The Cooking School: Cooking with Kids for a Morning!

IMG_9770It smells amazing in this kitchen . Calm and focused yet unbridled energy swirling.  Plating has begun.  Is there a cocktail party on the other side of the doors?  It seem like it from the quality of food coming from this kitchen.  Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom on Picco Blvd in West Los Angles is cooking up healthy snacks with ages 7-15 this morning.  Kids Cooking Camps for the summer is on!

On the menu today: Healthy snacks. Mushrom-Cheese Pitas, Tofu Veggies Cakes with Corn Roasted Salsa and Asian Vinaigrette, Fruity Kabobs with Marshmallows, Apples with Sweet Yogurt Dip, Home-Baked Pretzels, Homemade Hummus with Pita Bread Triangles, Spinach, Red Onion and Jack Cheese Quesadillas. Classic Guacamole with Plum Tomatoes, Oven-Roasted Sweet Potato Fries.  Aprons and recipes are provided too!

The set  up and structure of the class is similar to that in larger cooking school like Culinary Institute of America.  Pairing or working in groups.  Kids are paired with their own age in Chef Eric’s classroom whenever possible.  Sharing workstations, multiple recipes divided up and assigned, started, completed and on to the next.  Chef Eric circulates offering guidance, along with his sous chefs.  Juana maintains the cleanliness of the kitchen.  Jennie, Chef Eric’s wife and business partner, manages the offices.

Kids cooking-Invaluable.  Team skills, communication skills, science and math skills are all enhanced.  Creativity and confidence are also and most certainly benefits of young ones cooking. Knowledge of what goes on the plate is most helpful, especially for kids, as they are more likely to eat what we prepare. Yes, this even includes vegetables.

Chef Eric Crowley graduated from the Culinary Institute of America located in Hyde Park, NY. His first job was in Spain at Via Veneto, one of the oldest restaurants in Spain for room and boards only. Then off to Germany for more practical culinary training and back to the United States. He began working at Patina Restaurant Group under Joachim Splichal and after agreeing to fill in and teach for a classmate from CIA, the light bulb came on in Chef Eric’s head.  In 2003 the doors opened at the Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom and the rest is history.

I studied with Chef Eric in his Master Baking/Pastry Program.  A ten week program focusing on fundamentals of French baking.  This course includes quick breads, yeasts breads, pies and tarts, cakes and tortes, souffles, puff pastries custards, “mother sauces”, chocolate, ice cream, plating and presentation.  It is nice to be back in this kitchen to see what else is being cooked up from these, perhaps, future Chefs.

Take a look and read Chef Eric in a Q&A!

Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom

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before class Chef Eric's Sous Chefs review the recipes of the day and any other notes
before class Chef Eric’s Sous Chefs review the recipes of the day and any other notes
waiting for others and reviewing the recipes
waiting for others and reviewing the recipes
The students clean aprons
the students’ clean aprons
work stations
work stations
all the ladies waiting to wash their hands before cooking at this sink
early morning and first thing, all the ladies waiting to wash their hands before cooking at this sink
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Chef Eric and herb chopping instruction

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mushroom cutting instructions given at my old work station...
mushroom cutting instructions given at my old work station…

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not liking the smell of mushrooms
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time to clean and prep work station for plating
plating mushroom goat cheese pitas
plating mushroom goat cheese pitas
Chef Eric giving instructions given at next work station
Chef Eric giving instructions at next work station
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chiffonade?
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avocado cutting lessons
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ingredients for Quesadillas

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roasted corn salsa for the tofu cakes
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working on fruit kabobs
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pretzel dough and the bench flour pass..
pretzel making
pretzel making
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tofu cakes resting and pretzels being prepped for oven
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plain pretzels on a tray
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sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and everything nice..

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pretzels

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water break
water break
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cleaning plates for presentations

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Chef Eric Q&A

Me:  How long have you been a Chef?

EC:  Since graduating from the culinary institute of America in 1996

Me:  What are four staples a cook needs and are these same things applicable for kids cooking?

EC:  For a cook and kids the four things needed in the kitchen are the same.  Patience, practice, organization and cleanliness.

Me:  As far as tools and knives when cooking go, what are essentials no matter the age?

EC:  For the young ones, pairing knives. Nothing larger than that until they get older.  A peeler and microplane.  For both adults and kids would be tongs, spatulas, and wooden spoons.

Me:  What is your favorite cook book?

EC:  Master the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs.  For kids, a great cook book would be is the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book or the Betty Crocker Cook Book.  It usually comes in the three ring binder.

Me:  Why did you decide to start a cooking school?

EC:  I filled in with a classmate of mine.  We came back to Los Angeles from the Culinary Institute of America in NY and he was cooking at another cooking school.  He got really sick. He was going to have to quit. I filled in and got a lot of feedback about my patience and organization and enthusiasm and the light bulb went off in my head and I decided to open Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom.  In to more detail, my wife now, who I was dating at the time sat in on one of classes and saw me lecture and said, I think you should do this.  That’s how it started.

Me:  Were there any set backs that you would like to share and touch on the transition from professional chef world to starting the cooking school? And/Or set backs in your career as a young chef?

EC:  When you are first starting out there are always setbacks.  I ran into things like cuts and burns, wanting to stop and sit down, long hours.  When I worked in Barcelona, Spain I worked 15-16 hours a day six days a week with all day Sunday off. And Tuesday afternoon off. That was it. When I got out of culinary school I did this for practical experience.  I was a career changer.  I was a paralegal in a law firm. I was already living in NYC and out of a couple of duffle bags. I started to call a couple of restaurants. I got a Michelin guide from the library and got about 20 different rejections, I got a hold of an owner from a restaurant in Barcelona Spain. Family run. Executive Chef is still there. His son is his Sous Chef and his daughter is the Matre’d. He understood English and he knew my school and I asked if I could work and he said yes. I choose Spain partly because they said yes and I had heard horror stories about Americans studying in France. Barcelona is geographically close to France and I thought I may get some of that technique and knowledge and use indigenous ingredients.

Me:  What is your favorite thing to eat?

EC:  Potato chips.  Right now I am going back to Kettle. Maple Bacon Potato. Sometimes I go back to Lays.  Any kind of fried potato, I’ll take it.

Me:  How do you test your recipes?

EC:  Practice. and after so many years of working and having worked  under Joachim Splichal at Patina Restaurant Group, I can basically take a basic technique and gather ingredients and start in stages. Breaking several recipes apart and then create a new and put back together.

Me:  Why did you decide to cook everything and not specialize in one particular area in culinary?

EC:  Well, I guess, well because of my age.  I was 30 when I went to culinary school and I knew that I would have to get out and start making money soon. And at school they had a separate baking program,  for the associates degree I got had two months of pastry and as a result I could experience that and also become more rounded.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do yet.  I knew that I wanted to be around food.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a Pastry Chef or a baker.  Back when I was coming out of school, Chefs were talking about “brew pubs”.  I considered brew pubs.  They were hot 20 years ago.  Public School in Sherman Oaks is very similar to those of years past.

Me:  Are you active in your own continued education?

EC:  Yes, went back to my alma mater and we went to Napa Valley, CA campus and did an imaginations stirring series that was partnered up with Harvard Medical School.  Focused on using whole grains more like quinoa, brown rice, and leafy greens and getting away from so much butter and oils and I based my healthy cooking series on that.

Me:  What is your most popular class to date?

EC:  I have a one time recreational but mostly Couples classes. By far the most popular. Started out with one menu but got so popular that now we have four different menus and often times they take all four classes.  Other than those classes its a toss up between the class that you (me, Tatum) took, Master Baking Class or The Master Cooking Series.

Me:  As far as kids go, why did you decide to start a kids cooking series?

EC:  I opened the classroom in 2003 and had no details on that in my business plans and all the parents came over and said you have to do kids camps. And so we did.  It was the best thing we could have done.

Me:  Do you offer scholarship programs?

EC:  Yes.  For kids with life-threatening illnesses, as part of my kids camps through CoachArt.  For underprivileged kids for my Master Chef and Master Baking Programs.  And I also work with C-Cap – A Career through the Culinary Arts – I mentor through C-Cap and also my kids classes. I offer internships/mentorships in all areas.

Me:  Why is it important for kids to cook?

EC:  It is important because we want them to eat well. If they can learn to prepare their own meals and snacks in the the long run they appreciate the food and are healthier.  It is also important as they learn to cooperate with others, math skills, sanitation rules, how to use kitchen equipment, how to use knives safely and using appliances.  The goal is to want them to go to the markets and maybe even make dinner for parents and help clean up!

Me:  What advice could you offer young Chefs?

EC:  Practice, practice practice.  Practice basic skills over and over.  be on time and polite.  Think ahead and don’t expect to be the boss over night. Be helpful and cheerful.  Be prepared to work long hours and don’t expect too much too soon.  Their first job could be peeling potatoes for 40 hours a week.

Me:  What is your favorite meal to cook? Or do you cook at all being a Chef?

EC:  I love to cook at home.  I recently purchased a home in Woodland Hills, and when it is cool enough I love to grill outside. The reason I love to cook at home is I can cook whatever I want.  I don’t have to follow the menu or recipe like I have to in my classes.

Me:  You have a spice rub.  Spice Blends Duo.  How did you come up with it?  Where can these savory seasons be purchased?

EC:  I currently have thyme and rosemary from my garden.  So those I dry here (at the school).  Just like the recipe testing we talked about.  I basically got a bunch of spices and ground them up and started tasting.  And when I liked the flavor then I would test on a piece of chicken or some pasta and there you go that is how it happened.  They can be purchased here in the school or through our website.

Me:  Where do you get the food and ingredients for your classrooms?

EC:  I have a couple of purveyors.  Since we are less like a full on restaurant, I find that a couple of purveyors work best for me.  I have a produce purveyor called  West Central Produce.  they also have some dairy that I use.  As far as paper towels and things like that I use Costco.  Both deliver.

Me:  What are your thoughts on the food industry and how has it changed since you became a Chef?

EC:  Some of the younger adults like to call themselves a Chef and they have some backers and you read about them on EaterLA and six months later the doors are closed.  Uhm, and I guess, I am really going to show my age, but I am not a fan of the tattoos. Sleeves.  Seems to be the uniform of the day.  I wasn’t brought up like that. White jacket, unassuming pants.  No big rings, no long hair, no gauges, etc.  Clean cut clean shaven is my school of thinking.  As far as social media, just like any other business, and society in general, everyone gets a voice.  Easy for someone to bad mouth and legitimate or not, it happens. It is hard for Chefs not to take it personally.  Their restaurants are an expansion of their home and a love for what they are doing to be brought out instead.

Me:  Where do you find inspiration?

EC:  Going out and trying food. Reading and brushing up on old book.  Combination of going out and reading up on older and newer cooking books.

Me:  What is your favorite restaurant in Los Angeles?

EC:  I often don’t get a chance to.  Right now, I would say my most fun one and I love to take guests to would be The Bazaar.  Jose Andres.  Reminds me of Spain with his classic tapas but also his molecular gastronomy.  More of a homey environment Angellini Osteria or used to be Joe’s on Abbot Kinney.

Me:  If you could cook with anyone who would it be and why?

EC:  Jacques Pepin.  He is so humble and full of wisdom. My wife would say the same.  He is a Chef and and Artists. Like Monet.  He is an international treasure.

Me:  If you could have dinner with who would it be and why?

EC:  Just one person?  Fernand Poie. Innovator of classic fine dining. He was from Lyon, France after WWII had a restaurant that became popular.  I think his grand niece still runs the place. He would drink Champagne and get shaved in the morning while his cooks were prepping. He was one that actually started coming out and meeting the guests. introducing himself.  Before him it wasn’t done.  People didn’t know who was cooking their food.  There are some chefs that are still alive that work under him.  As far as eating, whatever he wanted to eat.  He was really famous for a pate en croute and I would definitely have that.

Chef Eric offers many different types of classes! Check out Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom website for classes and schedules.  His school is charming and provides an intimate feeling off the corner of the often trafficy, hustle and bustling West Los Angeles Pico Blvd.  Classes cater to the curious, hobbyists, career changer and much in between.  Happy Cooking and Bon Appetite!

Until Next Time…

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Related:

Cooking with Kids: 5 Reasons You Should Be Doing It

 

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