Chef Annette Gallardo had a worried look on her face as she watched four senior boys from Palos Verdes High School stroll into her “Everything Chicken” class in Redondo Beach last Thursday night.
But when Aaron Richland, Clayton Smith, Brooks Hawkins and Marco Giovino turned out to be foodies at heart—perhaps even "Top Chefs" in the making—the South Bay School of Cooking matriarch was elated.
“I was a bit nervous,” Gallardo, 53, admitted. “I’ve had high schools kids show up in the past and sometimes they are immature. These kids were so mature!” That two of the young men demonstrated considerable cooking savvy also impressed her, she said, but it didn't surprise her.
“Many young people are into food and food TV shows,” the teacher-chef said, adding, "The main viewership for food networks is male—teens through older adults.”
Five of Gallardo’s six students last Thursday night were male, including Hendrik Rouwenhorst, who was given the cooking class by his wife, Alba, as an anniversary gift. The Holland-born Rouwenhorst, who moved to Portuguese Bend 30 years ago, repeated the sentiment echoed by all: “I love to cook!”
Aaron Richland, 18, said he had been “talking about taking a cooking class” for a long time, and that he cooks “quesadillas and stuff” at home.
An indication of how seriously Brooks Hawkins, 17, took his culinary lesson came when he said, “I wish I had a pen.”
Hawkins, whose mother is a professional chef, wanted to take notes, even though Gallardo had provided each participant with detailed recipes for each of the four dishes she planned to demonstrate: Herb Roasted Chicken, Chicken Cacciatore, Chicken Tandoori and Balsamic Glazed Chicken.
Naturally, the cooking teacher had a bowl of pens handy.
Gallardo, a pastry chef by profession, bubbled over with culinary information that can’t be found in recipes. For example, she neither peeled garlic cloves before tossing them inside a raw chicken cavity nor onions—she just cut them in half.
“Why peel them; you’re not going to eat them,” she stated with characteristic bravado as she snuggled half an unpeeled golden onion inside a chicken carcass. “Besides, the (skins) add flavor.”
Gallardo, who started her South Bay School of Cooking in Manhattan Beach in 2003, teaches in what she calls a “communal” style, meaning everyone helps in the preparation of each recipe.
“If we’re going to chop onions, we’re all going to chop onions,” she told the assembled. “Once everything’s done, we clear everything off the table, and we sit down and eat family style.”
The first recipe on the block, Herb Roasted Chicken, required Gallardo’s “secret seasoning,” what she calls her “Mojo.”
"I never brine in water," she said. She recommends a dry brine instead, one made from kosher salt, lemon zest and chopped fresh rosemary leaves. “Now it’s not a secret!” she chirped.
Gathering rosemary from the pantry with the help of her kitchen assistant, Chelsea Thompson, the teacher started tossing (literally) a sprig of the herb to each of her students, who awaited their tasks before individual chopping boards: “Here, you take one, you take one, you take one…”
Fresh herbs, she said, make all the difference in the world. "You’re not going to get the flavor from dry, dead herbs."
1950s retro touches
In her present digs on Artesia Boulevard near Aviation, where the school transplanted in 2010, Gallardo has created a warm, welcoming space centered by an enormous stainless steel table and outfitted with the latest kitchen equipment.
More than that, her kitchen, with its 1950s retro touches (an old Thermador range, reissued Formica splash board, “Spice” red cabinets), reflects memories of her childhood, especially the huge posters decorating the walls. Blown up from illustrations from the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, the posters depict cozy family cooking scenes and charts of "useful" utensils and cuts of meat.
“These are hilarious, really,” Gallardo said, her round face all smiles as she indicates the Lamb Chart and a cut of meat described as a Mock Duck Roast. “They’ve taken a leg of lamb with a shank and somehow split the shank so it looks like a duck.”
Still, the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook was a source of delight to her as a child, she said, inspiring her earliest ideas about the creativity and the “adventure” of cooking.
Dreams of becoming a chef derived from her parents, primarily her father, Leo Gallardo, a waiter, maitre d’ and sommelier in the hotel and restaurant industry. He learned to cook as a “table-side waiter” in Hollywood, the city where Annette was born and raised, she said.
“In the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s (some waiters had) carts that had, I don’t know if it was propane, but there was flame, and they would cook table-side,” she explained.
From lamb’s head to tripe
At home, the family conversation revolved around food, wine was always served, (a small amount even to the children), and menus were rich in Continental cuisine: Crêpes Suzette, fancy pastas, frogs legs, escargot. “But then my father also cooked some really rustic food, what he grew up with,” she added.
"Rustic" meant anything from lamb’s head to tripe.
“My dad was born in a boxcar in a winery,” explained Gallardo, who was told precious little about her grandparents, other than that her grandfather emigrated from Spain to Madera, Calif., where he worked in a winery. “Back in early 1900s, they didn’t have trailers for workers, (so) they used abandoned boxcars for housing.”
Gallardo’s mother, florist Marga Decker-Gallardo, was German. The two met in Beverly Hills, Gallardo said, and “lived quite the high life. She made all these wonderful artisan breads, and all these holiday foods and sweets.”
That partly explains why Gallardo first made a name for herself as a pastry chef. Other than several classes at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, however, she never went to culinary school, an industry phenomenon that didn’t explode until recent years.
Instead, the ebullient chef apprenticed in fine hotels and restaurants (Tulipe, 72 Market Street, Le Bel Age Hotel), where she honed her skills under the auspices of some of the “great” European chefs—something she feels “extremely fortunate” to have done.
“The ‘80s was a real growth period,” Gallardo said. “That’s when Wolfgang Puck was really on top, the first Ma Maison restaurant (appeared in Hollywood), that whole culinary boom. That’s when I started.”
Dessert for the Queen of England
One of her first jobs was at the Los Angeles Music Center Pavilion Restaurant, where she helped prepare dessert for the Queen of England at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Queen wanted a “something light” for dessert, the chef said. “So we came up with lemon sorbet in the lemon husk and plates of various little dainty cookies.”
Gallardo came to the South Bay in 1986, after being hired as a pastry chef at the Radisson Hotel (now the Marriott) on Rosecrans Avenue in Manhattan Beach. But after 12 years in the business, when pastry chefs became less and less in demand, she turned to work as a massage therapist.
The rise of massage parlors ultimately ended that career as well, and she returned to her first love: cooking.
“The whole time I was doing massage, the heart strings were being tugged about food,” said Gallardo, who continued to make wedding cakes “here and there” and write recipe columns (Easy Reader and Two Forks Up!). She describes writing as “dancing with verbs.”
Gallardo, who is divorced and has no children, also survived a bout of uterine cancer, grateful for the support of the Cancer Support Community - Redondo Beach.
Her professional “turning point” came during a cooking class she and a pal took for fun: “The whole time I was there, I kept thinking to myself, ‘I could be doing this.’”
Lacking financing, Gallardo had to figure out how. “I started by going to people’s houses and doing cooking class parties," she said. "Then after the fourth one, I said, ‘I have to get a kitchen. I can’t do this anymore.’”
The School of Cooking ended up in the back of the Neptunian Club in Manhattan Beach. The school was “completely hidden with no signage and no parking,” she said. “It was just a miracle I was able to build the business.”
In Redondo, Gallardo offers classes for kids and adults, ranging from “Artisan Breadmaking” to “Cooking French: Discovering Julia.”
Her breezy manner is ripe with tips and spiced with humor. When demonstrating how to remove the leaves from a sprig of rosemary, for example, she made a little trilling sound.
The class, focused on denuding the rosemary, was utterly silent, to which Gallardo declares, “You have to make that same (trilling) noise!”
A few trills arise.
“If I say ‘Right’, you say, ‘Yes, right!’”
Or when commenting that “boneless, flavorless, skinless chicken breasts get very boring very quickly,” she added, “Right?” Silence. “If I say ‘Right’, you say, ‘Yes, right!’”
The Palos Verdes seniors laughed as they replied in unison, “Right!”
“I’ve found out through the years that although people come to learn, they also need to be entertained,” Gallardo said later, admitting she enjoys being a ham.
The objective, she said, is to create a “no-pressure space” where people can relax, have fun, and learn something. “After I figured out that people really just want to feel okay about themselves, I realized I could feel okay being myself. So the teaching became my stage—a place where I could crack myself up and the class as well.”
Since Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, there was a lot of turkey talk.
Aaron Richland, for example, laid out his plans to cook a whole turkey for his family. “I fill it with lemons, oranges, all the seasonings,” the PV High senior said.
“Personally,” Gallardo said, “I love whole chicken roasted, but I don’t like whole turkey roasted. Hard to get it right, takes too long, and not a lot of edible parts. Legs have too much ligaments, and everyone wants white meat.”
Although she is teaching two traditional Thanksgiving dinner classes (Thanksgiving 101) this weekend, she prefers a non-traditional turkey dinner.
For the latter class (“Modern Thanksgiving”) she roasts a “boneless turkey breast with a light stuffing of onion, dried cranberries and apricots,” she said. “The stuffing is pin-wheeled into the turkey breast, and when you slice it you have this beautiful pinwheel of dried fruits and stuffing.”
(The “Modern Thanksgiving” class is on Friday evening, and “Thanksgiving 101” is on Saturday and Sunday, plus “Holiday Pies” the following weekend. Most of the classes run $79.)
Clayton Smith later said he "had a lot of fun" in the class, and Brooks Hawkins, who said he has been "cooking for years," wants to go a more professional route.
At least one of the participants definitely intends to come back. “Annette was great,” Hendrik Rouwenhorst said. “I look forward to the next class." And he intends to bring his wife.
The South Bay School of Cooking is located at 1951 Artesia Blvd. in North Redondo Beach. For more information on classes, visit Gallardo’s website at southbayschoolofcooking.com or call 310-350-3772.