Classes help tentative home cooks gain confidence
NORWELL — Kevin Riley loves to cook. Trouble is, the kitchen at home is the domain of his wife, Valerie.
"I lived alone for a while and cooked for myself, and I was the last of nine kids, so I know what I'm doing," the Quincy resident said while chopping vegetables during a recent couples' cooking class at The Good Life Kitchen in Norwell. "But Val won't let me in the kitchen."
For the record: Under the tutelage of Good Life's owner, chef Bernard Kinsella, and the able assistance of Valerie, Riley did a tremendous job creating the dessert of the night, pears poached in red wine.
In fact, we all cooked up a storm, and had a blast to boot, which is the bottom line when picking up a knife and preparing a meal, Kinsella said.
"People get together in these classes, they cook together, laugh, and have a good time," said Kinsella, who ran two schools in Atlanta before opening his Norwell operation. "It's just fun."
With the proliferation of food shows on television, interest in home cooking has blossomed, Kinsella and others chefs said.
"People are looking at these shows, talking about them, and then want to do it," he said. "Food is big, we should eat three times a day, and a lot of what I do is healthy cooking."
As many men as women are taking courses these days, according to Pamela Beaudet, who runs Cooking With Pamela classes from her Walpole home. Beaudet recalled watching cooking shows as a kid, stirring pots on the stove, and pretending she was on TV.
"I find with a lot of my friends, the men are cooking more. Men seem to be more fearless in the kitchen, not afraid to throw stuff together and see what happens," said Beaudet, who is also a life coach.
Many instructional chefs are teaching healthier food preparation, she said, a necessity in a nation plagued by obesity.
"I don't want to get preachy, but we're getting to the point of relying on fast food and frozen food too much," Beaudet said. "And it's showing on our children and our waistlines."
She's big on meals that "fit on the plate," and showing people "how to make homemade tomato sauce that the kids won't find yucky."
A popular request is beef bourguignon, which Beaudet said "people may find intimidating, but it's so easy and so good, and you can get several meals out of it. Or tacos, using your own spices and ingredients, rather than opening a ready-made package full of preservatives."
In one of Kinsella's recent classes — held in a brand-new, wide-open kitchen with two commercial gas stoves, an induction oven, and all manner of wonderfully sharp chef's knives — four couples took part. Three came as a group, and the fourth happened to know the others. They were greeted by Kinsella with an assortment of cheese, crackers, hummus, and wine, and as the night progressed, all engaged in cooking vegetable and mushroom risotto, a soy-and-honey glazed salmon dish, and that earthy, wine-poached pear dessert.
We did it under the guidance of the affable and animated Kinsella, who punctuated his lessons with the occasional "Boom!" much the way celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse uses "Bam!" only at a much lower volume.
"That's it, just like that, boom!" Kinsella would say as a student sliced reconstituted shiitake mushrooms.
"I try to cook every night, I don't like taking stuff out of the freezer," said Kelly Scola of Quincy, who gave the class to her husband, Tony, as a birthday present. "He loves to cook, both our kids love to cook, and I really think my 11-year-old is going to be a chef someday."
"I started them young," said Tony Scola, an investment manager. "They'd help in the kitchen when they were 3 or 4, and we'd do the food shopping together."
Greg Keefe of Quincy, who took the class with his friend Donnalee Guerin, admitted: "I don't cook; I just come home from work. But I came tonight to be with friends and maybe learn something."
Guerin loves to cook and said taking a class like this helps her learn more, and as a bonus, "It's much better than going out to dinner."
Cooking classes in the area run the gamut from healthy cooking to baking to nights for couples or singles. Kinsella's offerings include cooking with local foods, or making risotto, candy, or soups.
Also popular are courses at places like Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, through the Whitman-Hanson Community Education Main Street Extension, said Cheryl Wyndham, who heads a program that runs in the fall and spring. The program offers about 65 courses, and the 2013 choices will be listed online early next year, she said.
"Our instructors are people with a passion for cooking, and we target an audience of about 30 to 55 years old," she said.
The facility uses the full kitchen at the high school, and the program "is thriving. Those shows on TV have really kick-started these programs."
In Mattapoisett, Colby Rottler recently opened Commanding Cuisine, which is run through the town's Recreation Department. Looking for something to do after retiring from the Federal Reserve Bank, he graduated in 2001 as a certified chef from the Johnson & Wales University culinary program.
"I have mothers and daughters, grandchildren, men, you name it," Rottler said of his classes. "My grandchildren come and help me. I keep my recipes simple. You're not going to go crazy trying to make them."
Rottler also donates his culinary talents to veterans groups and others who auction off his services to raise money.
The biggest benefit of cooking classes, Kinsella said, is bringing people together and creating the communal sense of doing a necessary task together.
"I think it's a way to bring family closer together. We've gotten away from family meal times, I think," he said.
"When I teach, we're all there in the kitchen, we're relaxed, the way it should be with cooking," he said. "You all participate, whether someone cooks or sets the table or cleans up. It's time we're spending together."
And creating some mouth-watering dishes doesn't hurt. At the end of our class, we all sat down to gorge ourselves on what we had created, drink wine, and talk. Not much was left over, least of all Riley's poached pear dessert, mounded with mascarpone, light cream, lemon zest, powdered sugar, and raspberries.
"Maybe now," Riley said, "my wife will let me in the kitchen more."