Cooking Classes for All
at Apples to Zucchini
Where Santa Barbara’s Kids and Adults
Are Learning to Shop, Cook, and Eat Well
By Matt Kettmann | May 11, 2023
Read all of our Taste of Santa Barbara 2023 stories here.
It’s Japanese day at Apples to Zucchini (A to Z) Cooking School, the nonprofit founded in 2015 with the dual mision to foster healthier eating habits and spread kitchen know-how to the next generations. But instead of preteens learning how to toast nori wraps for sushi, add bonito flakes to up the umami levels of dashi, or spiralize cucumbers into a tangy, sesame-laced salad, the classroom is packed with mostly middle-aged moms who’ve enrolled in the school’s “Food as Medicine” series.
Aside from our birth years and the setting — where most classes are held at schools around town, we’re inside the kitchen of the former Garden Street Academy, which was built in 1900 as St. Anthony’s Seminary — the A to Z original formula for kids holds true. We learn about the menu, we prepare the multiple courses, we eat around a large table, and we clean up together.
“We just want them to fall in love with cooking,” explains Jeff King, a screenwriter who got involved with A to Z during the pandemic and helped start the Food as Medicine series earlier this year. He said many of the adult students enroll to overcome qualms about the kitchen, while others simply seek a good time and dinner.
Even competent home cooks picked up new tricks during my visit, such as how to easily peel ginger with the back of a spoon, where to buy sushi-grade cuts of fish, or how to make your rice properly sticky for the rolls. “You want every individual grain of rice to stand out,” said Cris Garcia, one of our instructors who previously worked at El Encanto and Outpost S.B.
The undercurrent, as made plain by the “Food as Medicine” name, is learning how to shop, cook, and eat wisely, and there’s even a medical professional on hand — Dr. Ryan Arnold of CLAVA Health — to discuss ingredients and techniques. But none of these lessons are overbearing, which could weigh down the convivial camaraderie. “We don’t talk a lot about nutrition,” confirmed King, who’s also taught one-off adult classes about sourdough and recently did an all-ages session cooking through the foods of the animated film Ratatouille.
A cooking fanatic ever since taking a course while attending law school in the Bay Area decades ago, Nancy Martz was inspired to start Apples to Zucchini after volunteering for another nonprofit to deliver groceries to those in need. “Would they even know what to do with it?” she wondered about some of the ingredients in those bags, realizing that our fast-food world presents so many challenges to healthy cooking at home. “We have enough food to feed everyone, but the barrier is that people don’t know how to cook.”
She believes that making kids the messengers is more effective in educating entire families about smarter choices. “Kids have more time, they have more curiosity, and they can become ambassadors for the family,” she said. “Kids love to be the experts, so we set them up for success.”
Lamenting the loss of home economics curriculum, Martz is doing what she can to keep those skills alive, now overseeing 17 teachers who run 16 different 90-minute after-school classes at 10 campuses around town. “So many parents are afraid of knives and hot surfaces around their kids,” she said. “We take safety precautions, of course, but we don’t panic when you get the same kind of injury that you can get while playing sports.”
A to Z took over the Garden Street Academy kitchen when the academy closed its doors in the summer of 2020, and now uses it as a home base for the teachers, a clearinghouse for weekly ingredients, and storage for equipment, as well as for some classes. It’s also where they will be hosting a series of classes taught by guest chefs to coincide with Taste of Santa Barbara, including lessons on pastry and chocolatiering, soufflés, paella, crêpes, mussels, sourdough pizza, and food styling.
Back at Japanese night, after admiring the brilliantly colored sushi we rolled with pink-fleshed tuna, bright orange mango, and the greens of both cucumber and avocado, we moved into the dining room to sip on miso soup, crunch into zippy salads, and share wines over more conversation. It was exactly as Martz originally designed, albeit with grown-ups now able to enjoy the delicious education as well.
“The whole idea is bringing people together over meals,” she told me. Mission very much accomplished.
Apples to Zucchini Cooking School will host a series of classes for adults during Taste of Santa Barbara, and features classes for both kids and grown-ups throughout the year. See atozcookingschool.org.
You must be logged in to post a comment.