In 1964 McDonald's and Julia Child were just hitting their stride. From them we were learning on the one hand how often we could eat out, and on the other hand how well we could cook at home. But still, a vacation was where we went to get away from cooking, rather than a place to learn to do it.
In 1964 Julie Dannenbaum opened a cooking school for 12 students in her home in Philadelphia. At that time, opening a cooking school was news, even in Philadelphia; though that city had a tradition of good restaurants and great markets, no cooking school had opened there since the turn of the century.
Today Julie Dannenbaum teaches cooking to 500 students a year in Philadelphia as well as courses at two luxurious vacation spots, the Greenbrier in West Virginia and the Gritti Palace in Venice. Students have come from "every state but Wyoming, New Mexico and one of the Dakotas," says Dannenbaum of her six one-week courses at the Greenbrier, where she teaches 60 to 80 students at a time. They cross continents for the Gritti Palace courses.
Obviously Dannenbaum is in the mainstream of cooking school trends. And as such, she has strong opinions on what those trends are and what they should be. "Home cooking is bigger than ever," says Dannenbaum. In any home, including vacation homes. Vacationers are not only signing up for cooking courses as their holiday activity, but are cooking in their beach houses rather than going out to dinner. They are looking for lighter foods, lighter sauces, foods cooked to order rather than made ahead.
But it seems that no trend is definitive; every one is balanced by a counter-trend. "They still come for all the rich stuff," but are more likely to seek a balance of light dishes with rich dishes. French cooking is still popular, and Italian cooking. Dannenbaum teaches a two-day pasta course, though she is "sick of pasta primavera" (not to mention tempura vegetables and, "If I see one more piece of raw fish any-place . . .").
Like cooking teachers around the country, Dannenbaum has seen the future -- and it is going to take less than an hour. Her new cookbook, "Fast and Fresh," consists of meals prepared in an hour or less. The idea came from the runaway success of her course by the same name that she introduced four years ago.
It is not what she likes to teach, since it focuses more on recipes and timesaving techniques than on basics, but a survey of newspapers, magazines and cooking schools around the country would only reinforce its inescapability. "It's weekday cooking. It is just a guide," Dannenbaum emphasizes. "Everyone is going to take a different length of time to do a one-hour dinner."
She worries that, besides deemphasizing basic cooking techniques, the quick-dinner courses and articles will accentuate gimmicks. She wants her students to learn how to do things by hand before they substitute machines. She loves the blender and food processor, for instance, but complains that "students want to make everything in the blender. They'd put their grandmother in the blender if they could."
She also shudders at how precious and novelty-ridden food is becoming, sneers at what she calls "nuts and raisins cuisine," as in spinach mousse with nuts and raisins. She refuses to teach the kind of thing that is like the "poached salmon in beurre blanc with raspberry jam" she recently saw in a food magazine. "The whole vinegar business has gone wild," she cites as another example. She likes raspberry vinegar, and used pear vinegar in her first cookbook, but "I think I still have that same bottle" from the '60s. And all those nut oils, "it's getting ridiculous."
Dannenbaum rails against trends that become obsessions. She cut down on salt years ago in her classes because she thought her students wanted that. But she hasn't eliminated salt. She doesn't think about cholesterol in her classes, and doesn't hesitate using butter and cream. She abhors equipment snobbery: "I don't hustle pots and pans.You can use any kind of pot and pan you happen to have if you know how to cook."
Cooking teachers around the country reiterate Dannenbaum's experiences. They report their students' interest in fast cooking and using fresh ingredients. Richard Nelson in Oregon has responded to an enthusiasm for lighter food, noting that "fish and chicken have taken over everything else. People don't want beef anymore." And students everywhere are interested in regional American cooking, cooking for singles and low-calorie cooking. French, Italian and Chinese cooking are still drawing students, but Thai and Vietnamese classes don't readily fill. Bert Greene, whose teaching now takes him around the country, adds, "Mostly everyone is there to eat."
One trend Dannenbaum refuses to join is the increase in participation classes. Dannenbaum's are demonstrations. "I don't approve of hands-on classes," stated Dannenbaum, "unless everyone is doing the same thing." When preparation is split into groups doing different tasks, students don't catch everything. The classes tend to turn into a party. Students don't follow instructions, and there is "always a smartass who is teaching behind your back." Demonstrations can handle large classes, and show the students variations, reasons behind techniques, hints and different methods for doing the same thing, she reasons.
Dannenbaum, like other cooking teachers, sees that many teachers are better educated than ever, while others are staying just a week ahead of their students. Cooking teachers, Dannenbaum among them, report that students come from out of town for their courses, then return home to teach the same menu the next week.
And, reminds Dannenbaum, the more things change, the more they stay the same. During her first class, in 1964, she demonstrated how to make boned chicken breasts stuffed with duxelles, then saute'ed, their pan juices thickened with potato flour, and served with artichoke bottoms, fluted mushrooms and rice pilaf, the dessert being apricot mousse. "I just recently redid it," she added, "and everyone said it was fantastic."
A Rich But Guilt-Free Dinner for 3
Salad with Julie's Lo-Cal Dressing
Fruit with Sauternes
Wine Suggestion: Pouilly-Fume'
WORK ORDER: Soup, shallot reduction, sauternes reduction, cut-up fruit, dressing, scallops VEGETABLE SOUP (Makes 12 to 14 cups)
2 large onions, peeled and cut into eighths
2 cups mushrooms, wiped clean and cut into quarters
3 large tomatoes, quartered
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
5 unpeeled carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
4 cloves fresh garlic, smashed, then peeled
1 to 2 quarts chicken stock
2 pounds fresh spinach, washed, stems stripped off
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Put onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, and garlic into an 8-quart kettle or stockpot. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Stir in the spinach and cook, uncovered, for another 5 minutes. Put the mixture through the food mill, using the finest disc. Rectify seasoning. Serve hot, or cold with a tablespoon of yogurt on top. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired.
Note: This soup freezes well.
SCALLOPS MINCEUR (3 servings)
1 pound sea or bay scallops
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and finely diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill (or 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads crushed in a mortar and moistened with wine)
3 egg yolks
Salt and freshly cracked white pepper, to taste
If you use sea scallops, cut them into 4 discs each. Leave bay scallops whole. Toss scallops over high heat in a saute' pan, preferably non-stick, until they yield their juices, 3 to 5 minutes but no longer. Reserve juices. Set scallops aside.
Place shallots in a small heavy saucepan and add the wine. Place over medium heat and reduce the mixture to 2 to 3 tablespoons of liquid. Do not rush this process. It will take about 15 minutes or more to achieve reduction. To the shallot-wine reduction, add the tomato and fresh dill. Set aside.
Make a sabayon: Whisk the egg yolks with 3 tablespoons scallop juice. If you do not have enough juice, add water -- sometimes scallops will not give up their juice. Put into a heavy pan and whisk over medium flame just until mixture mounts and is lemony and thick. Raise and lower pan off heat; be careful not to curdle the yolks. When sabayon is thick, combine with the scallops, dill, tomato and reduction of shallots.
Reheat slowly and cook a bit, being careful not to let it boil, only until mixture is slightly thick and creamy-looking. Season with salt and white pepper. Serve at once; it will not wait.
JULIE'S LO-CAL SALAD DRESSING (Makes about 1 cup)
Rather than putting the dressing directly onto the greens, I make an assorted platter of in-season greens -- crisp Belgian endive leaves are my special favorite -- and use the dressing as a dip. I find I use less dressing and don't have to worry about its coating the greens.
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons strong prepared mustard
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup tarragon vinegar
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon parsley sprigs
Place all ingredients in blender and blend until creamy, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.
FRUIT WITH SAUTERNE (3 servings)
1 bottle inexpensive sauterne
Any combination of fresh fruit in season, such as orange slices, strawberries, pears, etc.
Pour sauterne into a pan and cook on a medium flame until it reduces to about 1 cup. Reducing the wine will intensify its sweetness and eliminate the need for sugar. Stir the sauterne over a bowl of ice, and continue stirring until it is cold. Pour over the fruit just before serving.
Note: Be sure to buy a French sauterne, which is sweet, not an American sauterne, which is a dry wine.