At a recent class in Bill and Shanny Apodaca's house, the home of Simply Good Kitchen, 16 students learned how to make Italian vegetable soup with white beans and couscous, angel hair pasta, sautéed salmon with piccata sauce, and zabaglione with Grand Mariner, strawberries and rhubarb. The meal was better than can be found at most top restaurants. The recipes are detailed and user-friendly. Bill and Shanny are both graduates of the Culintary Institute of America, and their love of cooking is evident in the way they teach. Several students brought wine to drink during the class and with the meal.
METRO TIMES: Your emphasis is on the five basic cooking techniques sautéing, grilling, roasting, braising and poaching often skills that people who don't attend culinary schools overlook. Other cooking classes concentrate more on a dish than a technique.
BILL APODACA: We always offer a variety of the five cooking techniques on each schedule, one technique per class. And if they come to a second one, they usually sign up for a different technique.
SHANNY APODACA: What I like to say is that it's like writing a story. It's always who, what, where, when or why to make it an interesting story. There's five basic cooking techniques. If you learn to sauté, we want you to know that it can be an Asian dish, a Polish dish, a Mexican dish. The technique is the same. If you understand the technique, you can cook anything and you can write your own recipes. The students are always amazed how easy it is to write recipes.
MT: Are your students put off by frying? Most people don't have deep fryers and it can be messy. It seems like a lot of trouble.
BILL: We very rarely deep fry. People are put off by it for the reasons you mentioned.
SHANNY: But if we do deep fry, we'll do crab cakes or in our Mexican Fiesta class we do fish tacos.
MT: All of your classes for May and June are sold out. When do you open up July classes? SHANNY: We usually send out a new schedule every quarter. We have a gray area right now because we're moving the classes out of our house to a new building in Birmingham. Our hope is the building will be done in June and we'll have July to get our feet wet out there. We don't know if we'll be teaching at all in July. For sure, though, in July there will be a schedule that goes out for August, September and October.
MT: Do many people come back for more than one class?
SHANNY: Yeah, we have a huge support group. It started with a mailing list that went out to 216 names. They were family, friends, the man who did our printing, someone we catered for, maybe someone we sold a box of cookies. We don't do any advertising. It's all word of mouth.
MT: What advice do you have for someone who is considering a similar pursuit?
SHANNY: As a chef, it's difficult to develop the discipline to write the recipes that are so precise that when people go home and cook the recipe, it will taste just like it did in class. We'll tell somebody to throw two teaspoons of salt in something. You can't believe the guff we get. "That much salt?" And then they taste it and we'll ask, "Did it taste salty?" And they say, "No." It's easy to write "1 teaspoon of salt optional," but if you want it to taste the way it tasted here, this is what you've gotta do when you go home.
MT: There's an old adage, "It's not the tools, it's the mechanic." Do you really need high-end stuff like All Clad and Wustof?
BILL: We use All Clad and Wustof. Every kitchen we work in is equipped with All Clad pans. You can't sear a chicken breast beautifully in a thin pan without burning it. We sharpen knives here. The knives people bring us are atrocious. It's no fun cooking with a bad knife. You don't need a thousand-dollar set, but it's worth it to have at least one good knife.
MT: What's the best part of your job?
SHANNY: Oh, boy. Cooking, eating and meeting all the people.
BILL: In the end, it's all about making people happy. We had a class last week and somebody came up to us and said it's so much better than a restaurant because you're sitting with all these people. By the end of the night everyone's having a good time and sharing their own stories like a family sitting around the table.
MT: It looks like fun. Is it as easy as it looks?
BILL: Everyone thinks that you cook for three hours and eat. It's like having a party. For us, it starts at noon and ends around midnight. The cooking is the easy part. It's the book work, shopping, getting great product, the prep, the cleanup. There's a lot to organize.
For more information, including the scheduled opening of the Birmingham location, see simplygoodkitchen.com or call 248-543-9482.
Jeff Broder does this twice-monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org