Cooking often comes with surprises in combinations of small, big, good and bad. The small and bad category includes unintentional paper-thin chocolate chip cookies bedeviled by old baking soda and older baking powder. Into the big and good bucket goes a discovery in middle age that decorating cakes like a near professional is an attainable goal.
Both surprises occurred recently in my life. I’d rather forget details of my cookie debacle. But as for the other, I arrived in Linda Jones’s cake decorating class with near-zero expectations for myself. Surprisingly, I walked away with a piece of edible art, a sight that was pleasantly shocking to my family. Two weeks later, my family was thrilled to learn my strengthening culinary skills would soon mean I’d make them a Thai noodle dish and yellow curry.
The heroes of this story are Jones and Klaus Bremer, members of Henderson Parks and Recreation Department’s cooking class corps. They started interactive, in-person cooking demonstrations long before cooking shows became a popular source of television and Internet programming. Bremer and Jones may not have millions of followers, but they’ve got bountiful tips, honest answers and delicious food to share with those signing up for their classes. So do other cooking instructors whose classes (in paleo dieting and island cooking, for example) are offered in the “Henderson Happenings” catalogs that regularly arrive in most Henderson mailboxes.
In Bremer’s Thai Basics 2 demonstration workshop, participants this fall watched as he chopped, cooked with his seasoned wok and plated spicy shrimp salad, yellow chicken curry and phat si ew (wide fried noodles with Chinese broccoli and pork in a sweet and salty soy-, garlic- and fish-based sauce). Bananas in coconut milk was our dessert that afternoon in the Heritage Park Senior Facility’s demonstration kitchen. The Thai meal and Bremer’s instruction cost me $37.50 ($22.50 for the class and $15 for supplies), and I registered through the city of Henderson website.
Some classes are more hands-on than others, and the level of student involvement is generally clear in class descriptions. While Bremer assigned himself all chopping and cooking duties in the Thai Basics class, he had participants read him the recipes’ steps and keep track of measurements for ingredients. He skillfully described and showed off his steps and offered pointers on where to find ingredients and which brands to choose. Tasting the finished dishes was the best part, and we each left with full bellies and packets of recipes that we’d seen in action.
Bremer, a mostly self-taught cook who has taken classes in Hong Kong and Chiang Mai, Thailand, has been teaching classes in Southern Nevada for more than 30 years. For the Thai Basics 2 experience, it was as if he were hosting a dinner party while teaching. He shared his admiration for Asian cooking styles and methods while serving universal chef wisdom. “What’s the most important word when you cook?” he asked after a minor setback involving an onion. “Improvise. You’ve got to improvise.”
Wielding a pastry bag and metal tips that create fancy borders and frosting flowers, Jones has maintained an inspiration to decorate cakes that initially came from her mother-in-law some 50 years ago. On a recent evening, she taught a small group of students the basics of cake decorating for $40 each ($15 for the class and $25 for supplies). That price included a plain take-home cake that each participant frosted white and decorated with piping to make basic leaves, flowers and borders in personalized colors from a buttercream icing-packed pastry bag. For her many decorating classes for adults and kids, Jones leaves copies of supply lists at the front desk of the Henderson Multigenerational Center. Some of those supplies, if purchased new, could end up costing more than a class, so borrowing a friend’s cake decorating kit with frosting tips would save money.
“I’ve been decorating cakes for as long as I can remember,” said Jones, who formerly taught classes for the Wilton cake-decorating supply company. In her Basics class at the Henderson Multigenerational Center, she shared that she’s gotten great joy over the years from the creative process and thrives on people’s reactions to her custom cakes. When her students began decorating their cakes, she was sincere in her desire to help each of them with practical tips and encouragement.
“The more you practice, the better you get,” she said when someone’s (OK, mine) icing rose looked a bit like a blob. “You didn’t ride a bike the first time you tried, either.”
For November and December, some fall classes taught by Jones, Bremer and others may still have openings. New offerings in the winter “Henderson Happenings” catalog are due out around Dec. 3 with registration set to begin on Dec. 17 for classes running January through April. The catalog is mailed to Henderson homes and is available at the city’s recreation centers. The online version and information about registering for classes is available at cityofhenderson.com/henderson-happenings/facilities/recreation-centers/online-registration.
Natalie Burt, a former news reporter at the Review-Journal for 11 years, spends as much of her free time as possible enjoying Southern Nevada’s outdoors. She’s now a teacher and has lived in Henderson for 18 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.