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Q&A with cooking instructor Jan Zita-Grover

Jan Zita Grover knows her way around the kitchen. She has been teaching Community Education cooking courses for over 3 decades. She blends her unique story telling ability with time tested recipes to create meals with heart and soul. We asked Jan to give us a closer look by answering a few questions for us!

When did you discover you passion for cooking?

 "I’ve been passionate about cooking since I was very young, but I didn’t really connect the dots, in the sense of realizing that my ardent interest in cooking as well as the history and cultures behind it all, should have pointed me in the direction of pursuing these interests as an occupation.

On the other hand, knowing as I did by the mid-1960s how passionate I felt about cooking, it may be just as well that I pursued an academic career instead. Professional kitchens weren’t exactly welcoming women with open arms back then, even in my native California."

 

Was there anyone in particular that inspired you to cook?

"My godmother did. She was a single professional woman in San Francisco, and she was a very ardent cook. As a small child, I accompanied her on the streetcar when we went from shop to shop, because she was very particular about her food purchases: she would only buy her lamb at one butcher shop, her fish at a certain fish store, and her poultry at another store, etc. She bought all of her coffee and tea at Freed & Freed, a coffee and spice merchant that had been in the city since the nineteenth century. 

These expeditions made a deep and lasting impression on me: I learned at a very early age that it was chiefly the quality of the ingredients you used that determined the outcome when you cooked with them."

 

Do you have any favorite “celebrity” chefs or cooking shows that you enjoy?

"I enjoyed the original seven series of the “Great British Bake-Off” (GBBO), mostly because it was such a kind show: the participants didn’t crow over other people‘s failures or kvell over their own successes. 

 The deepest level at which I enjoyed that show was its focus on home cooks. Most television shows about cooking celebrate restaurant chefs or mock home cooks, like Nailed It. GBBO instead celebrated home cooks, and that was a large part of its power. The judge Mary Berry, in particular, was thoughtful and helpful in her responses. 

 I’ve enjoyed some of the Marcus Samuelsson series “No Passport Required,” particularly the episodes about Viet home and restaurant cooks and fishermen in New Orleans and another on Mexican and Mexican-American cooks in Chicago. These were about the cultures of cooks. Most of us don’t learn to cook by watching television shows; we watch mostly to enlarge our awareness. Actual cooking calls for a different level of attention and entirely different skills than mere watching. " 

 

What is one thing that you would still like to learn how to cook?

"I’d like to make everything I already cook better than I presently do. 

For me, the loveliest thing about any craft, including cooking, is that by doing the same things repeatedly, you enlarge your skills and refine what you create. One of the things I observe in my classes is that many people, when they do not meet with notable success the first time they try a dish or a technique, simply set it aside and race on to something else. That’s not how people learn to acquire and polish a craft."

 

What do you like about teaching cooking courses with Community Education?

"I’ve been teaching community ed classes since 1986. I vastly prefer community ed to college and university teaching because everyone in a CE class is there voluntarily, eager to learn. And because the classes are modestly priced, they attract a wide variety of participants. That’s good for everyone. 

Community ed is the classroom analog to the immigration act passed by Congress in 1965, which for the first time accepted large numbers of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and South American immigrants to the US. That enlivened our country’s cultures, economy, and cooking. It has enlivened CE, too." 

 

Jan's take on a legendary Beet and Rhubarb salad recipe.

Yotam Ottolenghi's Beet & Rhubarb Salad (modified by Jan Zita Grover)

"This celebrated Israeli chef cooks in London, and it was there that he first tasted rhubarb, a northern vegetable, and sensed its possibilities. Ottolengthi's recipe calls for roasting the beets first, wrapped in aluminum foil, for 40–70 minutes. I've adapted his recipe to use thinly sliced, raw beets and radishes, combined with roasted rhubarb and other raw vegetables.

To make this salad visually dazzling, use golden beets, Chioggia beets, and watermelon radishes. Beets are much denser than radishes, so you'll want to slice the beets thinner than the radishes if you're using all of them raw."

 

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

​9 medium beets or beets and large radishes (watermelon, black Spanish), very thinly sliced on a mandoline, or roasted individually in aluminum foil at 425° F for 40–70 minutes

​7 stalks, or ¾ lb. of rhubarb cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces

​2½ tsp sugar

​2 tsp sherry vinegar

​2 tsp pomegranate molasses

​2 Tbs maple syrup

​2 Tbs olive oil 

​¼ tsp ground allspice

​1 small red onion, thinly sliced

​2/3 c flatleaf parsley leaves

​3½ oz Gorgonzola or other blue cheese

​salt and peppercorns

 

1. If roasting the beets, preheat oven to 425° F, wrap beets individually in aluminum foil, and roast on a baking sheet for 40–70 minutes, until thoroughly cooked. Set aside to cool, then peel and cut roughly into ¾-inch dice.

2. If using beets and radishes raw, slice very thinly on amandoline. 

3. Toss rhubarb with sugar, spread pieces onto small roasting pan lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper, and bake for roughly 12 minutes, until pieces have softened but not become mushy. Set aside to cool.

4. Combine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, maple syrup, olive oil, and allspice in a medium bowl with ½ tsp salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add onions and set aside for a few minutes so they can soften. Then add parsley and beets/radishes; stir well.

5. Just before serving, add blue cheese and rhubarb, along with rhubarb's juices. Mix gently with your hands and serve immediately.