New cooking school in Soquel fills unique niche and offers lots of fun classes

South Indian Lemon Rice, a dish created in April's Indian Cuisine 101 at Let's Cook!

Let’s Cook! is a fun new cooking school located in Soquel; attendees can choose from many three-hour classes that cover a variety of culinary topics.

Patricia Poritzky started the school in January, and the local community has responded with enthusiastic participation. In fact, the school’s first couple months of classes sold out in just three weeks – some in just days! Classes are for both beginning and experienced cooks, and are offered weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons and evenings.

I had the pleasure of taking a Let’s Cook! class last month, and I can say from personal experience that classes offer professional and skilled instructors combined with accessible recipes and a comfortable environment. Most of the classes are hands-on, with a few demonstration-type-classes in the mix. Poritzky says that in the future, both types of classes will continue to be offered.

In an average class, there are 12 students and students take home 4-7 recipes. At Indian Cuisine 101, taught by Chef Jonathan Miller, I received a packet with 8 recipes. We divided into teams of two, and each team cooked a different dish. At the end of the evening, we all enjoyed a late dinner with samples of each food. Participant Jody Biergel enjoyed the class tremendously. “The best part was the community the school created in the classroom. Your fellow classmates cooked for you, and you cooked for them. By the time we all shared a meal at the end, we were friends.”

This community spirit is exactly what Poritzky strives for. She founded the school for a variety of reasons. “Let’s Cook! encompasses many things I am passionate about including food, eating, and supporting my local community,” Poritzky says. “We use local chefs, organic ingredients whenever possible, and source most of the food within a 100-mile radius,” she adds. “I enjoy teaching people about shopping locally. Hopefully, our students will learn how easy it can be to eat healthfully and keep money local.”

At Indian Cuisine 101, students seemed to appreciate instructor Miller’s down-to-earth personality. This, combined with his teaching ability and dedication to quality ingredients and delicious dishes, produced a delightful and learning-filled evening. He was willing to answer everyone’s questions and gave advice on topics such as where to find certain ingredients. “I enjoy teaching, and I feel especially passionate about people eating well and healthfully in their own homes,” Miller says. “This is a way for me to share excitement about certain foods and cuisines with other people, and hopefully it will translate into more people cooking real food at home.”

Miller has an interesting background; most of his chef experience is in the local area, but he also spent close to four years in L.A. His time there included working as personal chef to actress Charlize Theron, and since he was cooking for her every day he had to get creative so the menu wouldn’t get repetitive. He ended up greatly expanding his culinary repertoire, learning many other cuisines, and now he’s passing these along at Let’s Cook! (his other classes include Thai and Mediterranean Cuisine). The dishes from Indian Cuisine 101 included South Indian Lemon Rice and Mughlai Lamb Curry.

Miller and Poritzky are both firm believers in the power of cooking and eating with your loved ones. “Having a home-cooked meal together has great impact that reaches further than simply eating better. People connect and share more over meals, and that strengthening of bonds starts to bleed into other aspects of home life and helps to create a more overall satisfying living situation,” Miller says. “My husband and I cooked together on our second date; it definitely made an impact on my decision to marry him three months later,” shares Poritzky. You never know, you could meet a potential partner at a cooking class, or if you’re already dating someone, get to know them on a different level. “Cooking and learning more about food can be a fun night out. Bring a date, a friend or a family member to Let’s Cook!,” says Poritzky.

Eric Carter, who serves as Director of the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program at Cabrillo College, is a Let’s Cook! instructor. His classes include the popular Knife Skills and Sauces. “I enjoy teaching here because it is a completely different group of students. At Cabrillo the students are interested in learning the skills for furthering or starting their careers. At Let’s Cook! the students are attending to improve their cooking skills for themselves,” Carter says. “Things are a little more relaxed at Let’s Cook!, and the students have a good time. These are self-enrichment classes.”

As Carter points out, Let’s Cook! fills a niche that culinary schools can’t. When a student enrolls it is for a single night, in a subject designed for the home cook. “It’s fun, it’s social, and the students leave with enhanced skills that they can put to use every day,” Carter shares.

Stacey Plant has taken several classes at Let’s Cook! including Knife Skills and Chicken 101. “I really like that the classes offered are varied and seem to provide something for everyone. They offer everything from basic cooking techniques to more advanced instruction,” Plant says. “Each class is very affordable, taught by professional chefs, and provides hands-on instruction where all of our questions are answered either by the instructors or the people running the school. All the people involved with the school are very friendly and helpful during the class. Students get as much individual attention as they need.”

“I really enjoyed Knife Skills because the instructor went over all the basic instructions on the different kinds of cuts (dice, julienne, etc.) and which knives to use for different purposes,” shares Plant. “Very basic information that comes in handy when preparing meals!” Knife Skills is next being offered on June 7.

Plant also loved Chocolate! Chocolate! taught by Jennifer Ashby of Ashby Confections, where each student got to take home about six handmade truffles they created. She recommends this “fun and very educational” class, which will next be offered on July 28.

Other upcoming classes include Sausage Making 101 on May 19 (with Brad Briske from Gabriella Café, utilizing organic pork from Fogline Farms), Preserving the Season: Jam Making (June 2), Baking: Morning Pastries (June 9), and Sustainable Sushi 101 (June 21). For more information or to sign up for a class or buy a gift certificate, see the web site at http://www.letscooksantacruz.com/.

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