Sumptuous smells of fresh herb-roasted chicken, vanilla-infussed basmati rice and homemade pie wafted out of the filled Few Hall Demonstration Kitchen. Just short of drooling, 15 Emory students forgot the banalities of campus dining and began to feel right at home.
Chef Asata Reid hosted the cooking class on Tuesday evening as part of Emory’s Life 101 lecture series, which is designed to prepare students for life after graduation. Mixing top chef tips with things you would be more likely to learn from your grandmother than in culinary school, Reid made the kitchen seem a little less daunting and indulged students in a feast for the senses.
“You eat with your eyes first, then your nose,” said Reid, a former sous chef at Dish in the Highlands.
Reid has shared her passion for food with a variety of students. After discovering a knack for teaching new chefs about the ins and outs of the kitchen, Reid eventually quit her job, which had her working grueling hours, including nine New Year’s Eves in a row.
Now she teaches vegetarian cooking classes at Sevananda in Little Five Points and healthy eating classes for people who need to cook to accommodate conditions such as hypertension and high cholesterol.
Clad in a black-and-white camouflage head scarf offset by a professional chef’s jacket, Reid sang when she sautéed and joked when she baked. In addition to her charm, Reid was so much fun to watch because she clearly knows what she’s talking about. Two callbacks from the Food Network for season five of “The Next Food Network Star” attest to her ability to entertain while whipping up something delicious.
During her cooking demo, Reid encouraged budding chefs not to be afraid to experiment. “That’s the thing with cooking. If it’s nasty, you can order pizza,” she said with a laugh.
Throughout the evening, Reid sprinkled bits of cooking wisdom into the class. She raved about fresh herbs and spices and denounced canned vegetables, and recommended buying extra virgin olive oil cold-pressured because it is the most pure.
“It should have that funk to it,” she said, referring to the fruity, earthy smell that good olive oil has.
Reid emphasized the importance of herbs and spices, saying they “make your food worth eating.” For example, by adding vanilla extract, she was able to “imply sweetness” in the basmati rice without actually using sugar.
Navigating comfortably around the kitchen, Reid personified food as if cooking is a form of poetry. According to Reid, pork “loves” curry, cardamom “feminizes” food and spaghetti sauce “adds depth to” a dish.
Reid highlighted important nutritional aspects of the food she prepared. Garlic, for instance, has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties that make this relative of the onion a healthy addition to any dish. “If you put garlic in a petri dish, the cooties crawl away,” she said.
Teaching people how to incorporate nutritious eating into their lifestyles is very important to Reid. In her blog, Life Chef’s Food for Life (www.lifechef.net), Reid describes herself as someone who wants to “help fill the gap between what people know they should be eating and what they actually eat.”
Reid’s menu for the evening also included herbed pasta in scampi sauce, steamed green beans and peach and strawberry cobbler pie, or, as Reid liked to call it, “pie for people who don’t bake.”
College freshman David Silverstein said, “She told us everything a college student should know.” Silverstein said he was especially pleased to finally learn the difference between regular salt and sea salt. According to Reid, sea salt can have more flavor because it retains minerals from the part of the ocean from which it was pulled.
Emma Greenberg, a College senior and vice president of “Senior Experience” for the Student Alumni Association, helped organize the Life 101 lecture series, which will host a ballroom dancing class on April 15 in the Rich Dance Studio.
“There are a lot of economic reasons to teach students how to cook,” she said, then noted that restaurants often care more about the taste of their food than the nutritional value. “It’s also a lot healthier to cook for yourself.”
Nutrition, after all, is the basic point of eating food. And as Reid’s cooking demo showed, healthy eats are easily spiced up.
— Contact Lizzy Encarnacao