Zenger Farm serves up unique cooking classes

Discover why a delightful aroma of wholesome, delicious food was wafting up from the farmhouse, at this unique outer East Portland institution …

Cook and instructor Katherine Deumling demonstrates how to chop vegetables – instead of fingers! – during her first class series at Zenger Farm.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Not content with simply being one of the few urban farms anywhere, and Portland’s only farm-based youth food education center, Zenger Farm has now branched out into offering classes for adults.

We met Katherine Deumling, a regional governor for Slow Food USA, at the remodeled farmhouse, while she was preparing for the first in a series of three cooking classes.

“We don’t have a fancy title for it; we’re calling it ‘Zenger Farm Cooking Classes’ – at which people can learn to cook delicious, quick, and nutritious meals from a well-stocked pantry.

“Ingredients for the meals are based on using seasonal produce, which is kind of a theme here at Zenger Farm,” Deumling told us. “It’s based on the concept of meat as a condiment, rather than a main course.”

Deumling, and her teaching assistant Cara Haskey, point out that learning a few skills helps one feel more confident, while working in the kitchen.

Skills build cooking confidence
The primary principle, the instructor said, is to teach techniques that help build the participants’ confidence that they can cook with what they have on hand, rather than relying on what they can make from a recipe.

“Many people look at a recipe and feel overwhelmed, because they must make a list, go shopping, then come back, to cook something,” instructed Deumling.  “I show how they can set up their kitchen and stock their pantry so that, on any given night, they can come home and make any of six meals from locally-produced food.  A meal that is both delicious and inexpensive.”

Deumling said she learned her culinary skills by “talking with lots of people” and doing a little restaurant cooking. “I’ve done a lot of ‘cooking on the fly’ as I’ve traveled around the world. I’m offering this class because I’ve found many people are afraid of cooking.  I hope this class meets the perceived need.”

Holding up one of her key ingredients, Deumling says olive oil adds to the flavor and texture of foods.

Chef shares real-world secrets
We asked Deumling to share a secret or two about preparing food.

“First, the most important lesson is to season the food. Use salt and olive oil liberally; and don’t worry about it. Good seasoning is the difference between mediocre cooking and delicious cooking.

“Secondly,” she continued, “be ready to make ingredient substitution. If you were going to use cabbage – and you don’t have any – give broccoli a try.

“Finally, free yourself from thinking of dinner as ‘meat, potatoes, and vegetable’. A good dinner could be just one big dish. Make it tasty – and it’s dinner.”

The Friends of Zenger Farm Executive Director, Jill Kuehler, spends a moment with chef Katherine Deumling and assistant Cara Haskey just as their first down-on-the-farm cooking class gets underway.

Class fully subscribed
Because of the space, and Deumling’s desire to have all of the participants actually cook instead of simply watch a lecture, she said they had to turn away quite a few people who wanted to sign up for the three-part class. “I guess you could say it’s a sign if success.”

It’s quite likely they’ll invite Deumling back, said Jill Kuehler, executive director of the Friends of Zenger Farm.

“While our organization has been primarily focused on youth education, since we were founded as an organization in 1999 – bringing about 3000 kids out of year – we’re starting to host adult education classes here,” Kuehler noted. “We also offer organic gardening classes, and will be adding classes in canning and preserving. We’ve even had food writing classes here. We’re venturing into a whole new area of adult education.”

To learn more about the mission, classes, and groups at Zenger Farm, visit their website by CLICKING HERE.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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