Red-pepper coulis sounds impossibly chichi for a thirteen-year-old, but in the view of cooking instructor Kathryn Regalia, the recipe teaches young'uns a host of basic techniques: peeling roasted peppers, chopping and sautéeing onions, reducing sauces, and seasoning.
Every Wednesday evening for six weeks, a small group of twelve- to sixteen-year-olds descends on Viking HomeChef's demonstration kitchens for the Walnut Creek store's first-ever "Cooking Essentials for Teens" series. It's not for dabblers. And it's filled to capacity.
The teens gossip and flirt, crack wise, and answer their cell phones. But when Regalia says, "Watch me now," all eyes turn to her. With a nonrestaurant-like calm and deadpan wit, she holds their attention for almost three hours. They follow along on their recipe packets as she introduces each dish, then crowd around the cooking station to take turns, adding a pinch of this or stirring a little of that. The kids don't all get a chance to do each step, but the class demystifies the process -- many students go home and use their families as guinea pigs.
Previous classes focused on kitchen skills and safety, pizza, and stocks, and the remaining two will be devoted to American classics and Asian food. But tonight is vegetarian night. The class starts off sweet, with graham crackers for s'mores, then proceeds to steam-baked Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked portobello mushroom burgers with homemade roasted-garlic aioli, and asparagus with the coulis. Yes, unfortunately for the teen palate, vegetarian night tends to involve vegetables. Raw, the giant portobellos cause some consternation. "Are these going to continue to look like mushrooms when they're done?" one kid asks warily. Another holds a quick side conference with Kathryn. "I don't want you to eat it, I just want you to try it," I hear her tell the girl.
The smoked mushrooms are amazing, especially topped with the aioli, but a third of the kids stop after a few brave bites. Not like the from-scratch macaroni and cheese, says Julie Gillette, who drives her thirteen-year-old son, Trevor, from Antioch each week and stays to watch. "The kids just dived into it."
Some of the students got the class as a Christmas present, Regalia tells me later. At first, she was worried about their interest level, but she's been pleased with the enthusiasm: "I really enjoy teaching kids this age. They're not afraid to ask questions."
Trevor Gillette, for one, wasn't a reluctant student. "He's been cooking since he was ten," his mother says, adding that he saves up his money and spends it on big-ticket items such as food processors. The moment they heard about the series, they rushed here to enroll. So far, Trevor says, the class has inspired him to make biscuits, chicken soup, and apple pie. "This week I made an ice-cream cake," he says. "It was difficult, but I did it."
For more info, call 925-943-3191 or visit HomeChef.com