Chef on Call

Beyond Pizza And Popcorn

Chef and cooking-school founder Susan Holt teaches two teenage students to expand their culinary repertoire from scrambled eggs and delivery food to homemade, veggie-heavy meals.
By David Hagedorn
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, August 20, 2008; Page F01

Karen Egbert could just picture it. Her 19-year-old son, who will be a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, moves into his first apartment, exhausts his cooking repertoire (scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, tiramisu) in the first week and begins a steady diet of deadly delivery food.

What's a mother to do?

Egbert figured that her son, Noah Kraft, was a perfect candidate for Chef on Call. In Herndon, Stephanie Ruth was thinking along the same lines and wrote to us about her college-age daughter.

A class was coming together. Had it been fall already, the session would have transpired at CulinAerie, a cooking school due to open then in downtown Washington. But a few weeks ago the Northwest home kitchen of chef Susan Holt, one of the school's two founders, had to stand in. (The other founder is Susan Watterson; she and Holt are alumnae of and former instructors at L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland.)

By the time the lesson took place, Ruth's older daughter had left town for the summer, but her 17-year-old, Ali, who will be a senior at Fairfax County's Thomas Jefferson High School, was thrilled to take her place.

The two students have a lot in common. Both are athletic, fit and interested in science. Ali Ruth spent the summer studying watersheds with the Chesapeake Bay Trust; Kraft mentioned that he might major in molecular biology.

Holt put together what Ali Ruth described afterward as "a cooking lesson that focused on a set of very doable recipes with a whole lot of tips, history and science thrown into the mix." The students eagerly scanned the curriculum, making sure the basic food groups were represented:

Pasta? Check! Chocolate? Check! Cheese? Check!

As in: linguine with shrimp and garlic; raspberries, ganache and shortbread in phyllo purses; and grilled fontina and prosciutto sandwiches.

They might not sound particularly healthful, but Holt dispelled that notion at the get-go. She is all about moderation, keeping good fats in the diet and not robbing Peter to pay Paul.

"I don't believe in scrimping by not eating something and then going overboard by eating a box of Snackwells," she insisted. Besides, also on the list were tomato, cucumber and pepper salad; vegetable couscous; and two simple fish dishes.

She started off with the cucumber salad, which gave her the opportunity to talk about knives and how to use them correctly, the difference between dicing (uniform) and chopping (random), and how to deal with various vegetables.

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