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Ethnic Bounty : The Hunger for Exotic Foods Is Met by Stores Offering Conch, Tofu and Jicama and by Classes in How to Cook Them : Cooking: Budding gourmets used to have few avenues to develop their talents. A variety of classes exists today, many with an emphasis on health.

January 25, 1990|ROBERTA G. WAX

Nearly 25 years ago, students who wanted to escape the monotony of meat and potatoes could take just one class at Everywoman's Village in Van Nuys: "gourmet" cooking.

Today, a food aficionado can sign up for classes that feature sushi; Italian, Indonesian, Chinese and Spanish pastas; and hors d'oeuvres from Thailand, Greece, Indonesia and China.

"Classes have changed with the times," said Cindy Hochberg, program director for Everywoman's Village.

When the nonprofit center opened in 1963, "the Dynamics of Nutrition" was the only thing on the schedule that resembled a cooking class.

The gourmet class was added in 1966; Chinese cooking came in 1969, and in 1973 "Haute Cuisine of the World" included Italian, Asian and Austro-Hungarian dishes. Mukimono-- Japanese food carving--was a hit in 1981.

Jewish cooking and cooking with herbs and spices were added in 1982, and a year later there was a pasta class on the schedule.

"There is definitely more interest today in cooking ethnic foods," said writer and teacher Cecilia DeCastro. For example, "People find Oriental foods interesting because of the new ingredients, and they find it lighter in taste and in calories."

Teachers say Valley cooking classes typically have 10 to 15 students and are frequently full. A majority of the students are women between the ages of 30 and 40, although at Cal State Northridge, classes are now almost evenly divided between men and women, said a university spokesman.

Prices for these classes range from $30 for one class on "Pasta, Pasta, Pasta" at Everywoman's Village to $48 for a three-part Chinese cooking course at the Learning Tree in Chatsworth to $600 for UCLA's 10-lesson Professional Cooking Techniques, Part 1.

Teachers report that tours of ethnic food markets are big draws. In some of her classes, DeCastro takes students to downtown's Central Market and to Asian groceries downtown and on the Westside.

"Cooking ethnic has almost become American," said cooking teacher Tomi Ryan.

Ryan and other experts agree that many people have turned to ethnic foods--especially Asian dishes--because they believe such cooking is not only a change of pace, but healthful as well.

Steve Victor, a cooking instructor at the Healing Arts Center in Van Nuys and author of "The Lighthearted Vegetarian Gourmet Cookbook," said interest in ethnic cooking classes is growing "because many other cultures have healthier diets, and people are finding they can eat exciting, interesting, jazzy food that is still good for them."

Janet Campbell, a program specialist at the Learning Tree, said Chinese cooking is popular among students, and DeCastro said Filipino food is gaining a following, particularly varieties of egg rolls; noodle dishes such as bansid ; adobo, a dish made of chicken or pork sauteed in garlic, cracked pepper and other spices; and soups such as sinigang, which is soured with tamarind.

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