Chop Screwy

Not everyone can be Julia Child. Some are destined to be hopeless in the kitchen, broiling when they should be braising, sautéing when they should be simmering.

Cooking classes aren't always the answer. Many seminars now are taught by celebrity chefs who want students to whip together such intimidating delicacies as shrimp-wrapped quail eggs with sweet chili sauce.

Salvation can be found at House of Rice, where people who are clueless about cuisine can learn the most basic of basics in friendly surroundings. Chef Chau Liaw hosts classes every few weeks, setting up school in the tiny kitchen in back of the Asian grocery store at Hayden and Osborn roads in Scottsdale. Periodically, a guest chef makes an appearance -- Restaurant Hapa's James McDevitt will be in the house in May (teaching that shrimp-quail thing), and Gregory Casale of Gregory's Grill is appearing in June.

But most of the time, Liaw is on her own, orchestrating a troop of a dozen students who, hopefully, won't hurt themselves too badly wandering around a cutting board. Basic skills? You're not kidding. A recent class -- aspiring to teach would-be chefs the secrets of "restaurant style" Chinese cooking -- quickly collapsed into a primer on elusive mysteries such as "What is a broiler pan?"

Liaw doesn't judge, although, at times, the agony is clearly evident on her face. She was in good spirits when one student whimpered that he couldn't cook Chinese food because he only had an electric range (a gas setup is not required for a wok, Liaw gently informed him). She hung tough when another student decried her use of "technical terms" such as "julienne." She flinched just a bit as the entire class erupted in confusion over "butterflying," and audibly sighed when several students demanded to know why the "toasted white sesame seeds" weren't white (uh, they're toasted).

Liaw's shoulders did visibly sag when a student chirped, "Gee, this is almost as good as KFC," digging into Liaw's fresh-from-the-fryer House Special chicken. And she had to leave the room for a moment when another attendee queried, "How can I make my teriyaki chicken taste just like Kyoto Bowl's?"

Hey, everybody needs to learn, and Liaw's classes are an excellent introduction to cooking. Even if, with a total of four dishes prepared over a two-hour class, several students kept calling out, "Ooh, what's that?" every time Liaw opened the oven to baste the teriyaki chicken.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet