My family is filled with teachers. My mother was a home economist and kindergarten teacher; my aunt taught 3rd grade and then special education; my sister has spent her career as an elementary school speech therapist. While teaching wasn't the goal while I was in culinary school, I love where my spice shop has taken me: teaching cooking classes most days per week.
On my podcast Smidgen, producer Catherine and I were talking about teachers, specifically the people and life events that were our greatest teachers. Of course, my mother, grandmothers, uncles and aunts were my childhood culinary teachers, and later, one of my greatest learning curves was embracing Veganism with my daughter. But teaching cooking classes 4-5 nights per week? Talk about an immersive learning environment.
One of our instructors Lili Courtney said it best: "It's like we're throwing a dinner party every night, but we don't know who's coming." Teaching cooking classes at this volume requires new, creative menus on a continual basis that deliver teachable moment upon teachable moment. I'm a better cook because of it.
Here are my 6 takeaways from teaching cooking classes. Adopt them in your kitchen, and you'll prove you are your own best teacher.
1. We're gonna need more lemons.
Our weekly pantry staple shopping list includes a sack of fresh lemons, and we use every single one. We all know that a spritz of lemon brightens up a dish at the end. But after immersing ourselves into Samin Nozrat's Salt, Fat, Acid Heat in our Cook the Book class series, we learned so much about adjusting the acid in a dish. With just a squeeze, you can go from meh to Wowza! Two great examples of the magic of citrus include Sizzling Catfish with Meaux Betta Butter and Holiday Applesauce where lemon and warm spices co-mingle in harmony.
2. I'll never buy stock again.
Fact: good stock is the foundation of good dishes. But stock doesn't have to be a day-long, laborious process. While holding fast to our number-one rule of "garbage in, garbage out," we, simultaneously, use items that would typically end up in the trash bin. Our zip-top, stock bag is continuously filled with cuttings from cooking classes, then we put our slow cooker's
"lazy bubble" to use overnight. The next day, we have a gallon of flavorful liquid. And you can, too! Check out our Chicken Stock, Vegetable Stock and Umami Stock made with parmesan rinds and mushroom stems.
3. The "right" eating style is the one that works for you.
Our cooking class roster recently featured an ominously-titled class "The Truth About Carbs" and the very next day we taught "Biscuits and Scones!" A customer asked, "Whose side are you on?" I answered, "All of them." When I decided that my cooking classroom would be a space where we teach cooking and not advocate any diet or eating style, my job turned into a really cool gig. I am not a doctor. I am not a registered dietician. I am a cook. No matter the diet or prescribed food plan, I can look at any list of allowed foods and teach you to cook fantastic meals. Really delicious meals. Read my blog on the subject of my son's chronic disease and his food plan. This approach changed our lives.
4. It's all in the details.
Vinaigrettes. Gremolata. Pan Sauces. Croutons. Small details that are so important. When you teach as many classes as we do, it starts to sound a bit like home: Chicken again? That's why we always incorporate lots of quick accompaniments that can transform chicken (again) into a company-worthy meal. Check out some of our favorite accoutrement: Quick Gremolata for sprinkling on just about anything; Alabama Sauce for all the sandwiches; Caesar Dressing that's perfect for kale; and these delectable Greek Island Croutons.
5. Spices are the key to the universe.
Well, that's a little overstated, but this spice girl can't write about teaching cooking classes without talking about spices. I do lots of speaking on the subject of spices, and every cooking class includes intensive information on the how and why of spices. It's a really big subject, so how do we wrap our brain around this huge topic? We use them. Often. Experimenting in the kitchen with lots of different spices at hand is magical. Maybe not the key to the universe, but it's certainly how to unlock delicious meals. Start by downloading our Quick Guide to Every Spice in Your Kitchen then subscribe to our monthly or quarterly Subscription Boxes-a guaranteed flavor explosion delivered to your doorstep.
6. Perfect endings
Cook. Gather. Repeat. We do it 4-5 times per week in our cooking classroom, and it never gets old. Gathering for a meal is linked to health, happiness and longevity. There is so much good in this simple act, I can't stress it enough. Cook. Then gather around the table. It's magic.