How this food adventure all started…

Garlic Brandy Prawns

So, you curious about how I started teaching cooking classes? It wasn’t that long ago, 3 years ago to be exact. While this published in my weekly Tampa Bay Food Column food column in Tampa Tribune, I wanted to share the column with you guys here on the blog as well. The point of sharing how I started is because I know many of you would LOVE to have a food related career, whether it’s food writing, food photography, food blogging, teaching classes or maybe even owning your own restaurant. And hey, if I can do it without any formal culinary training (psssst…I’ve never even worked in a restaurant before either), anyone can.

Or, in other words, to borrow from great master, Martin Yan, “If Yan Jaden can cook! You can too!”

btw, in the paper, I’m limited to 650 words (which includes the recipe), and I have so much more to say than just these 650 words! So, first the text from the column, and then more from me afterwards:

My husband, Scott and I moved from the culinary epicenter of San Francisco to Florida about 5 years ago when we decided that the hour-long commute just to get to work 5 miles away was just insane. Visiting the Tampa area, we found three times the home for half the price AND neighbors who live more than 2 inches away? Sold.

Happy, happy, joy, joy until I started looking at area restaurants. Oh boy, was I disappointed.

You see, in San Fran, I was spoiled by the uber-ethnic eateries that dot every street corner. It’s the type of place that when you ask a local for a Chinese restaurant recommendation, he’d look at you for further clarification and ask, “Hong Kong, Sichuanese or Mongolian?”

From my new home, the closest Asian restaurant was a mile away, and it was called Bangkok Tokyo. One afternoon, while I stood waiting for my lunch to-go order of Red Chicken Curry and Steamed Jasmine Rice, I overheard a lady at the sushi bar talking quite loudly on her cell phone, “Hey Barbara, come meet me for lunch. I’m eating sushi at the Chinese restaurant.”


Excuse me, but the last time I checked, neither Bangkok nor Tokyo were in China. That’s kind of like calling Ceviche’s Tapas Bar a French restaurant! Do I really live in a place where all Asian ethnicities just get ignorantly lumped under Chinese?

I complained to Scott. I cried to my Mama on the phone. I wanted to move back to SF. And of course, Scott scolded me after the fourth straight day of whining, “Quit your bitching and do something about it.”

And so I did. I started teaching hands-on cooking classes featuring Asian cuisine for the home cook. I’ve always been a rock star in the kitchen, and it was easy to transition my cooking into a teaching format. I love it. I’ve found my calling. I’m meant to teach the difference between dark soy and light soy, to write about how to cook with a wok, and to rid the world of goopy brown sauce that coats every stir-fry I’ve had in town.

Yes. it’s true. I started my food career because of a silly conversation that I overhead at a restaurant. While I was really pissed off at first (ok, I was FURIOUS <– and what spurred that emotion is for another post) but I needed to find a way to turn that anger into something positive, something that would move us forward, not back. Dammit – I hate typing in italics. Anyways, Scott was right. There was no point in complaining, it’s not like we were going to pack our bags and move back to San Francisco because of a lack of restaurants! How lame would that be?!

So I worked it out with a small, local cooking school to teach a Chinese cooking class. OH BOY WAS I NERVOUS! For days leading up to the class, I went back and forth:

OMG! I’m teaching a cooking class!

Oh shit, I’m teaching a cooking class.

This will be fun!

Crap, I never went to culinary school – I have no cred. What if I suck?

But it was fabulous. And I loved it. More importantly, the students had a blast.

That first class was about 3 years ago. If you’d looove to explore a little more in the food world, I say, go for it! You can let yourself get consumed in excuses, or you can take that step and just do one thing every day to get you closer to what you want.

All I did was pick up the phone.

Garlic Brandy Shrimp

Life doesn’t get much better than a 15-minute shrimp stir-fry that features brandy and butter. My Mom always tells me, “hot wokky, no stickky.” And it’s true. Let your wok or pan heat up before you add any of your ingredients. Swirl the hot oil around a bit so that it coats the entire surface of the pan. If you wok is super-hot it will immediately sear the surface of your shrimp, which will prevent it from sticking. In this recipe, I fry the shrimp halfway in hot oil, remove and then add it back in when the sauce comes together to finish cooking through. This gives the shrimp a nicely seared surface with an incredible snappy texture, instead of just boiling away in the sauce. And, the bonus? No goopy brown sauce.

Serves 4 as part of multi-course meal.

1 lb raw tail-on shrimp, deveined
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbl butter
2 stalks green onion, cut into 2” pieces
1 tbl brandy
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbl cooking oil
Rinse shrimp, pat completely dry and marinate in cornstarch and 1/2 tsp kosher salt for 5 minutes. Heat your wok or large skillet over high heat. When wok is hot, add 2 tbl cooking oil. When oil is hot and just starting to smoke, add shrimp. Fry until they are half-done, approximately 1-2 minutes. Remove from wok, leaving the oil in the wok.
Turn heat to medium-high. Add the garlic, fry for 10 seconds. Add the brandy, salt, sugar, butter. Cook sauce for 1 minute to thicken slightly. Add the half-cooked shrimp and green onion. Fry until shrimp are cooked through, about 2 minutes (depends on size of your shrimp)

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Comments 56

  1. Jenn

    That looks yummy – and good for you for doing what you love! I wish I lived near you – I’d definitely take your classes!

  2. Claudia (cook eat FRET)

    i gotta say jaden, you’re a powerhouse of inspiration. and i need to start cooking more asian food.


    cause the chinese food in nashville SUCKS the big one BIG TIME!

    OK – no complaining allowed…

  3. amyjo smith

    wow – that was a quick jump – wish i knew how to cook…
    well, i, besides the dump and pour method (which actually works pretty well)
    great attitude to take – and awesome recipe (that camden can eat with rice noodles!)
    most of our asian restaurants suck too, the sushi bar place – i think it’s about as close to authentic as we’re going to get and they do pretty well at their mostly japanese menu – i think. i haven’t gone to japan, so i can’t say for sure – but i can say there’s no goopy brown sauce – and there IS a wide variety of vegetables presented.

  4. David

    I don’t know what it’s worth, but I’ve been seeing a “Cooking Show” under the “Free” section in Craigslist, for the Metro Detroit area.

    Maybe someone here can make use of it.

  5. Mike

    Another restaurant-deprived Floridian signing in! I think moving down here has been a big part of me getting into cooking–you can only take so much Chilis, Outback, etc before you just say enough is enough! And to top it off: there is also not a single food joint that will deliver to where I live which still blows my mind. It sounds like you did great things turning it around…at the moment, I’m happy doing the home-cooking/blog thing, but maybe one day I can take it to the next level like you have and its always uplifting to hear these kinds of success stories. 🙂 I think your next endeavor should be to come teach the people of Ocala a thing or two about real Asian food as well–trust me, they need help big time! :-/

  6. veron

    It’s funny how one gets started. I started food blogging because I thought I had so much to say about duck confit and chocolate. Now it has morphed into something else. I would love to start teaching too. I taught a chocolate class last year for charity and everyone had a blast. I can’t teach from my home and there aren’t much good cooking schools over here that have a great setup. That’s why I went to SF last year to check out Tante Marie…now that’s the kind of cooking school I want to open. Actually I’m going back to San Francisco next week for an Italian cooking class ….and go restaurant and patisserie hopping ;P.

  7. joanne

    Oh crap. I’m not as talented as you are. For me to quit whining would mean a better stocked Asian market closer to me. I’d probably do fatal injury to myself trying to teach a class.

  8. The Urban Eater

    Awesome words of advise, just pick up the phone. Too often, people are afraid to just ask and miss life changing oppurtunities. What’s the worse thing that could happen? They might say no? Ask again.
    BTW, got the card and it is sooooo cute! I love the boys signatures! Greg said he is happy he could give the boys gas.

  9. argus

    Hey, my story goes along similar lines — since I moved to Switzerland with no full-time job, I began cooking and baking and cooking, and gained some knowledge and skills in one-year-plus.

    Recently I taught two women how to make Roti Canai (Malaysian pan-fried bread), Prawn & Pineapple Curry and Chicken & Potato curry — all from scratch. Then I taught a Mexican-American woman how to make Oven-Roasted Chicken Wings Chinese-Style, Spicy Fried Rice and Chicken Rendang (dryish Malaysian curry). It’s a great feeling when your students come away happily having learnt a few things, made some delicious food and eaten it, too. ^_^

  10. Rasa Malaysia

    My story is somewhat similar…I wanted to share the beauty of Malaysian cuisines with the “western” worlds, and I wanted to document my family’s recipes…

    Now I just have to take that giant leap and be a Asian cuisines domestic diva!

  11. Deborah

    I think I would be so scared that I’d burn myself or start something on fire. I’m definitely not a person that should be up in front of other people!! Now if you could move to Utah – although you’d hate it even more since mostly all we have is Panda Express…

  12. Terry B

    One of the exciting things about life is the surprising turns it takes, especially if you’re open to change and even making it happen. Once when I said something about having ended up in advertising after doing other varied things, my wife said, “This isn’t where you ended up. It’s what you’re doing now.”

    It was a perfect moment and a lesson I remember often. I do love advertising, but I’m now much more open to the idea of “What’s next?”

  13. Banzai

    Rock ON!

    I love shrimp, unfortunately years ago I promised a friend I would only eat it on my birthday because of the way much of it is harvested (in the worst beds they destroy 40 lbs of other sea life for every pound of shrimp harvested). Yay for farm raised shrimp (however overfeeding to get larger shrimp sometimes also causes ecological problems).

    I have a friend who used to work as a stir fry cook (until being fired for being a large white man working in a thai restaurant – what can I say, this is Missouri) who gave me great pointers (but is deathly allergic to shrimp).

    Your blog is great and I look forward to checking it daily! 🙂

  14. Elaine

    I’m suffering from food poisoning from a bad piece of fish (not kidding) and nothing I eat stays in…but looking at your shrimp dish, it makes my churning stomach hungry. Oh the torture…now i feel like eating shrimps and 1) i have none 2) I know i can’t keep it in 3) I’m too sick to want to do any cooking

    Mehhhh….I would so crash your house for some food if i lived near you. Move to Montreal! 😛

  15. Tracy

    What a great post! I’ve been thinking about teaching cooking classes for years … I’ll keep trying to be a rock star in the kitchen (and in my band!) but when I feel ready I’ll look at your post for a push.

    My mom lives in Sarasota … next time I visit, I’m going to try to steal away for one of your classes!

  16. Cynthia

    How you got started is just another testimony of turning a complaint into a business and a successful business at that. I am fiercely proud of your courage, enthusiasm, energy and success.

  17. Melinda

    Love the how it all got started story. I think you are a natural born teacher and action wonder woman!
    I would have like to have trained as a pastry chef. But I am happy enough with my amateur status!

  18. Kristyn

    I just made the exact opposite move. Tampa, FL to San Francisco and I can’t believe you did the opposite! I am a little scared to try some of the multitudes of asian restaurants around town as everyone has stories and rumors about white meat being served that’s just a little too white (as in cat. like the one sitting next to me.) So spill! what were some of your favorites out here??

  19. chunky

    i lived in sanfo for awhile and i must say i don’t blame you for feeling soooooo sad about it- everything is great there, the weather the most. anyways, i would not bat an eye to move to florida if you will be my neighbor. no need for restaurant scouting or hopping…i kid, i kid…

  20. tigerfish

    Yup. Sometimes we need that goopy sauce but sometimes THIS will be just perfect!
    Talking about swirling the pan of hot oil, I need to buy a light quality pan or wok in future. I could not even lift up my wok for 5mins, not talk about swirling…ooooooo

  21. Jo

    Thanks for the inspiring write up. I also had a story to tell on how I become a full time cake deco instructor but I will leave this later. My next goal is to teach cooking class. Wish me luck!

  22. Micha

    Courage. That’s the secret ingredient! We moved to Tucson, AZ from Seattle a few years ago and have experienced the same foodie culture deprivation. I have definitely been doing a LOT more cooking since we’ve been here. Maybe I’ll make a similar leap. If only I could figure out where I put that courage…

  23. Toni

    My mouth is watering! I’ve never heard of marinating shrimp in cornstarch and kosher salt before, but I suspect it would make them even juicier. And then brandy and butter? Say no more! The only thing I would change would be to remove any shell from the shrimp. Unless it’s finger food, as in a shrimp cocktail, I prefer not to have to peel my shrimp after it’s been cooked!

  24. Carol

    I know you’ve told me how it all began for you before, Jaden, but it’s lovely to read about it again! As always, YOU ROCK! Love them juicy prawns!

  25. Sabine

    WTF, indeed–has anyone else read the nasty rant some Tampa Tribune reader posted about Jaden (click on the pic above of Jaden’s article in the paper, then scroll down)?!?!
    Girlfriend, don’t let the turkeys get you down. Or the uptight FL twats. Hey, maybe it was that lady “eating sushi at the chinese restaurant”!

  26. Donald

    Great advice Jaden! I think your skills with cooking complemented with your obvious energy and wit make cooking classes with you a blast.

    Yeah, WTF with the Tampa asshat who left that evil comment on the Tribune page? How foul! I almost registered to post a retort.

  27. argus

    Yes, that so-called ‘DrE’ is sick. He/She has no sense of humour.
    Listen, Jaden, don’t let it for a second get you down — ‘coz there are hundreds of your supporters out here versus that one detractor. We love your crazy, lovely sense of humour. And you really ARE hot! ^_^

  28. SteamyKitchen

    Hey guys! Thanks for all your comments! But don’t worry, sickly, racist pervs like him don’t deserve any attention at all…so just ignore his comment.

  29. AMS

    I was so enraged at “DrE” that I wrote a comment myself, then requested that the paper remove his diatribe. It has now been removed. I’m all for free speech (hey, I’m a lawyer!), but comment is one thing, ad hominem attack is something else.

  30. Amy

    It was awesome to read about how you got started! I think Tampa is definitely a better place because of you. Whooo goooo Jaden!

  31. Shankari

    Your story and mine sound similar. I started teaching cooking coz many thought that curry powder was the basis for the entire gamut of food from India:). Like you said I picked up the phone, and I am loving every moment of it. And guess where I moved from for this to happen?? Bay Area 🙂

  32. Nicole

    Our business partners in LA were mostly Asian. A few from mainland China, a few Hong Kong (oh, and one from Mexico to keep us Midwest white folk from feeling like the total minority). The diversity of culture was wonderful.

    Each month the owners took turns selecting a restaurant to eat at and I realized that until then, I wasn’t eating real Chinese food. They termed all the stuff we thought was Chinese food as “American Chinese Fast Food” and said the names “Panda” “Garden” and (get this) “China” in the title are dead giveaways.

    I got a genuine appreciation for good food as a result.

  33. Telegraph Hill

    Ok, I have half as much house inches from my neighbors, for three (four?, five?) times as much money, but I walk to work and cannot imagine not living in SF. Poor you!

    More to the point: I make a similar dish with tequila instead of brandy, lose the cornstarch, and finish with a shot of lime and cilantro. Trader Joe’s frozen shrimp are always in the freezer, tequila is always in the liquor cabinet, and — you’re right — dinner can always be ready in less than a half hour (I usually make some rice to go with it). Very good, and very impressive to a new guest.

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