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Too Many Cooks...: Makes for good teamwork, especially for hungry teens in a four-star kitchen, pictured here making ghocchi dough.

Taming The Teenager

A cooking and etiquette class turns saucy kids into sauciers

By Vrinda Normand

THE STUDENTS stare at the gleaming array of china, wineglasses and linen; their first impression of Emile's restaurant reduces them to whispering. Twenty-five teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 16 years old, are dressed for the occasion. The girls wear frilly tops and lipstick, and the boys have put gel in their hair. A few nudge each other to ask which fork to start with first.

This field trip is part of a new program that Joseph Izzo, a teacher at the Bill Wilson Community School and one of the usual writers of this column, started in order to educate kids in cooking, nutrition and dining etiquette. "Their world is so limited in what they have and what they see," Izzo explains. "We're trying to give them a larger-world perspective."

The teenagers who attend the small, state-funded school come from three local group homes, communal living arrangements for kids who have left their parents' homes for a variety of reasons. Some have been abused, some are runaways and some are homeless, according to Izzo.

Izzo launched the program last month with a cooking class at Emile's. Emile Mooser, the owner and chef, has been teaching cooking classes for 20 years and agreed to host the students for only the cost of the raw ingredients. The kids started the morning with baked potatoes, cocoa and orange peels, and sat down at noon to a gourmet meal of potato gnocchi with red pepper coulis, fillet of trout and Orange Surprise with chocolate mousse.

Before he begins the lesson, Mooser explains why he got into the cooking business. "I grew up in the Swiss Mountains, and during World War II the food was rationed. At 15, it is customary to choose your profession, or else your parents choose it for you. I chose to be a cook because it is an essential survival skill," Mooser says.

"After you learn how to cook from me, you will eat better, healthier and cheaper, and your social life is going to improve tremendously," he announces.

Mooser presents a bowl of baked potatoes and picks two volunteers to start the gnocchi dough. He sets up another girl whipping chocolate and milk in a bowl for the mousse dessert.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old John begins creaming the red peppers and onions together with a huge, cylindrical mixer. He strains out the pulp, producing a smooth, orange-red liquid that will soon become the sauce for the gnocchi. Izzo tells him that people who specialize in sauces are called sauciers. John beckons to his friend Krystal and says, "Say my name, girl." She says, "John," and he responds, "No, it's Saucier. Oh, yeah."

Gabriel, 16, is set to work rolling the gnocchi dough and cutting it into small diamond-shaped pieces with a large knife. It takes skill to maneuver the knife and mold the pliable dough. He fumbles while his spectators laugh good-naturedly. Mooser stands next to him and urges him on. "Good. You respect the knife," he tells Gabriel.

The students watch Mooser's movements avidly as he carves orange peels into delicate mousse bowls. Mooser shows the scars on his arms, which reach up to his elbows. Some are from cuts, some from burns. Then he brings out pastry bags to filter the chocolate mousse. Diana, 14, fills the orange-peel cups with a velvety chocolate cream.

After a toast, the meal commences in silence. Eventually, though, the tension relaxes, and the kids discover that rubbing water on the rims of the wineglasses produces an annoying high pitch. Cecilia, 15, nudges me and says, "Pass it on."

She reports the meal "tastes delicious. I licked my plate clean." The fillet of trout doesn't taste like the fish she has had; it is more like "lemons and mayonnaise."

Sixteen-year-old David says the trout "is cooked well, with a taste of lemon, and a nice look."

When it is time for dessert, everyone digs into the cheery orange mousse bowls topped with white meringue. Jessica, 16, describes the mousse as "yummy and fluffy."

John courteously volunteers to serve orange juice in wineglasses. "I like to cook, but I don't know how. I learned a few things," John says. He would like to be a chef someday, but he is currently thinking about becoming a lawyer.


Emile's
Address: 545 S. Second St., San Jose
Phone: 408.289.1960
Hours: Dinner Tue-Sat 6-10pm
Price Range: $11-$32


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From the August 29-September 4, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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