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Quick Bites: Four decades of fabulous food
Western Reserve School of Cooking celebrates its 40th anniversary
by WKSU's VIVIAN GOODMAN
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter
Vivian Goodman
 
Catherine St. John owns the Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson.
Courtesy of Vivian Goodman
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In The Region:

One of the oldest cooking schools in America is savoring a major milestone.  Zona Spray opened the school in Hudson 40 years ago.  For this week’s Quick Bite, we visit with the chef and educator who took over the school about five years ago, Catherine St. John:

A feast of good cooking advice

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NOTE: The recently released book “Famous Chefs and Fabulous Recipes” celebrates the Western Reserve School of Cooking’s 40th anniversary. The kitchen of the Western Reserve School of Cooking is in back of The Cookery on the square in Hudson.

 

Catherine St. John learned how to cook at San Francisco’s Tante Maria School and came to Hudson in 1994 to work for Zona Spray. In 2007, she bought the school, now known as the Western Reserve School of Cooking.  

When Spray first started the school, says St. John, most of the students were housewives and women who wanted something to do during the day or in the evening. That’s changed. These days, it’s about a 50/50 ratio of men and women. And it’s a date night for some.

But serious students also attend and several have gone on to become top chefs in this region. Doug Katz of Fire on Shaker Square was 10 years old when he started taking classes there.

 

Great chefs and great teachers

But the chefs have taught, as well as learned, over the years.

St. John says Iron Chef Michael Symon was working in the kitchen of Giovanni’s in Beachwood when Spray recruited him as a teacher. Other teachers include Zach Bruell of Parallax in Tremont, Parker Bosley of Parker’s in Ohio City, Scot Jones of the former Fedeli’s in Canton and Vegiterranean in Akron, along with nationally-known chefs like Jacques Pepin, Alton Brown, and Hugh Carpenter, who is coming back this spring.

St. John cautions that not all great chefs are great teachers.

“Yeah it’s sort of a Catch-22 with us because someone will tell me you need to go talk to this person who’s got this really great restaurant. He’d be a great teacher. And we bring them in and they don’t know how to teach. Translating from the professional kitchen into actually being able to convey what you are doing, why you’re doing, and the method behind what you’re doing can be difficult for some people.”  

What they don’t show you

St. John teaches hands on.

She chops two handfuls of fresh parsley by hand – processors can make it slimy, she explains.

The parsley will go into the chimichurri sauce for a steak sandwich she is preparing.. She is brimming with tips the television chefs have no time to share, like letting cooked meat rest a few minutes on the plate so all the juices do not run out before you slice it.

And taste must be a part of the learning, she says.

“Any of those shows that are on TV now, ‘Top Chef’, any of the competition shows, the No. 1 thing they get busted for … is putting out food that they haven’t tasted. You have to know what you’re serving. Do you have to taste throughout the process?

“Just like we teach them to salt at the beginning, the middle and the end. One thing we do here is we make them taste different salts so they can understand that kosher salt, sea salt is a better way to go. It’s a much cleaner, fresher-tasting salt.”  

Understanding technique

St. John inherited Zona Spray’s filing cabinets full of recipes, but she says the key thing she wants to share with students is the importance of technique. As long as a person can understand the ‘nuts and bolts’ of a recipe then he or she can swap ingredients to create something original.

 “If you understand how to braise and make a coq au vin, which is braised chicken in red wine,” says St. John, “you can take that same method and make chicken with beer and onions and bacon.”

Her recipe for the dry rub she slathers on the flat iron steak is well worth sharing: brown sugar, salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder and olive oil to help adhere.

St. John says dry rub is the best way to get instant flavor when you do not have time to marinate. The Argentinian steak sandwich she is making is her teenaged son’s favorite meal.

 

And that’s this week’s Quick Bite. Next week we’re going Vegan at Ms. Julie’s kitchen.


Related Links & Resources
The Western Reserve School of Cooking website

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