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CMC Breckenridge: Never too many cooks in the learning kitchen

SUZIE ROMIG
special to the daily
Special to the Daily
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Frisco resident Roselee Carney always thought she knew her way around a kitchen but now, with many new techniques and recipes in her home gourmet repertoire, cooking is more fun.

“I’ve always cooked at home, but I’m enjoying it even more since I’ve learned so much,” said Carney, a retired beauty salon owner from New Jersey. “Now I’m cooking better.”

Carney is learning about everything from soups to spices as a frequent student in the noncredit, recreational cooking classes at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. In fact, Carney has taken 32 classes since the college’s learning kitchen opened in August 2009.

“It just makes you more creative to see professionals and think ‘I can do that too,’ ” Carney said. “The knife skills are extremely helpful, and I like to learn the sauces.”

The retiree is not alone in taking multiple classes in the fun environment of the college’s recreational cooking program. Alton Scales, CEO of the college’s sites in Breckenridge and Dillon, said student response to the classes has been extremely strong, especially from older students. To meet the high demand, the program offered 53 classes this semester, from artisan breads to dim sum to tamales.

“Cooking is popular right now, so we expected some success. But it exceeded my expectations,” said Scales, who even himself has taken classes such as seafood and world sauces.

The college has had a renowned professional culinary institute in Summit County for 17 years and in Eagle County for 12. In these programs, students earn an associate degree while apprenticing in some of the top resort kitchens in Colorado’s High Country.

But with the introduction of the kitchen in Breckenridge’s new building just over a year ago, even a budding home gourmet can learn the skills needed to create extraordinary dishes.

Doug Schwartz, director of the recreational cooking program in Breckenridge, said he expects as many as 2,000 class signups by the end of this semester. Up to 60 percent of the cooking class students come back for more. Some of the students branch out to art or foreign language courses.

“The cooking program has done two things: It has brought people to the campus who would not have come otherwise, and it has created a large repeat population of people 50 and older,” Scales said.

He said future plans include offering classes for companions of people who visit for conferences and advertising the classes through local lodges for visitors who don’t ski.

The three- or four-hour classes are usually priced at $35 or $40 and are taught by Schwartz and other experienced local chefs. The chefs often suggest substitutions for uncommon or high-cost ingredients so that students can personalize and economize their take-home recipes.

The college’s kitchen also has provided an outlet for locals who plan holiday or birthday parties, book club gatherings, or team-building and group-bonding events. The classes can even be set up as a competition so that teams are judged on how well they work together during cooking challenges.

Kim Graham, office manager at a Silverthorne landscape firm, said her company’s employee camaraderie improved after a fun night in the kitchen making appetizers, soups and stews.

“We were looking at a team-building experience … getting us all together, doing something fun and interacting with each other,” Graham said. “Everybody seemed to be having a really great time, lots of smiles. I think it was a good away-from-work chance to interact.”

Breckenridge art director Denise Dionne attended cooking classes with a book club and for a holiday gathering with her advertising and marketing agency.

“The class was a unique experience where you get to know the people you are cooking with in an intimate environment and you are learning something at the same time,” Dionne said.

Classes with an international flavor – including French, Italian and Thai – have been so popular that offerings were expanded into regional foods such as from Burgundy, Provence or Bordeaux. Companion noncredit classes have been created, too – for example, pairing a mushroom-gathering class with cooking using wild mushrooms.

Carney said she plans to keep taking classes because she likes “the beautiful kitchen, the wonderful recipes, meeting people and learning something every single time.”

“It’s just a wonderful atmosphere, and it’s just fun,” she said.


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