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In Millvale, organization teaches art of cooking 

"Once you've got the basics down, there's satisfaction in taking a familiar dish and adding your twist to it."

Stephanie Davis prepares a soup stock.

Photo by Jessica Server

Stephanie Davis prepares a soup stock.

Though Stephanie Davis — a cook at Eleven — "grew up in the kitchen," many have not. For them, the Gardens of Millvale (GOM) has a few culinary classics boiled down into affordable, straightforward cooking classes. The goal? "To teach people how to grow their own food and what to do with it," explains Denise Rudar, GOM co-chair.

GOM offers six cooking classes yearly in the borough's community center. A collaboration between the Borough of Millvale and the Millvale Borough Development Corporation, GOM "helps improve accessibility to vegetables for people living in Millvale," says Rudar. With no grocery store, residents have limited access to fresh produce outside their seasonal farmer's market.

On Feb. 23, Davis, gathered a group of 10 eager participants around an industrial stove for "Soup's On," the GOM winter class on how to make vegetable stock from scratch and use it in a soup.

Participants learned about mirepoix (a standard vegetable base of chopped celery, onion and carrot), fond (a pot's "brown bits" that can add flavor), and the difference between sweating and caramelizing an onion. "It's all about what you know and what you like," instructed Davis.

"These cooking classes have been about very homey, straightforward food that ... could have a lot of variation of ingredients," says Kyra Straussman, a Lawrenceville resident who has taken both the sauerkraut and soup classes. "Cooking ... is about the immediacy and the sensual pleasure of making something that nourishes you and others," she says. "Once you've got the basics down, there's satisfaction in taking a familiar dish and adding your twist to it."

Costing $20 per person — and offering helpful takeaways like a spice/herb sachet — the classes generate funds for future GOM projects, such as a sustainable hoop house. The next class, on making California rolls, is April 27. See www.millvalepa.com for more information.

The final act of Davis' class involved gathering to welcome a warm bowl of hearty kale, lentil and sweet potato soup with freshly-baked croutons. Thus, these classes serve up yet another desirable component for students: As Straussman says, "It was a little like having a party with a bunch of strangers."

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