When I was a kid, our home had a long wooden bar with stools that faced the kitchen. We would climb up to have our afterschool snacks there and it was the perfect vantage point to watch my mom prepare dinner or my dad bake bread. Hundreds of hours were spent at that bar, and when I think back on it now, it was where I fell in love with cooking.
Growing up, we also spent many hours in our large garden weeding, planting, digging drainage ditches and turning over the composting pile while plucking out the fat worms which kept the soil fertile and helped our garden grow. I can still taste the earthy sweetness of freshly picked snow peas and the juicy cherry tomatoes that would explode when we popped them in our mouths.
Little did I know it then, but I was learning the true meaning behind the hip culinary buzz words we hear today including “organic,” “farm-to-table,” “regional,” and “seasonal.” Behind those words are some of my favorite childhood memories and many of the most important lessons I learned about science, health, nutrition, and cooking that still resonate today.
As one might expect, this love of cooking has resulted in a fondness for learning new tips and tricks in the kitchen whenever possible. This is when I head to a cooking class (hands-on or demo – it’s all good) and steal away for a few hours to lose myself in creating something new or improving on a classic de cuisine.
I recently joined a gaggle of gal pals for a delightful “Classee di Cucina Regionale” at a favorite, venerable OC restaurant, Il Fornaio.
The year-long cooking series features recipes from a different region of Italy each month; this one was focused on Castellana in the Province of Trentino.
We sat family style with other guests under the sunny interior pergola of the restaurant as Chef Jeff Burt shared with us the finer points of the fresh ingredients that went in to his scratch-made recipes as well as tips on new ways in which to make a meal truly special.
From the corner of my eye I spotted two well mannered young girls in the crowd who sat rapt with attention and I was momentarily cast back on my own first homegrown cooking lessons.
Chef Burt’s style is personable and uncomplicated which made the seemingly complex dishes a welcome challenge. He emphasized how, by using the best ingredients available (especially fresh herbs), a simple meal becomes layered with fragrances and textures, refined and fresh—the best way to prepare and enjoy food.
As we tasted the first pasta dish, there was a collective sigh of “mmmmmm” and nodding of heads.
Chef Burt told the class that if anyone ever wanted or needed clarification on the recipes he teaches in his classes, he would make arrangements for us to come back in the kitchen and receive additional coaching. It was a nice touch to an already enjoyable experience.
The next cooking class at Il Fornaio will be held on Saturday, March 8 from noon to 2 p.m. and will feature recipes from the Italian region of Umbria. At a reasonable cost of $30.99, the class includes lunch from the menu and recipes to take home.
Make reservations by calling (949) 261-1444 or emailing [email protected].
Amateur chef and columnist Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. Catch her on KOCI Radio (101.5FM) this Sunday from 11 a.m. to noon. Email her at [email protected].