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Turning out kitchen ‘rock stars’

Celebrity chef David Lawrence of Canyon Country wants everyone to enjoy the joys of good food

Posted: September 19, 2009 6:34 p.m.
Updated: September 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

"Kitchen Rock Star" students, left to right, Martha Michael, Birdie Busch, Jennie Ketchepaw, and Sharon Mastro take notes as celebrity chef David Lawrence, foreground, makes the custard for cheesecake ice cream.

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Forget “Guitar Hero.” Chef David Lawrence wants America’s food lovers to become rock stars in the kitchen.

The author of “Boy Eats World” and frequent contributor to popular food publications such as “Everyday with Rachael Ray” recently launched “Rock Star in the Kitchen” cooking classes in his Canyon Country home.

Held approximately twice a month, the class costs $40 per person and lasts for two hours. Lawrence’s students get to watch firsthand as the chef works his magic and then sample his efforts.

His granite island serves as the classroom. Boasting a spread of wine and cheese, it’s also a catalyst for spirited conversation.

“Where do you get your garlic from?” asked Sharon Mastro of Valencia as she watched Lawrence mash garlic into paste for the aioli.

Lawrence looked at the bag of already peeled garlic. “It says product of U.S.A.,” he said.

“Good, I can’t stand garlic that comes over from China when Gilroy, the garlic capital, is right here in California. I’m Italian, I have to have good garlic,” Mastro said.

“Such passion,” Lawrence responded with a smile.

“Rock Star in the Kitchen” themes vary from easy brunches and holiday meals to this lesson, a simply sublime dinner party menu of watermelon, mint and feta salad, a classic Southern shrimp boil with garlic aioli, garlic bread, and cheesecake ice cream with blueberry sauce.

“The biggest thing I try to get across to people is that it’s just food, it’s not rocket science,” Lawrence said. “I love seeing the light go on for someone when I demystify something for them. If I can do it, they can do it.”

Lawrence’s exuberant, informal attitude towards cooking began in Sacramento as an 8-year-old, when he improvised in the kitchen with his “Martha Stewart-like” mother. An early creation of scrambled eggs with Top Ramen eventually segued into more sophisticated fare that impressed family and friends.

Initially interested in acting, Lawrence set out for Los Angeles in 1996 and began working in catering kitchens. Lawrence quickly realized that his heart was in entertaining people on a culinary level and dropped the acting pursuit for a gig as a private chef in Beverly Hills.

Working for a busy Southern California household led Lawrence to creating the recipes for the 2005 book “KidShape Café: Over 150 Kid-Tested Recipes That Will Help Your Entire Family.” 

In 2006, Lawrence struck out on his own with “Boy Eats World: A Private Chef Cooks Easy Gourmet,” featuring easy to follow recipes that focused on his philosophy — use the freshest ingredients and let the natural flavors speak for themselves.

During the class, Lawrence demonstrated that motto with a starter salad of watermelon, feta, kalamata olives, red onions, olive oil, lime juice and fresh mint.

“I just love the idea of pairing watermelon with a savory cheese,” Lawrence said as he squeezed lime juice through cupped fingers, catching the seeds in his hand, before roughly cutting the watermelon and cheese into chunks. “I tell people I make rustic food to cover up for my insufficient chopping skills.”

As students enjoyed the salad, Lawrence tended to the custard of cream cheese, milk, sugar, and eggs boiling on the stove.

“I really got into making ice cream after getting a book by Padma Lakshi of ‘Top Chef.’ She had this recipe for rose petal pistachio ice cream that was just incredible,” Lawrence said. “So, I improvised and made seven different types of ice cream, then called my friends over for a tasting party. Homemade ice cream is the only way to go.”

Once the custard thickened, Lawrence poured the mixture into a metal cylinder and put it in the freezer. He then tended to the shrimp boil, which had been simmering on the stove with a savory mixture of spices, adding potatoes, corn and sliced kielbasa.

“How long does Old Bay keep?” asked Jennie Ketchepaw of Valencia.

“Six months, tops,” Lawrence responded. “It makes me crazy to see people buy huge vats of pepper or other spices at Costco. They’ll never use it.”

While he’s influenced by everything from the seasons to hot new restaurant dishes, Lawrence’s first thoughts when planning a class menu are how to make things doable for the busy home cook.

“I’m excited to show people how they can de-stress their holiday cooking and entertaining. Thanksgiving dinner can be done inside of an hour and a half. There is no need to get up at four in the morning to wrestle with a turkey the way our grandmothers did. No thank you,” he said.

The admittedly impatient Lawrence is fond of already prepped items, such as pre-peeled garlic, though he doesn’t skimp on condiments, showing the class how to make an aioli, the classic rich French dressing, to accompany the shrimp boil.

“If you’re worried about raw egg, pasteurized egg product is a good alternative,” Lawrence said, holding up a carton of the product.

Garlic bread also received the Lawrence touch. The chef blended together cloves of garlic with softened butter and fresh parsley into a food processor before slathering a split loaf of French bread with the rustic spread, wrapping it in foil and placing in the oven.

“I like it soft, but if you like it crunchy, just open the foil and let it bake uncovered for the last few minutes,” he said.

In addition to the private classes, Lawrence gets to teach via his Web cooking series called “Good Bite,” available at www.goodbite.com. The series of two minute cooking videos has Lawrence preparing not only his own recipes, but those from food bloggers all over the world.

“It allows viewers to chime in with ideas and suggestions, so it creates a real sense of foodie community on the web,” Lawrence said. “We’re shooting the series in my home kitchen, so it also makes for a great commute.”

The busy Lawrence is working on the follow up to “Boy Eats World,” and just signed an endorsement deal with Quaker Oats for a series of Web spots that will run from October to December.

“I definitely have a lot going on, but I’m loving every minute of it,” Lawrence said.

So are his students, both virtual and live.

“I’ve always loved to cook,” said Birdie Busch of Valencia. “David’s class has just moved me up into kitchen rock star status.”

“This is our first class, but it definitely won’t be the last,” Ketchepaw chimed in.

For more information on “Rock Star in the Kitchen” classes with David Lawrence, visit www.chefdavidlawrence.com/cookingclass.html  Class schedules are updated regularly. For David Lawrence recipes or online cooking lessons, visit www.forkingdelicious.blogspot.com or www.goodbite.com.

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