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posted: 6/25/2013 6:00 AM

Cook of the Week: Online course helps working mom hone her skills

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  • Anne Gulotta honed her kitchen skills with the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy. She plans to brush up on baking next.

      Anne Gulotta honed her kitchen skills with the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy. She plans to brush up on baking next.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent

A full-time career as a bond trader and being a mom to two children, leaves Anne Gulotta little time to do much else. But her creative side beckoned.

"I do a lot of cerebral things. Part of me wanted to venture out and do something different, something a little more artistic," she said.

The North Barrington resident discovered a way to explore her passion for cooking even with her limited time. She enrolled in the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy, based in Hoffman Estates, which allows enthusiasts and those who want to become professionals to learn to cook without leaving the comfort of their kitchen.

"For someone as busy as I am but interested to learn cooking and master cooking, it was something I can do on my own time," she said.

Anne grew up watching her cost-conscious mom cook for her father. She remembers her mom making pierogies, borscht and stuffed cabbage, slowly cooking less expensive cuts of meat to make them tender and using fresh herbs to make dishes flavorful.

"Everything was done from scratch and was done from your head," she said.

At age 15, Anne discovered Julia Child and watched her on TV and paged through her cookbooks. She remembers making a chicken recipe for her college boyfriend.

"I made a dish from one of Julia Child's cookbooks, and I dropped it on the floor," Anne says with a laugh now.

Anne has taken numerous cooking classes and watched countless YouTube cooking videos over the years. Discovering the Escoffier program last July showed her she could advance her kitchen skills while balancing 13-hour work days. The program combines text with video demonstrations and online instruction with trained chefs.

"The nice thing about this class is if I made a mess in the kitchen no one was there to criticize," she said.

The program started with knife skills, such as how to use the knife and making cuts using vegetables and meats.

"I needed to cut 100 onions before I understood what dicing an onion properly was all about," she said.

By uploading photos and writing detailed accounts of what she completed, she said she had to convince the chef that she followed the steps properly.

Among the more challenging lessons was cooking eggs.

"I have so many pictures of eggs. I think I had to make fried eggs three or four times," she said.

She speaks proudly, though, of all she's accomplished from making basil and tarragon oils to chicken stocks and Reubens sandwiches. "It was the best Reuben I've ever had," she said.

She graduated last November and looking through photos gets her reminiscencing about all she's learned. She recalls the butterflied sauteed pork chop with mushroom, garlic wine sauce, she made, paired with potatoes and the spinach salad with mandarin and grapefruit.

"Looking back at these photos, I say to myself 'I can't believe I made that,'" she said. The program encouraged her to keep the right ingredients on hand and keep some spontaneity when cooking meals for family and friends. Having homemade stocks on hand was the foundation on which to make minestrone soup and clam chowder for the first time. Learning to saute, she makes quick one-pot stir fry on a busy weeknight.

"If you have the right ingredients on hand and use the creative process you can invent dishes as you go," she said.

Anne has set her sights on studying baking, next. And she plans to learn the same way, by keeping the computer close.

"What I love about cooking is you never stop learning, and I truly want to go to the next level," she said.

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