By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Over the years from 1980-2005, when I owned and ran Bonnie’s Patisserie and then Bonnie’s Kitchen & Catering, I had many jobs as a business owner. A toque (chef’s hat) was only one of the many hats I wore. I managed the staff, ordered the food, ran the catering business, did all the bookwork, created recipes, and dealt with the customers. I have to say that my favorite, though, was teaching cooking classes.
What I love about teaching is the creative engagement that I have with the food and the students. Watching them light up and get excited about a technique that they may not know or have been doing wrong for years is a highlight for me. The students are really getting value. The classes force me to learn new ideas and recipes.
I studied at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in London back in the mid-’70s. It was strictly classical French cooking. Those techniques are applicable to any type of cooking. It’s like learning a language though. You need to practice a lot to get good at it.
It took me years to incorporate that knowledge into my own cooking and baking skills.
After creating semesters full of different classes, it was fun to see which subjects caught the students’ eyes. The popular classes were Appetizers, Just Chicken, Good Food Fast!, Chocolate Desserts, to name a few. I had quite a following over the years so it was important for me to continue to create new recipes and topics for the regulars. I spent years teaching Vegetables Galore! and ended up with six assorted menus to keep the students satisfied. Each class contained four recipes, demonstration only, but everyone got to eat what I made.
The classes were relatively informal, so people could ask questions along the way. Maybe they didn’t eat the mushrooms I had in a recipe. What could be a replacement? Or someone may not eat shellfish. What can you do instead? Many students shared kitchen tips, ones that I may not have known. I learned from them too!
I also loved it when students shared their kitchen successes after taking some classes. My favorite comment was, “You’ve inspired me to cook.” What better compliment could there be?
In my new life here in northern California, I’ve gotten back into teaching cooking classes in my home. I built my kitchen to accommodate this activity. It has worked out beautifully. I take only 14 students per class. Each one sits on a chair or stool, and has clear visibility. No one is further than 12 feet away from the action, so it is intimate but not crowded. We have a lively exchange of questions and anecdotes along the way.
Last month, I taught a class on Passover desserts. One of the recipes appeared two weeks ago in The Insider. The desserts were not the usual boring recipes but real showstoppers. A bit complicated but worth it! I was, of course, exhausted afterward as it is very physical work. True confession: that night I ate 3 desserts as my dinner! There. I admitted it. Why not?
I’m going to continue teaching only once a month. I want it to be fun for me, not a chore. Plus, I have to intersperse the classes with my busy schedule of hosting friends and family at the Fishman Family compound, traveling, and swimming, not to mention writing my weekly insider column. Creating the content and recipes keeps my mind going all the time. One other huge benefit of teaching is getting to know people in this town. Being a newcomer can be challenging when you relocates.
Today’s recipe, White Bean Dip with Tajín Pita Triangles, was taken from my recent Appetizers class. It is the simplest go-to preparation. Both components can be changed to make it your own. I can’t urge you enough to use dried beans here. The texture and flavor is far superior to that of canned beans. I have suggested a Tex-Mex flavor profile by using cumin, chili powder, and cilantro. Feel free to substitute those spices with, say, an Italian theme. Here I would use more garlic, some oregano, and finish with fresh basil or rosemary.
For the pita chips, remove the tajín and add za’taar or a schmear of pesto topped with parmesan before baking. If you choose this option, leave the pita whole, skip the olive oil, spread on the pesto and sprinkle with cheese. Now cut them into triangles before baking.
One last tip about making the dip from dried beans. Repurpose the leftovers and spread it on a flour tortilla, stuff with roasted veggies, and roll it up. You’ll have a wonderful vegan sandwich!
Tell us here at The Insider which teacher inspired you. I hope it was for cooking!
P.S. Phyllis Schwartz and her daughter, Marilyn Chandross, from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., baked this lovely Italian Almond Torte using my recipe. Marilyn chose to top it with strawberries. It was a huge success at their seder! Email your own photo of this week's recipes to email@example.com so we can share them online!
White Bean Dip with Tajín Pita Triangles
(#1) White Bean Dip
Yield: @ 1 Quart
1 1/2 c. dried white beans
2 garlic cloves
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c. fresh chopped cilantro, parsley, or other fresh herb
Put the beans in a saucepan; cover with 2” cold water. Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Allow to soak for at least 1 hour. Drain beans. Return beans to pan and cover with 2” fresh water. Bring to a boil; turn down to a simmer. Cook beans until very tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid.
In a food processor, mince the garlic. Add the beans and remaining ingredients. Puree until smooth. If the dip is too thick, thin out with some reserved cooking liquid. Adjust seasoning. Serve with tajín pita triangles.
(#2) Tajín Pita Triangles
Yield: @ 4 dozen pieces
1 12 oz. package 6-7” pitas
1/4 c. olive oil
1/3 c. Tajín seasoning
Preheat oven to 375°. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Reserve.
Cut each pita round into 6 triangles. Place on sheet pan. Brush each triangle with oil. Sprinkle on seasoning. Bake for 15-20 minutes to desired crispness.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.