The (Local) Food Network

dining ownerCooking school founder serves up a tasty menu of culinary classes  

Salmon and English muffins? Check. Lemony chicken—heavy on the lemons—that’s my unfortunate specialty. God-awful scrambled eggs, sweet potato hash gone wrong, dreary pasta sauce, burned meatballs. The list goes go on and on. Those who know me are distinctly aware that I’m a wretched cook. (And they have the stories to back it up.) In fact, I’ve been banned from cooking by everyone close to me. They refuse to eat anything I’ve prepared.
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I can do a lot of other things, but baking, cooking, slicing, dicing and mixing up ingredients is one of my worst traits. I’ve always wondered if I have a chance in the cooking world. Could I be transformed into a culinary artist or even just someone who has a little panache in the kitchen? Patricia Poritzky, owner and founder of Let’s Cook!, a new Soquel cooking school, says, “yes.”

She firmly believes that anyone can learn how to knead bread, roast a chicken, unleash an inner chocolate diva, or whip up tasty pastry. With her strong culinary convictions and an impressive resume of chefs standing behind her, Poritzky recently opened up Let’s Cook! which sold out its first month of classes in no time.

One would think that in this economy opening up a specialty school in this area might be a risk, but interestingly, that’s not been the case with the one-month-old program. With classes held in an industrial kitchen in Soquel, the school features usually two classes a week that are taught by master chefs in the county. And it actually makes sense—the art of cooking has been somewhat lost in this fast food era, and with tight checking accounts, people are turning back to cooking for themselves instead of eating out. And, to top it off, these cooking classes offer an affordable night out where students leave with a new recipe, fresh skills, and a full stomach.

Becoming a cooking school founder was a natural shift for Poritzky. With a background in sales and experience running a coffee house, several years ago she began holding dinner parties for friends.

It was during one of these gatherings when she was roasting a chicken and sautéing kale that someone asked, “when are you going to teach me to cook … I’ll buy the groceries if you come to my house and teach me.” The idea got her thinking. She drafted up a business plan, found a shared 2,000-square-foot industrial kitchen in Soquel, and started wooing local culinary talent.
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Let’s Cook! opened in January and is geared for non-professional cooks—everyday types of people who want to sharpen up on their skills in the kitchen. A slew of appetizing classes is offered, such as “Knife Skills,” where students learn to slice, dice, mince, julienne and create beautifully cut foods. “Pasta 101” is a must-have for pasta lovers and features Santa Cruz’s famous local chef Mike Ruymen, also known as “Pasta Mike,” whose cuisine is sold in local stores. In this class, participants will whip up pasta from scratch and create three sauces to complement the feast. Farm to Table is taught by Rebecca Mastoris and introduces local fruits and vegetables to participants and explains how they can use their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box to create appetizing meals every week.

Other classes include “Sauces 101,” “Chicken 101,” “Mushrooms Gone Wild,” “Chocolate Chocolate!” “Baking Basics” and others.

The classes are all taught by experts in their field, such as Pasta Mike, Jen Ashby of Ashby Confections, baker extraordinaire Stephany Buswell, Fungus Fair leader Marjorie Young, Le Cordon Bleu-trained Katherine Niven, and Jonathan Miller who has cooked for Charlize Theron and J.J. Abrams.

Other chefs, like Anne Baldzikowski, are locals who have studied culinary arts at Cabrillo College. Then there are those who have worked at esteemed local establishments, like Bradford Briske, the sous chef at Gabriella Café.
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“This gives them (the chefs) a venue to shine and do what they’re passionate about, and teach,” Poritzky says.

The demographic that seems most inclined toward taking classes at Let’s Cook! are often women “who want to learn more about cooking in their homes,” Poritzky says. “[In a class], they take part in preparation, taste what they’ve made, leave with recipes, and can recreate these foods in their home.”

She says students will also take away myriad tips about the trade, but don’t worry she’s not about to force nutrition down people’s throats. This is, after all, a place to eat, learn and celebrate food.

Behind the scenes, while everyone is concentrating on eating well and learning new skills, Poritzky maintains a “green” business, offering sustainable practices, supporting local farms and sourcing out almost all of the ingredients for her classes within a 100-mile radius.

As for Poritzky and her culinary leanings—these days she’s taken a particular liking for tapas—small Spanish-style appetizer-like foods.

“I think cooking is something that connects all of us,” Poritzky says. “It has connected me to a lot of amazing experiences in my life. It’s a basic need that we all share. And, eating responsibly and sourcing locally is important. Cooking is an expression of creativity.”

As for me and others like myself who are intimidated by even taking a cooking class for fear of burning down the kitchen, Poritzky suggests trying out the 101 series of classes. They’re geared for beginners and, she says, are not intimidating, even for those who regrettably put too many lemons with their chicken breast, aren’t sure how long to bake a potato, and have been banned from participating in Christmas dinner preparations.

“Once you know what you like to eat, or what tastes good to you,” Poritzky says of cooking. “It’s not complicated at all.”

Let’s Cook! is a new cooking school in Soquel. A variety of classes are offered ranging from basic baking, cooking and knife skills, to learning how to roast a chicken or prepare homemade pasta. Classes range from $50 to $65. To learn more or reserve a class, call 419-2747 or visit letscooksantacruz.com.

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