Anna Schuessler/Daily Journal
George Petroutsas and Michaela Clauss in the kitchen of their HomeChef Cooking School in San Carlos.
George Petroutsas and Michaela Clauss of San Carlos’ HomeChef Cooking Schools are forever students of the kitchen.
Seated on stools in one of HomeChef’s gleaming teaching kitchens, they tease each other about their mother’s influence on their cooking process.
“Do you hear your mom’s voice in your head when you’re cooking?” Petroutsas asks Clauss.
“Yes, all the time,” she laughs back. “When I find new recipes, I’m thinking ‘Mom, I have this recipe, what do you think?’”
Petroutsas, owner of HomeChef, grew up in the kitchen of his family’s restaurant in Watsonville. He learned how to cook for the masses from his father and how to finesse phyllo dough from his mother. Clauss, a chef and nutritionist, grew up at Lake Tahoe and developed an interest in her mother’s cooking from an early age.
Petroutsas and Clauss have been teaching adult students how to cook at HomeChef since they opened its doors eight months ago. The educational kitchen offers team-building classes, corporate challenge events and birthday cooking classes to its adult participants. This holiday season, Petroutsas and Clauss are teaming up for the second time to offer holiday cooking classes tailored for the aspiring teenage or kid chef.
Clauss, who leads HomeChef’s kids classes, welcomed her first class of younger students during HomeChef’s Kids Summer Camps in July. The classes were an instant hit, and spots filled up within days.
“We didn’t expect the kids program to become so popular,” she said.
Clauss makes minimal changes to her teaching style when she designs a course for kids. Because most of her younger students have had limited experience in the kitchen, she makes sure she introduces them to the basics, instructing students on washing their hands before they prepare food and taking precautions when working with and around a stove. She also works with kids to make sure they stay focused throughout the class.
“Reading the recipe with them is a big deal, it helps them read and stay on track,” she said. “It’s cool to see kids who are older help younger kids read recipes.”
Clauss applies her nutritionist background when she chooses recipes, making sure they are healthy, made from local ingredients and pique the imagination. Favorites include pizza, sushi and special requests such as avocado smoothies. Foods that students might not consider favorites, such as zucchini, transform under Clauss’ instruction.
“Fun names for recipes really helps,” she said. “Some students will come in and say, ‘I don’t like zucchini.’ But when we call zucchini noodles ‘zoodles,’ you see the same students say, ‘this is cool!’”
Many of HomeChef’s classes take advantage of its proximity to the San Carlos farmers’ market and HomeChef’s small garden in the back of the building. Clauss notices that students grow more excited to cook when they harvest the ingredients themselves.
“It’s fun to see them get involved with their food, really take ownership of it,” she said.
At the end of every class, student plates are judged by creativity, cleanliness and presentation. A winner is selected from each group. Instead of identifying the rest as losers, Clauss has learned that her kid students want to know who takes second place and they don’t like a draw.
“Kids do not like ties,” she said.
For both Clauss and Petroutsas, learning what gets their students interested in cooking is the reason they’ve chosen to teach instead of working in restaurants.
“This is really different from working in a restaurant,” said Clauss. “You’re not only cooking for them but you’re creating an experience for people.”
Petroutsas knew early on that he wanted to broaden the cooking experience and invite others to learn together and from each other. Before he opened HomeChef, he attended cooking classes at Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma to get a sense of the student experience.
“I was interested in the connection between the instructor and the students,” he said. “Are [the students] engaged? If they lose focus, how did [the instructor] reel them back in?”
It seems as though their instruction is sticking, inspiring some students to become teachers. Clauss has helped parents book team-building events after dropping their kids off at one of HomeChef’s pizza birthday parties.
“You see kids like to show their parents what they learned,” she said.
HomeChef classes for kids and teens are offered Dec. 19-22, Dec. 27-30 and Jan. 2-6. Visit homechefcookingschool.com for more information.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102