Bridget Weis-Urban is a Chicago-area chef and owner of Cook from Scratch where she offers cooking classes that help people cook up great creations in their home kitchens using realistic, reusable ingredients. She follows the cooking principle that is far better to learn how to use a handful of fairly standard ingredients to create a variety of dishes than to learn how to cook one really fancy, complex dish from ingredients that you may not be able to easily find recipes for.
We hope you enjoy Bridget’s presentation, “Cooking by Design” where she talks about simplicity in cooking. The cooking process, like any design process, can start with fundamentals, and often some of the best results stem from focusing on the basics first!
Don’t forget to get your tickets for Prototypes, Process & Play on August 11th and 12th!
Chef & Owner, Cook from Scratch
Bridget Weis-Urbain is the Chef and owner of Cook from Scratch, where she offers a variety of cooking classes as an opportunity to help broaden people’s horizons in the kitchen. Her classes focus on techniques taught in culinary and pastry school; students become inspired as they see how realistic it is to apply these skills to most anything. This knowledge invites creativity and confidence in the kitchen for everyone! She’s been bringing cooking to individuals, parties, and corporate team activities since 1996. You can learn more about Bridget and Cook from Scratch at cookfromscratch.com.
Chef Bridget is simply the “Bridge” between professional and home chefs!
Cooking by Design
Deciding what to schlep on the dinner table can be a piece of cake-or a nightmare for a chef like me. I’m not one to plan ahead; I tend to cook based upon my mood, which can be based upon what’s going on around me the weather, what I’ve been influenced by on TV or in my life at any point in time, which means that where I decide to get my ingredients from changes quite frequently, as well!
Designing a menu for a client isn’t clearly an art of a formula, either—sure, “lactose-free” and “gluten intolerant” requests need to be taken into consideration. However, helping people understand what the foundational core ingredients of cooking are through well-planned cooking classes, can help people understand how to figure out what to cook based upon their moods, and their influences, and whatever else is going on in their worlds.
You won’t truly be a “Foodie” unless you’ve stood at your kitchen sink’s morning aftermath, closed your eyes, and while the hot water revives the gelatinous demi-glace blessed pans your soul speaks to your taste buds and says, “thank you, that was amazing!” The basics of cooking, like the basics of any other type of design, will lead you down your path to being great.
Ladies and gentlemen, Bridget.
I’m super excited to be here. Thank you very much for inviting me, Russ. I’m probably chosen to be the speaker today about simple cooking, because I’m a very simple person. In fact, I don’t have anything to put up here. I just have my sticky notes. So hopefully my sticky notes won’t fly away.
I am wearing a chef coat. I am a chef. I went to culinary school many years ago. And after culinary school I thought “Hmm, if I can cook, then everybody else can cook. And they can cook simple.” It’s a shame that so many people tend to doctor stuff up and put a can of this in it and a box of that. It’s just something that is too much. It’s too overwhelming and it’s something that we don’t have to deal with. I think quite frankly people are very complex to begin with. We don’t need to have a lot of complex things to distract us and irritate us and make you sick. So I’m here to share with you a few things about that.
But I also want to share a little bit about myself. I’m also a flight attendant. I’ve been in the airline industry about 25, 26, 27 years. So when I have a microphone on, I usually am talking about like “Fasten your seat belts” and “If the oxygen mask comes down.” You’re safe here. I know where the exists are, so we’re all good.
I’m a safety professional. I’ve got two kids: 10 and 11. And for years I’ve been saying “Be careful, be careful.” I’m a safety freak. I’m not a safety freak.
I’m a safety professional. And I am sharing what I know. And by golly, I am going to have a voice! So if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I like the interaction. I’ve been teaching classes for about 20 years. Next year it will be 20 years. So I am very up for questions and interactions. So feel free to raise your hand at any time.
I wanted to thank the previous speakers for getting you all charged up. I was in that green room, and I tell you oh my goodness I felt like Dr. Grandin was speaking to my soul. My soul didn’t want to shut up. She was fabulous. Everybody else was great!
As far as cooking goes, has anybody ever had a last‑minute company or something like that? And you wanted to prepare something to eat. And you looked in the fridge and the cupboard and there’s nothing there. Has that ever happened to anybody? Yeah? Okay, all right. It’s happened to me. I’m a chef and what do I do? I freak out! I freak out! And then I say a little prayer and I calm down and I look and I see okay, I have this. And I have this. And it’s what it’s going to be. You don’t have to have a recipe with a bunch of ingredients in it that you have to go searching around for. The tarragon or whatever. When I teach a class, I go to the store at the last minute before my class. If they don’t have the basil for my recipe, it wasn’t meant to be. Now I get to be creative! Maybe I’ll create a better recipe now. I’m creating the recipe, so it’s up to me anyway.
I’m kind of into whatever it is it’s supposed to be. I really believe in simplicity. It’s kind of like the Feng Shui thing. Rounded corners. It’s all about letting your subconscious not have to think. Careful! There’s a corner there. Walk further around it. If you don’t have all that stuff to look at, you don’t have to freak out and get all uptight. So I’m getting off track here. How much time do I have left? Oh my God? That was only five minutes?
Okay, as my husband said to me today when I was talking about gosh, I’ve got ten minutes to talk. What am I going to do? He’s like Bridget of being able to be the speaker. You get to gab!
I’m not in the kitchen today, but I’m wearing my chef coat. And I’m wearing any skinny Jeans, which is not appropriate in the kitchen whatsoever. I want to hear an answer. Does anybody know why – is this too loud or whatever? Why did they design chef pants to be really baggy? Does anybody know? And with elastic waistbands? I know. I want to know if you know.
If you spill, to prevent burns.
Exactly. The chef pant is really baggy. Those rapper pants or whatever.
I went to culinary school a LONG time ago. This is before all that rapper stuff and they were baggy. So when you spill hot liquid on you, you quickly pull it away from your skin. Especially like my goodness, heaven to Betsy if you spill a pan of grease when you were doing donuts. I heard we’re doing donuts later today. There should be a function with it. Not just oh, I think that’s pretty. To me, everything has to have a function. That’s why there’s big, fluffy pants.
And the waistbands are for all the chefs who aren’t sharing their food and they like to eat it themselves.
I like to have people cook in the kitchen with me. You’re going to look in the pantry and figure out what’s there and we’re going to cook together. I’m not just going to cook for you. Russ, I’m way off track. Are we okay? Sorry guys.
You’re completely fine.
I’m here to tell you I created Cook from Scratch Cooking School. I believe in three things as far as that goes. Quality, technique, and simplicity. And when I’m talking about quality, I’m referring to if I have just three ingredients in my house and you come for dinner and one of those ingredients is oil, that oil doesn’t have to be some $30 extra virgin – I do like that – virgin olive oil, first cold press. I want that oil not to be rancid. It could be the $3 bottle of olive oil that you got at Cost Plus World Market or whatever, but don’t let it be rancid. Smell your oil. Olive oil should smell buttery and smell like olives. But if you have a canola oil or a vegetable oil, open that up and if it’s got a scent to it, pitch it. Give it to my brother. Because my brother takes oil and he’s got this machine that he makes and sells and it’s biodiesel. Call my brother. Get yourself some good, fresh oil. It’s going to smell like what it should. So those three ingredients.
Here, I’m getting off track. That’s the quality. That’s what I’m talking about quality. Also the pans.
When you purchase pans, I had students ask me “Oh my goodness. What kind of pans should I get? They’ve got this big sale going on in this set.” You don’t need the set. You just get one or two pieces of good quality, good design. I like all clad. And All Clad thanks me with a big roasting pan for free because I do like them. And in that big roasting pan that I actually requested I called up and said “I would like to have this.” And I wasn’t afraid. And this was like back in 1990. And I wanted that All Clad pan because I wanted to show my students that not only can you roast your turkey in it and all that other stuff, but because you’ve got open space, if you want to make a nice gravy, the turkey gravy, or the Italian gravy that my mother‑in‑law makes and is beautiful, the quality, time, you’ve got the open space to let the air. To intensify the flavors. You’re going to get that cooking time that is going to evaporate all that water in there.
Are you guys with me? Do you understand what I’m talking about? Do you know? You know right when you have a good sauce and it’s been kind of cooking for a while. If not, come over to my house and my mother‑in‑law’s house. She’s got a good sauce.
Okay. So that’s the quality. Technique! The technique, I think I kind of covered that, as well. As far as having the right pan. Excuse me. The right pan. And learning the right technique. When I was on my way to the airport one day to work at Midway Airport at the time, I drove past the culinary school Chic, and it’s now Cordon Bleu.
I thought I wonder if they can tell me don’t crowd the pan with the meat. It will all fit in that pan. Why don’t crowd the pan with the meat? I only have so much time. I want to crowd that pan! So I made a little detour. Went to culinary school. I found out why you do not crowd the pan! Guaranteed that the’s wrong technique. There’s a reason for it. And if you want to e‑mail me, I’ll be happy to share that with you why you don’t want to crowd the pan.
Okay. So I have like four minutes and I want to also, I think I did kind of go into the simplicity part of that. You all got the feel that I really am a complex person, but simplicity is the way people should be designing. If I were a designer, that’s the way I would do it. That’s why I design my menus. When I design a menu for either my family parties or maybe for mostly my cooking classes, I design menus that are simple and not like, you know, “Oh yeah you can make this really quick. Do this one. You can make this ahead of time!” What I do is I design menus, I teach my students components. So I don’t want to have, um, everybody at the stove doing all kinds of like puddings and this and that, everything is at the stove. I design it so that when you’re in the kitchen and you’re at home and you’re entertaining, you are going to have a component that maybe you made a month ago with using tarragon that was in your garden and your shallots, and you mix it together with some lovely unsalted butter. I’m giving you a recipe for free. Shallots and unsalted, good quality butter.
And your tarragon or your fresh basil going crazy with this weather. Mince it all up and put it in little dollops on your cookie sheet. Compound butter. And then when you’re making a soup or gravy, toss it all in there. That’s one of your components. One of your three or four components that I would teach in a class.
And so that takes no time when you’re entertaining. That’s already been done. And then you’ve got time to pull out that pork chop or whatever and throw that on the grill. And then you’ve got your compound butter that will melt on top of it that will go with the lovely wine that your company brought. And pour that over your pork chop, and you’ve got a lovely dinner.
Twice baked potatoes. I’ve been teaching that for 20 years and I still love it. I have students who call me up and say gosh, we make that recipe all the time! Before I went to culinary school, I used to go to classes and have a lot of fun entertaining, you know, these cooking schools that are popping up everywhere. And I would enjoy it. I would love meeting the chef. I would love the food! I would look at the recipes and whew! It’s too much! It’s too much! Did I ever do it? No.
So when I teach a class, I’m passionate about bridging the, you know, the unknown with the simple known. It can be done very, very simply. In fact, my dream as a flight attendant before I retire, which I can actually retire right now if I would like, my dream is to walk through the cabin with maybe a tray or a basket of fresh, beautiful figs. If you haven’t had a fresh fig, shame on you. Go get yourself a fresh fig and right now they’re in season! And pick up a little prosciutto to go with it. Walk through the cabin with a basket of fresh figs that I can give to them. I got to tell you fresh figs and prosciutto are excellent. Or how about a soft boiled egg or a hard boiled egg with a really good quality tomato and some sea salt. It’s divine. Truly divine. If you’ve had a lot of complex foods and all that stuff. Try it. Your soul will be happy. You might really realize I don’t need all that stuff and you might be a little healthier, too. I bet I went over by a couple minutes, didn’t I? Shame on me.
You did. Shame on you. Figs for everybody. We’re going to take a quick break and start back with Hannah. Bridget, thank you very much.