Cooking Lessons: More than techniques and skills

This past Friday I was feeling really run-down. As I looked in the mirror on my way out the door to the grocery store the eyes staring back at me reflected the fatigue. I considered canceling my lesson and crawling back into bed to catch up on sleep, but I was really looking forward to seeing Irma and spending time with her in the kitchen.

I’ve been teaching a series of cooking lessons to this wonderful, caring nanny. Her employer hired me to broaden her cooking repertoire. She is a master at cooking Mexican food and was eager to learn about different cuisines. We came up with a long list of topics and our lessons began in her employer’s home. We started the first class with an ambitious lesson plan: food safety, knife skills, searing, sautéing and panfrying. The top of her “want to learn” list included: beef tenderloin, eggplant, making chicken “not boring” and how to cook asparagus so it didn’t end up limp and soggy.  At a very fast pace we talked (in Spanglish), chopped and produced five entrees that first class. Whew! It was a workout for both of us. We parted with a big hug and sense of great satisfaction after tasting everything and then packaging it all up for her employer to enjoy.  She took the recipes home and prepared several of them for her own family that weekend. I received a text of joy from her. She said her teenagers helped her prepare the meals that weekend and that they loved everything. They were so excited and proud, took pictures of the food and her husband even emailed the pictures to his relatives.

Prior to our second cooking class, she emailed me an updated “wish list” which included scallops, risotto, Brussels sprouts, meatloaf and various ways to prepare fish. Again I was met at the door by an enthusiastic student. This time we had a deadline as an eager audience was arriving at noon to sample the buffet we were about to prepare. She added the last bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the risotto just as our lunch guests arrived. Lunch was consumed with great enthusiasm and requests for second helpings.

Cooking classes have continued and the range of topics and cuisines continually expands. Final products have been consumed by her employer and his family, as well as by her family and guests in her home.

Over the past couple months as we’ve spent time together in the kitchen I have realized that what she’s gained the most isn’t the expansion of her skills or knowledge. Some habits are harder to change than others, such as the way she holds the knife “the way she always has” or “that finger that just won’t listen” and keeps wanting to stick out as she’s chopping ingredients (that finger I fear will get sliced instead of the item on the cutting board!).

On Friday as I walked into the kitchen she told me that I looked tired. I told her I was really tired, but that I didn’t want to miss out on spending time with her in the kitchen. She thanked me for being there, gave me a big hug and told me,  “You’ve made me want to cook again.  I want to be in the kitchen again.” And with that, my tiredness was gone, a smile spread from my heart to my face, and we got right to cooking, laughing and sharing stories (in rapid Spanglish). This morning I had a message on my voicemail from her, sharing her family’s reviews of the new dishes she made for them this weekend.

Irma has helped me realize that cooking lessons aren’t just about technique and skill. I’ve watched her blossom in the kitchen. Her confidence has risen. She is eager to open a cookbook and experiment. Her joy and enthusiasm are contagious.

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