From the best way to get the smell of freshly-cut garlic off your hands to knife skills to food lore such as the food served at the Last Supper, local chef Brenda Hock knows it all.
Take the knife for example.“The wrong knife is like a lethal weapon — a good knife is like having a third hand,” Hock said.
That knife can be used to successfully cut produce multiple ways or filet a fish properly, she said.
Hock’s goal for the classes is to teach practical cooking methods through a single recipe that features various cooking techniques. Once learned, Hock wants her students to take their new culinary knowledge and implement it in their own kitchen.
This teaching style is a result of her own experiences. She said she knew she wouldn’t use a majority of the recipes learned in culinary school, so she took the acquired skills and applied them to what she did cook. The class is her way to share these experiences, she said.
“A passion of food can involve more than cooking,” Hock said. “There are people who love food but don’t have the time to cook, and I want to enable them also to indulge their love of food without (leaving the class) with a bunch of recipes they won’t make.”
Jano Kray, a volunteer at the botanical garden who attended Hock’s January class, said she walked away with new, handy cooking methods that helped increase her cooking efficiency.
The most useful tip Kray said she learned was to defat chicken broth quickly. This task was once tedious, but now it is as simple as running the broth through a funnel of ice cubes. Also, it prevents a layer of fat from forming and floating on top of the creation the broth is used in.
The best part for Kray was the overall experience. She said Hock shared helpful bits of information throughout the whole class and avoided focusing exclusively on one task at a time.
“She’s very spontaneous, so as she is doing stuff she is constantly telling you all this stuff that you absorb,” Kray said. “It was really interesting, very educational but in a very casual way — kind of like you were sitting in your kitchen with your girlfriend getting stuff done.”
Hock said she makes it a point to focus on teaching shortcuts, tips (such as making homemade products instead purchasing processed versions at the store), substitutions and how to use tools around the kitchen more efficiently.
Some tips Hock offered were substituting cilantro with parsley and thickening cream soups without using cream.
“My classes are more about how food works and food chemistry,” Hock said. “If you never make this recipe again, you can understand that is how it works, so you can make another variation of it in the future.”
Hock used another example of learning to tie a chicken on a turkey so it retains moisture as opposed to brining it, which is a way of slowly cooking it by adding liquids periodically to help retain moisture.
Or, if a younger attendee learns to make a chocolate dirt cake, with chocolate pudding, Oreos and gummy worms, they could go home and make a vanilla version by simply substituting vanilla pudding and Nilla Wafers, Hock said.
For Hock, the whole food experience is more than just a properly measured-out, well-followed recipe. She wants to use the culinary experience to promote this side of cooking through inviting guest lecturers, cookbook authors, growers and class participants to share their passion at the botanical garden’s kitchen.
Debby Hoover, another volunteer at the garden who attended Hock’s January class, said the kitchen used is a fully-licensed commercial kitchen limited to approximately 10 people.
Hock teaches various classes at the garden (for anyone from kids to retirees), and Hoover said Hock is their go-to teacher. In fact, she said, Hock’s first series was not only a hit but it was sold out — and this is its first year.
This success can be attributed to the Hock’s desire to share her extensive culinary knowledge and the intimate setting in which it’s taught.
“For me, it was a new experience, and I wanted to try it because I didn’t know what the secrets would be,” Hoover said. “It (was) a very open, intimate setting. You’re right there with the chef, you’re not sitting in the back of a classroom trying to see what he or she is doing, which I really liked.”
The Botanical Garden classes are March 26 from 10 a.m. to noon and March 29 at 2 to 4 p.m. The classes are $50 and can be purchased by phone at (805) 541-1400 ext. 301 or by e-mail to email@example.com.