Cooking classes aim to bring back basics
- By JUNO OGLE email@example.com
- Oct 21, 2016
It could not be argued that John Fitzthum was in his element Thursday night.
Hays Medical Center’s executive chef and food service director stood in the center of the education room at the Center for Health Improvement, surrounded by smoke that was quickly filling the room from vegetables sizzling in saute pans.
“This is my favorite thing in the world,” he said with a big grin. “All this smoke, I love it.”
And although the smoke caused many of the 20 students in the “I Can Cook” class to cough and wipe their eyes, they enjoyed the opportunity to learn new skills.
The class was the first in a series of monthly classes presented by the center and HaysMed. A grant through the HaysMed Foundation allowed for the purchase of equipment such as induction stoves, pans, utensils and aprons for the classes, which will run through September. Participants get to take home an “I Can Cook” potholder, along with the food they prepare in class.
The purpose of the classes is to help bring people back to healthy eating, even in today’s busy society, said HaysMed dietician Andrea Harmoney, who assisted in teaching Thursday’s class.
“A lot of people don’t even know how to cook basic things anymore, so we’re taking it back to using those fresh ingredients,” she said.
Although prepackaged food might contain vegetables, they aren’t as healthy as fresh, Harmoney told the class.
“The process those vegetables have taken to get through the store and to your house, there’s been a lot of cooking and heating where you do lose a bit of nutrients. Not to say those aren’t still valuable nutrients in there, but directly from a fresh ingredient is the way to go.”
Fitzthum taught food safety and basic knife skills Thursday through a simple recipe for mirepoix — a French term for a mixture of roughly cut vegetables that can be used as a flavor base for soups, stews and other dishes.
“You can do anything with that. You can add a pineapple to it and a little bit of soy sauce and brown sugar, and all of a sudden you’ve turned it into an Asian dish,” he said.
Preparing a mirepoix can help reduce food waste, too, as the ingredients — even the peelings and scraps — can be used to make stock for soups, Fitzthum said. The scraps from Thursday’s class were saved and will be used for stock for a future class.
Fitzthum explained what different knives are used for and how to safely use them, then moved from station to station to supervise and demonstrate as the class chopped thyme and rosemary and diced onions, celery and carrots — all of which came from Bethesda Place, a farm outside of Hays that is home for mentally disabled men who grow and sell produce and trees.
The diced vegetables were then sautéed, and the chef brought in pans of cooked rice for the class members to dish up with their mirepoix.
Kathy Clark was convinced by her friend, Donna Cooper, both of Hays, to take the class. They were impressed with the taste of the dish.
“It’s an easy supper,” Cooper said.
Clark said she used to do more cooking than she does now, but that might change after taking the class.
“It makes me excited to cook again,” she said.
Connie Dreher, Hays, said learning knife skills was what interested her in the class.
“It was something that I really needed to learn,” she said. “I learned how to use a bigger knife than I’ve ever used.”
Wayne and Gera Lou Woofter, Hays, wanted to expand their cooking skills.
“We enjoy cooking, but we’re not very good at it so we wanted to learn some tricks,” Wayne said.
The classes are limited to 20 participants and cost $10 per person per class. Registration and a full list of classes can be found at www.haysmed.com/the-center/nutrition/i-can-cook, or call (785) 623-5900