinary skills: You could survive on our cooking, but not happily.

Tonight's topic is eggs. I don't know much about eggs, except that you can't make an omelet without breaking some. Which, as it turns out, we'll get the chance to do. Instructor Chris Green is going to demonstrate how to make a souffl, omelet, bread pudding and frittata. Then we'll all try our hand at omelets.

After tonight, the classes will mostly be hands-on, but since it's the first night, Green is easing us into unfamiliar cooking territory through demonstrations and lectures.

He starts by showing us how to make a souffl. I love a good souffl, but have always been too intimidated to make one, what with its fancy name and unsettling tendency to collapse. Green assures us that they're easy. And as he sets about making one, I have to admit that he appears right.

He prepares the roux, adds milk and cheese, and whisks the eggs, as we copy down his advice. The most important thing, he says repeatedly, is keeping the egg whites and yolks separate. Apparently, there's no such thing as multiculturalism in Souffl Land. If the whites and yellows aren't segregated, the egg whites won't come together correctly.

Green puts the souffl dish in the oven, where the steam will shape it and make it rise. In the meantime, we move on to bread pudding.

"This is a great dish for day-old bread," he informs us. By extension, that makes it a perfect recipe for me. I have a system for using freshly baked bread that involves eating a couple of slices, forgetting about the bread, and throwing away the rock-hard loaf a few days later. It's a somewhat flawed system, I know, and I'm sure that everyone except me is doing all sorts of imaginative things with their old bread, like making pudding or goulash.

But now I'll be able to use my old bread constructively. Green spreads bread cubes, cream cheese and blueberries in a baking pan, and pours eggs, syrup, cream and milk over the top. The blueberry syrup is just a combination of berries, cornstarch, water, butter and sugar.

"I had no idea that was so easy," says Philopoulos, echoing my thoughts. Granted, it's not quite as simple as tossing the bread into the trash, but it's a whole lot more satisfying, and will eliminate my pangs of guilt.

The bread pudding goes in the oven. The aroma of melting Parmesan and Swiss cheese fills the kitchen as the souffl cooks. I consider snatching it out of the oven and making a run for it. My stomach growls, audibly and embarrassingly. I will never, ever come to cooking class again on an empty stomach.

No time for souffl fantasies though - it's omelet-making time. Green has just shown us how to make one, and Philopoulos, Cross, and I make our way to the stovetops.

"I'm kind of nervous," says Philopoulos as we start cracking eggs and pouring them into the pan. Cross and I agree. There is a lot of second-guessing, double- and triple-checking the recipe, and furtive glances into other people's pans to see if our eggs look like theirs.

"Is my omelet supposed to be doing this?" Philopoulos asks. She's made what Green says is a common mistake, letting the pan overheat before the eggs set, so they wind up scrambled. She tries again with two more eggs.

I fold my omelet onto my plate, using the underhanded technique that Green has demonstrated. It's not a perfect half-moon, but it's definitely recognizable as an omelet. I feel a small thrill that the ingredients did exactly what they were supposed to.

Philopoulos' second try has turned out perfectly. Daniel, who had been using another stove, shows off her dish. Our table agrees that we have conquered, if not the entire world of eggs, at least the omelet part of it.

Green tells us to dig in. We do. This is, no doubt, the finest omelet I have ever eaten, due mostly, perhaps, to the fact that I had eaten lunch at noon. And eight hours after lunch, anything tastes good.

Maybe that's the real secret to successful cooking.

Blueberry Bread Pudding

Reach the reporter at emily .seftel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8344.

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