.Playing with Food

Cookbooks, classes and camps for the perfect culinary summer

From novice, clumsy kitchen explorers, to kids hungering to use their own hands to make oodles of noodles or pizzas from around the world, to master chefs shoring up established skills or learning new techniques, anyone can swap the ABCs of the regular school year for the CCCs of the perfect culinary summer. With cookbooks, classes and camps available throughout the East Bay, there’s ample reason to go rogue and counter what parents are always saying to kids (“Don’t play with your food”) and tons of flexibility for independent or structured learning. Playing with food is fun and the only name of the game in this league.

Cookbooks to Inspire, Inform and Uplift

Three new cookbooks from Bay Area-based Chronicle Books jump right in and set the tone with 100 Morning Treats: With Muffins, Rolls, Biscuits, Sweet and Savory Breakfast Breads, and More by Sarah Kieffer; Pulp by Abra Berens; and Recipe for Disaster by Alison Riley. By no means a comprehensive list of the many books available, they cover a summer-themed spectrum and the feel-good spirit of supporting a local publisher.

Kieffer’s many years working in coffee shops in Minnesota led her to create The Vanilla Bean Blog and write three cookbooks, including the best-selling 100 Cookies. She has been featured by Food52, the Today show, Mashable, The Kitchn, America’s Test Kitchen, Huffington Post and more. So while thousands of people might think eating cookies and sipping their favorite beverages are the perfect breakfast pair, especially if matched with watching a YouTube video of her pan-banging chocolate chip cookie trick that went viral online, 100 Morning Treats shows that Kieffer knows some crave so much more.

Readers will learn from the cookbook’s simple instructions, judiciously placed photos, helpful how-tos and explicit prep instructions on how to create coffee cakes, danishes, doughnuts, quiches, muffins, laminated pastries and more. They’ll also read about Kieffer’s propensity for swiping her father’s Fig Newtons and why Overnight Créme Fraîche Waffles are not just yummy, but a spiritual experience. A few baked treats out of the 100 pop up as must-try-now recipes: Giant Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls, Pesto Pull-Apart Bread, Lemon Curd Bostok, Apple Cider Crullers and Apricot White Chocolate Overnight Scones.

James Beard Award-nominated chef Berens’ cookbooks go for one-word titles, which are multi-packed investigations of core food categories like vegetables (Ruffage) and grains and legumes (Grist). For Pulp, the aperture zooms in on fruit: apples, rhubarb, melons, stone fruit, cherries, rhubarb, quince and more. 

Over 200 sweet and savory recipes and variations strike the breakfast, lunch and dinner bells, with an emphasis on each fruit’s seasonality, flavors and signature features that elevate or serve as the quintessential element in soups, salads and stewed, grilled, baked or roasted main dishes—along with the expected baked goods, jams, garnishes and sauces. 

Pork chops with rye spaetzle and white-wine poached rhubarb and spinach is among the more complicated dishes, but even that comes with simplicity and special tips to streamline preparation and timing. Sweet and savory combo recipes such as Roast Chicken over Blueberries and Rum-Plum Clafoutis are quite possibly swoon-worthy.

Readers consider Beren’s prior cookbooks to be reference books, and Pulp is no different. In addition to recipes, EE Berger’s soothing photographs and Lucy Engelman’s vignetted illustrations, a unique feature of the 432-page book (it’s a big one!) are “Producer Profiles” of food activists, farmworkers and producers involved in the food movement, such as Agatha Achindu, Rosalina Guillen, Gene Garthe, Abby Schilling and more.

Recipe for Disaster has Riley launching the SOS with a platoon of 40 “Superstar Stories of Sustenance and Survival.” The all-star contributors telling their food fiasco, fetish, fantasy and family tales include Alice Waters, Bowen Yang, Cey Adams, Chelsea Peretti, Simon Doonan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Brian Lehrer, Gabrielle Hamilton, Jacqueline Woodson, Sarah Silverman and many more. It began as a humor-seeking romp, which it is, but in the end offers poignant, personal and opinionated (yay!) perspectives that often find their source in moms and moods.

Highlighted quotes stand alone on a single page as bulwarks worth reading more than once, like performer and writer Becca Blackwell’s that accompanies a how-to for Security Pizza: “Eventually, queerness will expand and we will all be LGBTQIABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.” 

A basic crust gets a dose of “poor man’s pesto” made with parsley, cilantro, garlic and other ingredients, including almonds or walnuts, “if you’re rich.” Cabaret enchantress, actor and visual artist Justin Vivian Bond shares a wonderful story about his mother’s Crispy, Hot, Salty Potatoes. “She would fry those potatoes within an inch of their life,” he wrote, about the dish he continues to cook when his day needs to be turned from blue to gold. 

Sustainable fashion pioneer Hassan Pierre’s “A Mess for a Moment” mood lifters are bananas dipped in peanut butter melted with chocolate and coconut flakes—which are best eaten in the kitchen standing over the stove or “chocolate gets everywhere.” Writer Samantha Irby turns a pack of chicken thighs into a remedy for a broken heart with Rejection Chicken. You have to be dumped for it to be authentic, and regardless of whether you’re mad or simply sad, recovery is promised. A special tip to add ice cream for anyone who has suffered heartbreak—who among us has not—seems inevitable.

Camps and Classes for Fun or Mastery

For total immersion type foodies, folks wanting to enter the culinary field, or kids and other adults who prefer to learn with others in collective, in-person or online camps and classes, three suggestions cover the bases this summer.

Chef Olive Said and nutrition consultant Lisa Miller launched Kitchen on Fire in 2005. The Berkeley-based operation offers hands-on cooking experiences through public classes, team-building and corporate wellness events. 

The team comes with heavy credentials—Said for eight years owned and operated Berkeley’s Cesar Tapas Bar and has co-authored three books, worked as a pilot, record producer and radio guest expert on the culinary arts, among other achievements; Miller has a bachelor of science degree and is a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals. She teaches classes that focus on healthy nutrition and meals made with high-quality ingredients using traditional cooking methods.

Courses and camps available at Kitchen on Fire’s two locations in Berkeley and Oakland are nearly unlimited. There are classes for learning introductory knife skills, cooking vegetarian and vegan, regional American, international and other specific cuisines. Also, there are couples courses, virtual live Zoom options, teen classes and classes that have everyone in a family cooking together—with Kitchen on Fire instructors as “referees” and expert guides. Read up on the programs and mark the calendar to sign up early by checking out kitchenonfire.com.

Remaining on the theme of young ones finding mastery and creativity in the kitchen, Cooking Around the World (CATW) presents a marvelous Summer Camp 2023 program at several East Bay locations. Class sizes are limited to 12 participants, and there are no nuts in any recipe. The choice of classes varies at locations in Lafayette, Oakland and San Leandro, and a partnership with Parks and Recreations departments means Bay Area residents in Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Danville, Fremont, Hayward, Hercules, Martinez, Moraga, Piedmont, San Ramon and Walnut Creek can find opportunities to enroll in CATW classes in Parks and Rec Summer Activity Guides.

While the many options and adherence to health and safety protocols are attractive to parents, the class descriptions are what will entice a kid into the kitchen during the summer. “Harry Potter: Taste the Magic” has kids whipping up butterbeer pancakes and double chocolate cauldron cake. ”Celebrity Chefs” introduces the signature dishes of TV chefs like Bobby Flay, Rachel Ray, Gordon Ramsey, Giada DeLaurentiis and Ree Drummond. 

“A Plate of Pixar” holds special delight for kids raised on the Emeryville-based animation mega company’s films such as Ratatouille, Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and more—with foods mentioned in the film serving as vehicles for learning basic cooking skills. “Cooking Around the World” offers programs for kids year-round and online, with a solid list of instructors. Other seasonal offerings can be found on the website, cookingroundtheworld.com.

Two programs are examples of the many East Bay educational opportunities for people interested in building a professional culinary future. Bauman College Holistic Nutrition & Culinary Arts two-prong program emphasizes healthy, nutrition-based philosophies and techniques and entrepreneurial skills for a variety of careers in the food arts, such as nutrition consultant to medical clinics and offices; food journalist; personal, restaurant or corporate chef; caterer; and more. The online program is a boon for people employed in other or related fields. More information is on the website at baumancollege.org.

At Diablo Valley College in Concord, three Culinary Arts associate in science degrees allow participants to specialize in culinary arts, baking and pastry, or restaurant management. The culinary arts courses prepare students for employment as restaurant chefs, culinary supervisors, line cooks, banquet chefs, dining room managers and more. Further information can be found at dvc.edu/academics/culinary-arts/index.html

Baking and pastry degree and certification opens up the opportunity for careers as a baker or pastry chef in restaurants, hotels, resorts, bakeries, grocery food chains, cafés, hospitals and others, or as a bakery production finisher, pastry decorator, caterer, baker assistant or bakery entrepreneur. 

The restaurant management program covers a broad spectrum, from food to beverage operations and professional training, to become a restaurant owner/operator, banquet manager, dining room manager or purchasing specialist. Graduates of both Bauman and DVC often obtain additional study and degrees after establishing a solid foundation in culinary techniques, practices and management.

Lou Fancher
Lou Fancher has been published in the Diablo Magazine, the Oakland Tribune, InDance, San Francisco Classical Voice, SF Weekly, WIRED.com and elsewhere.

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