“You offer cooking classes??” Several friends I’ve talked to recently have been surprised by this which made me realize that we don’t do a very good job sometimes marketing the things we offer at The Beehive. Besides having guest chefs who come and do pop-up lunches and dinners, we also offer cooking classes either by those same guest chefs or more often than not, by Beehive owner – my husband, Steve Brenner. Steve is not your typical chef – he wasn’t professionally trained and the classes he gives are based on pragmatism and utilitarianism. He is often accompanied by our youngest daughter Viola who has aspirations of owning her own restaurant some day and who acts as his assistant and also makes a mean tiramisu! (see photo at the end of this post)
Recently journalist Barbara Woolsey interviewed Steve for an article she wrote about taking cooking classes while on holiday for the on-line publication Thrillist. Only a small part of the interview was used so I wanted to share with you all the rest of it and Barbara kindly allowed me to use her interview.
What are your favourite “pragmatic” dishes to cook?
I like to teach a few pasta dishes that focus on basic techniques so in teaching those 3 dishes, people can turn them into 9 or 10 as they teach skills to make other dishes. The top three that go over well, that are impressive, yet easy to do are:
1. Pasta alla norma – a basic tomato sauce with eggplant, topped with an aged ricotta cheese 2. Walnut pesto 3. Zucchine, basil and almond pesto, which we first make by cooking the zucchine in “aglio, olio, peperoncino” which is a great way to cook pretty much any vegetable as a side dish, antipasto, or to dress pasta with.
Why do you prefer to teach dishes that people can cook at home, as opposed to making fresh pasta?
Because I like to teach things that people will actually go home and do, and most people won’t really bother making fresh pasta at home. I do like teaching how to make fresh pasta though, as it’s easy to do, and very forgiving, and with a few attempts you can get good at it fast so I’m not opposed to teaching people how to do it if that’s what they want to learn how to do. Plus, working with dough, any kind of dough, is a great cooking skill. You can apply it to bread making, crusts, anything. Once you understand how to form a dough properly with the right amount of liquid to flour, it applies to all sorts of things.
How did you start doing these cooking classes? Did you ever work as a chef, or was it always the plan to incorporate cooking into The Beehive from the beginning (or did it just start up organically somehow)?
I’m not really a professional chef. I’ve cooked for loads of people though, and in large numbers (110 being the most, in Bali, with chefs using a wood-fired stove!). I worked in/ran our own cafe for a while too when we used to provide lunch and dinner. I just seem to have a knack for it and I enjoy it. I got started doing cooking classes myself because we had guests who wanted to learn and there wasn’t anyone available or any classes accessible within their budget so I figured, what the hell, I’ll just do it!
What’s the feedback you’ve gotten from guests (anybody still keeping in touch and making those dishes at home)?
We had a group of young university students who did two classes of 6 people each and they wrote me afterwards with some questions. I’ve had others say they can’t wait to get home and show off what they know to their friends and family. So yes, I think people come away with practical skills that they are then eager to use.
Do you ever take cooking classes yourself? If so, why is it a great idea for people to do this?
Yes. I took a class here years ago in Rome through the Gambero Rosso school based on vegetarian cooking, and in Bali I took a class or two on dishes I was interested in, but for the most part I am completely self-taught with the help early on of older ladies at the market and fruttivendoli who are always happy to tell you how to prepare the produce you are buying from them.
Italy’s a particular place because the classic dishes aren’t secret. If you ask at a restaurant how they make it, or what’s in it, they’ll just tell you. Many people wonder why food doesn’t taste the same here, i.e. why it tastes better than at home, and I set out to show them exactly why, so they can reproduce what they experience here. The best meals I’ve had in Italy have been home cooked. It’s a cuisine that’s based on poverty, simplicity and seasonality, so it’s very much something anyone can do themselves. It’s also a mentality – it’s about using what’s abundant and available and fresh and knowing what to do with it and what basic combinations work and don’t work. By learning how to cook like an Italian, I think you can go anywhere in the world and take inexpensive, seasonal ingredients and make great food without needing a huge budget or a lot of equipment.
Steve is available for cooking classes by advance reservation – maximum 6 people. Prices start at €50 per person for 2 people and €40 per person for groups of 3 or more people.