Discovering your inner chef

Last Sunday, Lori Forrest taught a Japanese cooking class. In three hours, Lori taught three students how to make miso soup, Japanese aemono salads, sushi, tempura and dipping sauce, as well as ginger granita. Not only did each student make a full meal, they had leftovers to take with them, as well as the knowledge to whip up an authentic Japanese meal any time. The students were amazed that the sushi rice and tempura batter &

recipes that seem rather delicate &

were so simple they didn't even need to be written down. Teaching and cooking are not new to Forest, a self-taught chef, who got into the cooking business in 1971, when she started a natural foods cooking school in Palo Alto called 'The Natural Gourmet.'

While her Ashland restaurant, Lithia Fountain and Grill was in the process of being sold, Lori was working on another business plan for a natural food project, but the plan was recently put on hold due to financing difficulties, another casualty of the recent economic downturn. Around that time, she happened upon an e-mail she had saved from a friend containing a New York Times article on personal cooking classes. That's when Lori's newest business, FYI Chef was born. Her company teaches at-home cooking classes. Her goal is to not let students sit back and watch, but take an active role and learn.

"The big advantage of home classes is that the student learns how to cook using their real kitchen, not a fantasy one," Lori explains. "If they don't have an essential piece of equipment, you bring it along and they learn to use it, then they decide if they want to invest in one." The article stated that those who most needed cooking lessons are the least likely to go out and take a class, and of course, there's nothing like hands-on one-on-one instruction.

"It's the closest thing to an actual restaurant apprenticeship," said Lori.

Lori also teaches practical tricks that top chef's are implementing in their kitchens to cook with ease, like how to make delicious risotto in a pressure cooker. Lori explains how people with limited experience can make life much easier by buying stocks for soups instead of making them from scratch, a much more practical solution for someone who doesn't have all of the ingredients readily available.

The recipes Lori teaches are her own versions of classic dishes, adapted and updated with fresh local ingredients, some from other chefs she has met and admired and other recipes have been gathered in her travels to foreign countries. Her first step when qualifying a new class for someone is to interview the client in their own kitchen and take inventory of what kitchen tools they have. Then they decide what they want to learn, taking into account their dietary needs, likes and dislikes, and skill level.

"We can even start with something as basic as frying an egg," said Lori.

The next step is to design a detailed lesson plan and schedule of classes. A few days before each class they receive an e-mail with the shopping list of ingredients. If they invite their friends to take the class, they all get a discount, and if they want to make it a party, they can buy more ingredients, and also add wine to the shopping list, though Lori has recently learned that drinking is best saved for after the cooking lesson.

Lori's goal is to change people's philosophy about cooking while making a living. "People are afraid to touch their food," explains Lori. "Prepared food is readily available, and so many people consume fast food that many of us are really disconnected from what we're eating, much less how to make it."

Currently, Lori is teaching all lessons at a sliding scale. You can learn more about FYI Chef, by checking out or contacting Lori at 621-9944.

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