Home chef course teaches cooking skills to the community

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- They chopped, pounded, breaded, drizzled, dipped, sprinkled, stirred, roasted, peeled, poured, reduced, sautéed, stuffed, whisked, wrapped, assembled, caramelized and reconstituted. They also listened, learned, talked, laughed, shared, savored and appreciated.

They did it for the practical experience. They did it for the fun.

This fall, members of the University and the community came together in a course, called "Home Chef: The Basics," with the goal of learning to cook. The noncredit class, which debuted in September and also was offered in October and November, is an outreach initiative of the College of Health and Human Development. It is taught by chef Kristi Branstetter, an instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, along with her assistant Meghan McCracken and several students in nutritional sciences.

"My goal is to provide anyone, no matter their cooking ability, the opportunity to learn culinary methods that will enable them to create satisfying meals in their own homes," said Branstetter, who attended the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, Colo., and also studied at the Université du Vin in Provence, France. "My hope is that people will build up the confidence to start experimenting. I think a lot of people left the fall courses feeling more confident."

Francine Hamilton's husband John was one of the participants who came in with few cooking skills and left feeling more sure of his abilities.

"He struggled a lot with being in the kitchen, and I would try to teach him, but of course we've been married so long, after awhile you get deaf to your wife's voice," Francine said, laughing. "So when this opportunity arose, I thought this would really be fun for he and I to do together. Afterward, on Sunday, for the first time in 36 years of marriage, he said to me, 'You know, now that we've taken that class together I should help you prepare the dinner.' Believe me, I almost fell on the floor, but I said, 'OK, I think that's a great idea, come on.'"

During the course, the Hamiltons' team was responsible for cooking the chicken Lyonnaise. Dishes prepared by other participants included French onion soup; mussels Provençal; Cremini mushroom ravioli with thyme cream sauce; baby greens salad with baked goat cheese rounds, caramelized walnuts and poached fig vinaigrette; apple galette with crème anglaise; and Florentine lace cookies.

According to Branstetter, each of the courses begins with a lesson on basic food-preparation, including a segment on knife techniques. Participants are then divided into smaller teams to cook one or more of the dishes for the multi-course meal. The instructors walk around the room, helping the teams as they work. After everyone is finished cooking, they all sit down and eat together, family style.

"Chef Kristi and the other instructors were all so professional, so helpful and encouraging," said Hamilton, an administrative support coordinator in the Department of Health Policy and Administration. "I was so impressed with the entire class."

"Kristi did some knife techniques that are a little different than what I had been doing, not being an expert," said Arlo Bensinger, an instructional designer in the College of Health and Human Development. "I've been trying to incorporate those techniques when I cook at home."

Three additional courses will be taught this spring on Jan. 31, Feb. 28 and March 22. The January course will be open only to Penn State students. The remaining courses will be open to all.

For more information about the spring courses, go to: http://hhd.psu.edu/Home-Chef.


Last Updated December 12, 2013