Sharpen your knives and put on your chef’s hats! We are very excited to introduce Willy Street Co-op’s very own staff instructors to the lineup of our cooking education classes: Paul Tseng, Stephanie Ricketts, Maleah Moskoff and Max Wilke. You may recognize these staff members from seeing them in action at either East or West, or while representing the Co-op at a fun local event. These talented individuals will be teaching about once or twice a month. You may always check the class listings in the Reader or on our website to see the details of what they will be cooking up. As the doldrums of winter wind down and the days began to get longer we thought it was a perfect time for Owners to meet these knowledgeable and creative individuals and get everyone excited about learning a few new tips and tricks in the kitchen and sampling some amazing food. I recently checked in with Chef Paul Tseng from the WestDeli and Executive Assistant Stephanie Ricketts from our Central Office.
KOJ: Can you share some of your earliest memories of food and/or cooking?
PT: I remember being in the kitchen, watching my mom preparing pork cracklings. She would trim off the fat from the pork, and then render the fat. The leftover cracklings were so delicious and we kids would fight over each crispy morsel. When my mom prepared meals for us they were always nutritionally balanced. She made a soup of cooked sea vegetables with pork bone and ginger. All of the collagen from the bones combined with the saltiness from the sea vegetables resulted in a dish full of fiber and protein. Together with rice or noodles on the table it was perfectly balanced. She never used recipes. She just naturally put healthy ingredients together.
SR: I feel very lucky; my mom comes from a strong Lebanese food culture. Our families gathered together, with the women in the kitchen cooking together. I remember being in my high chair, kneading a small piece of dough, playing with the dough, rolling it into a ball. Then I graduated to standing in a chair pushed up to the counter. I was not just watching, I was always participating. Food is and always has been central in my life. It is about family and friends coming together.
KOJ: SInce you already work full time for the Co-op, what is it that motivates you to take on these cooking classes?
PT: Cooking and sharing what I have learned is my passion. Teaching a cooking class gives me a chance to share my knowledge about the differences and uniquenesses of foods that people overlook. I want to show people how to be respectful, creative and economical about food. To feel delighted when they learn an easy cooking technique using just a couple of simple fresh ingredients. The food is the real star, we are just the facilitators.
SR: I love the experience of cooking and want to share that with others. Also, to inspire others, [and] pass on skills that I have learned. Most of all, I want to stoke the love of cooking in people, make the cooking experience approachable, fun and welcoming. No foodie elitism. My classes are a hands-on, interactive sharing of food and ideas back and forth with participants.
KOJ: What would you like participants to take away from your classes?
PT: I want people to leave excited about food and cooking. It’s important to me, being a part of their food journey, and I feel grateful that they spend time with me.
SR: A feeling of excitement, and empowerment. I want people to have fun, to have a very hands-on experience. Personally, I am a kinesthetic learner. I believe that you learn to be a master by feeling it, doing it, experiencing it, not just watching. Active involvement not just passive participation.
KOJ: What foods represent comfort to you at the end of a busy day? What would you choose to cook for yourself?
PT: People need to realize that simple, beautiful ingredients make it easy to quickly prepare good food. I always think about balance. I will grab a cup of rice, add any stock I have on hand and make a quick rice pilaf. For an easy delicious salad I will mix some baby bok choy, an orange; add a bit of sesame oil and dulse. I never forget to enjoy a piece of dark chocolate for my desert.
SR: Brown rice and peas, with butter and salt, soy sauce if I’m feeling crazy. Peas are always a good idea. This dish is simple, warm and comforting, and must be eaten out of a bowl! I love the feeling of eating out of bowls, holding the dish in your hands and experiencing the emotion that it brings.
KOJ: Cooking from scratch is very trendy right now. With all the busy and full schedules that everyone seems to have these days, are you seeing a greater interest in getting back to the basics?
PT: Cooking from scratch should not be a chore, it should be satisfying. People should make it fun,not boring. Make it into a family memory or story or bring back a family tradition. It doesn’t have to be fancy or cost a lot. I feel lucky to have a little stage to share my love of cooking with people and I enjoy seeing their confidence and knowledge grow. People keep coming back and that makes me want to keep giving back. I wish I had more time to do this.
SR: Definitely. People want to personalize their food; food can be such a powerful way to show people you care. I experienced this first hand with the nonprofit I started, Eat for Equity, where for the “community feast” everything was made by hand. You can feel the energy and it is reflected in the dish. I love the concept of potlucks. One of my favorite potlucks was to have guests bring a dish inspired by their favorite painting. Food is a very accessible way to be creative and say something about yourself.
As you can see, we are excited about our new staff instructors. Next month we’ll be checking in with Maleah Moskoff and Max Wilke and get to know what keeps them in the kitchen and the classroom.