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Cooking class report card: Let’s call it a B-

November 6th, 2009 · 5 Comments · Cooking tips, Food preparation

My first challenge: Teach novices to cook in 2 hours. What was I thinking?

My second challenge: Same time frame, narrower focus. This time, it was grassfed beef and pastured chicken and pork.

As promised, here’s a look at those two cooking classes, each attended by ten persons. (You can read the course descriptions and reader suggestions here.)

Cooking 101

flour5What went right:  Class participants unanimously liked the hands-on aspect of the class. There were few enough in class that they each took a turn at the counter or burner trying and demonstrating cooking techniques. That allowed them to be involved and allowed me to make suggestions on how to do things better. We covered measuring, differences in baking (relatively exact) vs. general cooking (relatively forgiving), a general discussion of cookware, the benefits of mis en place (getting everything ready in advance), and general encouragement. I prepared great handouts, if I do say so. And the food tasted good.

What went wrong: Created a small-scale explosion (of the FOOMP! variety) in trying to use a portable propane burner; had to restart omelet-cooking after burning (or very nearly burning) butter in a too-hot pan on that very-hot-burning burner; took too long to get food samples on the tables, and took too long in general to prepare the food, at least partly because the students were doing the prep work. As a result, the last part of the class was rushed, and I didn’t get to discuss meal planning or most of the handouts.

Next time: I don’t know whether I’d try this one again. My pedagogical goals were too ambitious for the 2-hour time slot. A series would probably be better.

Grass-fed & pastured meats

What went right:  Participants asked good questions, and samples were ready in a reasonably timely fashion. The hamburger was excellent.

meatlabel What went wrong: Chicken took longer to cook than expected. Top round steak (instead of chuck steak as I’d used in the past) cooked faster than expected and as a result was a little tough. Too much down time because I was overprepared. After having to rush the end of the previous class, I got darned near everything ready in advance and then had to stand around and talk while waiting for dishes to finish.

Next time: I’d prepare the sauces during class, and I’d ask the butcher to cut the chicken into parts for faster cooking and easier serving.

Will I do it again?

I need to ponder whether I’ll do classes again. They are a lot of work, and the best teachers of these kinds of classes are entertainers, which has not been my forte. I doubt I’ll develop the perfect timing of the professional chefs who also give these classes.

At the same time, both these classes are on topics that I think are important and that I really wish more people would learn about. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

In the meantime, here are some of the handouts (PDFs) if you are interested:

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Susan G.

    I agree that beginning cooking just has to be more than one class. Heck, just teaching someone to use a knife correctly (without severing a digit) takes some time.

    And you are so right about teaching as entertainment. Bob & his friend Tim used to teach scout leaders about demos for a webelos science badge. It turned into the “Bob & Tim Show”. They were asked to teach it repeatedly and even had the same people taking it just for fun. But it was a couple of classes before they really got it down and eventually they got tired of it (both with ADD personalities!)

    So maybe it’s worth doing again because you’ve already sort of figured out what works & doesn’t. On the other hand, if you didn’t enjoy it, then what’s the point? Unless you are getting paid wads of money or you are teaching starving children how to make gruel for the good of the world, then the heck with it! Life’s too short to voluntarily do obligations that you have a choice not to do!

    • Janet Majure

      Thanks, Susan. I’d definitely need to work on the entertainment aspect! I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but I was sufficiently anxious that I wouldn’t call it fun. I’m sure it would get more fun with practice. I did get paid, though not wads of money! I’ll ponder some more. I think I might do better, too, if I did it some afternoon rather than starting at 7 p.m.

  • Sylvie

    In 2 hours, one can only teach so much to people who are new to cooking. As you know, practice and repetition are keys.

    Teaching cooking classes is indeed work (I know, I do it on a regular basis). Between developing the curriculum, preparing the hand-outs, shopping, prepping (sometime cooking something ahead of time so you can show the finished product since there won’t be time in the class to cook it to the end), teaching the class and cleaning up afterwards, it’s a lot more than the 2 or 4 hours then the class itself takes. Teaching does take a lot out of you, so it’s important to be “fresh” and in the right frame of mind. I always feel exhausted after a class (mine last 4 hours), but also exhilarated when I feel that a student “gets it”.

    So you have to take all of that into account when pricing – and if you have no fun – or not enough fun – , why indeed do it?

    (but it takes several classes to get fully comfortable with the pace of how you ought to teach and how to interact with the students)

  • Joanne

    Sorry this comment is so late, but better late than never…?

    Teaching anything requires practice. So, if you only did each class topic once, you need to repeat the experience several times (refining things each time) before you can conclude whether or not it really was a success or not!

    I know that sounds weird, but every new technique, concept, idea–you need to have real practice in pulling it off before you can evaluate whether or not the students got the info.

    That said, the meat class sounds like a much more reasonable goal for a “one class” format. Have you considered teaching novice cooks one meal? (spaghetti with meat sauce, maybe?) I think there’s an endless supply of people who need your skills out there, if you decide you like this!

  • Janet Majure

    Thanks, Sylvie and Joanne. You make me feel better–and as though I definitely need more practice. I just finished reading My Life in France, and even the indomitable Mme. Child seems to have suffered at least a few bumps in her teaching efforts. I’ll let you know whether I give it another shot.