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)