Steve and Chris Sinclair have the same objective in mind — making Steve’s famous homemade pizza even more delicious.
His father is known as the family cook, Chris explained, making this night’s Fresh Cheeses class at Walla Walla Community College enticing. “I treated my dad to this class. I saw the listings and thought he would like it for his pizza. And I wanted to do it with him.”
It made for a great gift, agreed Steve Sinclair, superintendent of the Washington State Penitentiary. “I make homemade pizza with homemade dough, so homemade mozzarella makes sense.
The Sinclair men embody the very goal Dan Thiessen set when he cooked up the school’s Community Kitchen classes.
Thiessen took over WWCC’s culinary arts program in 2011 and one focus of many has been to “put ‘community’ back in community college,” he said. “We’re trying to get the public involved.”
To stir that pot, he and school administrators developed a generous dollop of class offerings that anyone can enroll in, from the new cook learning knife skills to those immersing in a four-day “boot camp” for baking.
Other menu offerings included sushi preparation, exploring global cuisines, farmers markets tours and getting cozy with chocolate.
Besides opening the doors of the college’s kitchen to the wider public, the classes — with price ranges of $55 to $800 — could help the culinary program become more self-sustaining, Thiessen pointed out. That’s a triple serving of good to the college, students and a community that obviously cares about and supports good food, he added.
“My goal is a (culinary) institute on the grounds. I can’t wait to break ground.”
Chloe Holden, 19, is entertaining the idea of entering the WWCC culinary world and taking the cheese-making class is a way to dip her toes in the water, she said. “I’ve always had a fascination with cooking.”
As has Jay Entrikin, cheese class master and community college culinary instructor since 2004. Entrikin came to Walla Walla after graduating with honors from Western Culinary Institute in Portland. He cooked professionally in Seattle and then in Portland under a variety of master chefs and cuisine influences before arriving here to lend his extensive background to the school’s still young and evolving program.
Making fresh mozzarella or ricotta really is as simple as it looks, Entrikin assured the group of five gathered around the stainless steel prep table. “The hope is people can take home cheese tonight.”
Step by step, he takes his students through the process of rudimentary fresh cheese making, beginning with ricotta. Burner temperature, moistening the cheesecloth and stirring consistency all play a part in the taste and texture of mozzarella and ricotta.
If water is too hot, in the case of mozzarella, there is a chance of overcooking the mass. Too cold, and the texture gets wonky.
Then there’s the addition of rennet, traditionally made from the extracts of the fourth stomach of cud-chewing animals. Or there is vegetarian rennet, Steve Sinclair said with a smile, “You can go to Andy’s and get a nice little package of it and you don’t have to ask how it’s made.”
Rick Small and Darcey Fugman-Small are in their second Community Kitchen class of the summer — they’ve already taken “Basics of Pasta,” the couple said. Impetus is provided via their son, who will soon arrive for a visit. Sager Small, 25, cooks at Cafe Presse in Seattle and is coming home for a harvest dinner, Fugman-Small said. Fresh ricotta will be on the menu, thanks to his parents.
Ricotta may be underestimated, Entrikin told the white-aproned cluster as he ladled his creamy, clotted mixture into a sieve lined with cheese cloth. “It can fill ravioli, go over pasta, be in Italian desserts.”
Every student takes a taste of the teacher’s product. The cheese, not as creamy as sour cream or as wet as cottage cheese, has a mild flavor with undertones of the lemon juice.
Then it’s time to tackle their own and the students get busy at the commercial stove tops in the WWCC cafeteria kitchen. Entrikin is gently reassuring but keeps a close eye on their progress.
He hasn’t taught this particular class to the public, he said, mopping up the prep area as people measure and stir. It’s a pleasure to do so now, however. “People have been asking for this since I started here but we haven’t had the manpower.”
His boss, Entrikin noted, doesn’t let that kind of hurdle stop him. “He’s ambition and he pushes through. Sometimes you just have to get (classes) on the books.”
It was definitely a “shotgun approach,” Thiessen agreed. “Let’s offer a ton of things, see what people want and go for it.”
He’s no stranger to culinary adventure. A graduate of Culinary Institute of America, Thiessen worked in kitchens in Aspen, Switzerland, Idaho and Seattle, where he taught at Art Institute of Seattle, according to the chef’s staff bio.
After teaching there Thiessen went on to be executive chef at the and a variety of restaurants, including his own. He also hosted his own radio cooking show for five years and numerous TV appearances, as well as authoring articles.
By summer’s end, the chef added lessons learned in Walla Walla to the impressive resume. What worked on the West side, for example, needs tweaking here. Walla Wallans get a little more free time during the week and aren’t averse to taking a Saturday cooking class, Thiessen said.
With a robust tourism season, there’s an opportunity to combine cooking classes with winery tours, followed by a gourmet dinner as a “go and do,” he feels.
The Community Kitchen debut sorted the chaff from the wheat and told Thiessen and his staff what had traction. “The keepers were the basics. The pasta, the knife skills, the cheeses, the real basic classes.”
Less interesting to local cooks were the ethnic-cuisine offerings, he said.
Overall, the zeal of attendees at all the summer culinary classes was great and, he hopes, contagious. “Their enthusiasm will help promote the next round, Like grassroots, viral marketing.”
These cheese makers seem likely to be part of that movement. By the time he was ready to make mozzarella balls, Rick Small was finding the class “fantastic,” he said, stretching and folding the taffy-like mass of white goo.
“It’s not pretty, though,” Fugman-Small said with a grin.
“That’s OK, we have a whole bunch of heirloom tomatoes to go with these. They’re going to be just fine,” her husband replied with a laugh. “Just fine.”
For more information about Community Kitchen classes, go to www.wwcc.edu, under “What’s Happening,” or call 522-2500.