Dining A La Carte

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Cooking school makes healthy eating fun and educational

Kids cooking class (Photos courtesy of A la Carte)

While the concept of healthy eating may seem like it has been around for years, popularized with apps, diets and meal planning, the truth is that eating well doesn’t matter too much if you don’t know how to properly prepare and cook food. When Polly Talbot founded A la Carte in 1999, she saw a need to establish a cooking school during a time when the act of cooking was growing from a chore to a fun and popular hobby.

“Twenty years ago, cooking was becoming a really big deal, especially on the Food Network. I was a food stylist for many years but my passion all along was always to cook,” said Talbot, who thought opening a cooking school was a great idea and did so with A la Carte in Lynbrook. “I have always done recreational classes, highlighting French, Italian and Spanish cuisine as well as basic knife skills. Culinary Nutritionist, Regina Ragone M.S., R.D., and I started working together a couple of years ago on Eat to Beat, tying together food and medicine. That movement is beginning to take hold and all culinary professionals have been saying this for years as well as dietitians and doctors that you have to eat better but nobody tells you how to cook food and how to make it healthy and delicious.”

“The most important thing I can do as a culinary nutritionist to change someone’s eating behavior is to teach them how to cook. This gives them the tools they need to take control of what they eat,” added Ragone. “As far as kids go, the way you get them to eat better is to have them cook with you. Once they are a part of the process they’ll feel more connected to the food you serve and less likely to criticize it.”

Polly Talbot

While many people, even today, still associate healthy eating with gross food, Talbot says the cooking classes allow people to try new things, get to know each other and find that they have support and help right by them. She has conducted several Eat to Beat classes in the past, including classes on arthritis and menopause, but the upcoming class on May 21, is the first one on allergies.

“We want to teach people how to eat so they can feel better. Stop worrying about the diet; eating is key,” said Talbot. “The word healthy is the kiss of death for cooking classes, but I always balance diets in the menus and make it a fun, healthy nutritious meal even if I don’t tout it as such often times.”

Talbot stressed that it is important for people to embrace the way they are eating and that it is OK to order in or go out once in a while, but to strive for eating home a few nights a week. For many families who juggle work, kids, activities and housework, getting back to cooking healthy, fresh meals in the kitchen is less about the time management and more about the cleanup.

“People don’t like the cleanup of cooking, but cooking on foil, making one pan dishes and even prepared vegetables precut or ready-made are extremely convenient. Parchment paper is also a secret weapon,” said Talbot, who added that olive oil, salt and pepper are a chef’s best friends. “Simple works for a reason.”

A la Carte’s kids classes are always full, which Talbot attributes as the answer to getting kids to eat: teaching them how to cook.

“It’s a great way to conquer childhood obesity and when you show kids how simple cooking is—even when you teach them basic knife skills—they can do whatever they need to do to take away the fear of the kitchen,” said Talbot, who added that her classes for children are geared towards those 8 years and older. “At that age, kids can read and have manual dexterity. My goal is for kids to help get dinner ready and they should be involved in the kitchen with their parents.”

Talbot also noted that it’s not just about learning to eat healthy, but gaining a better knowledge of math, science and organizational skills for kids, who also learn sociability skills when they take part in classes.

“With each class, we always learn about cultures and cuisines from different countries and that is very important when learning where a dish comes from,” she said. “People cook and eat the meals we make in class and it has become a really enjoyable experience for people of all ages.”

Oregon Coast Steelhead Salmon Poached in wine

The next cooking class, “Bring Back the Joy: Cooking and Eating with Food Allergies” will occur on Tuesday, May 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. Ragone along with Susan Kelly, Food Allergy Mom, Nurse and Blogger and Food Allergy Awareness Activist Georgina Cornago Cipriano will host this top eight allergy-friendly cooking class. Register for the class and join this group of like-minded parents for an enjoyable evening of cooking, eating and sharing. The three-hour cooking class is $125 with a menu of polenta crostini with fresh escarole, top-8-free mac and cheese, chicken marsala, grilled skirt steak with chimichurri and pavlova with fresh fruit and aquafaba. To register visit www.alacartecs.com or call 516-599-2922.

A la Carte Cooking School is located at 32 Atlantic Ave., Lynbrook. Follow A la Carte on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @alacartecs.

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