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ALL ABOUT FOOD:Mixing it up with culinary educators

Cooking teachers Tina Tiezzi and Debbie Hild have been neighbors and friends for 20 years. They met when Tina was working for Debbie’s husband Randy at Quiksilver. They soon discovered a common passion for cooking.

Tina, a Laguna native, learned to cook at her mother’s knee. Her mom was a great cook who took a lot of French cooking classes in the ‘60s. Tina still uses many of these recipes with contemporary updates.

Debbie learned to cook at her husband’s knee, since she couldn’t even boil water when they were first married.

Neither of these lovely ladies has been professionally trained but both have become excellent cooks, sharing their interest in food and constantly expanding their knowledge by endless perusal of Internet food sites and cooking magazines.

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Both have monumental stacks of back editions of Bon Appétit, Gourmet and Cook’s Illustrated that are often their bedtime reading. They love to tweak these recipes to make them their own.

After years of giving wonderful dinner parties for their friends and neighbors, they succumbed to the many requests for cooking lessons.

Two years ago they began Mix It Up, a series of small cooking classes, using only the finest ingredients and taught alternately in their tasteful and attractive Three Arch Bay homes.

They make a great team balancing each other’s strengths: Tina, the creative cook and Debbie, the talented organizer.

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Their first series had classes every Wednesday at 11a.m., lasting about two and a half hours and running for 12 weeks. The format has everyone seated next to the kitchen with a notebook containing the recipes and space for notes.

They are served the appetizer from the menu of the day to munch on while Tina and Debbie demonstrate its preparation.

Then, they prepare the other four courses as the students observe and take notes.

Everyone is then seated in the beautiful dining room, where the table has been set with linen, crystal, silver and china, and they feast on the delicious repast accompanied by an unlimited amount of wine.

The friends began without any real experience or knowledge of the business but learned by doing. One early problem was converting recipes for four into recipes for 14 or more.

“You cannot simply multiply," they say. “For example, our recipe for green chicken enchiladas would have required 18 serrano chilies." Their families became their guinea pigs but they also got to eat the yummy leftovers.

On one occasion, all the students were sitting at the table awaiting the entrée, but the larger quantity of chicken for the class took much longer to cook than their original recipe indicated.

Pretending to be busy, Tina and Debbie hid behind a plant frantically discussing what to do. The solution proved to be simple.

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They just kept pouring more wine until the chicken was done, and no one seemed to care.

As their reputation grew, a neighbor asked them to make a dozen coconut cupcakes for a dinner party she was having. It seemed like a simple request.

They baked the cupcakes with hours to spare and decided to plate them beautifully on a two-tiered glass cake stand, garnished elegantly with fresh flowers. All that remained was to deliver them.

Tina was taking them carefully out to the car when Debbie heard a crash followed by the sound of Tina crying. You can guess what had happened.

After a few frantic moments, they pulled themselves together and decided they had time to bake a new batch if they used a cake mix, much as this went against their high standards.

At this point they informed the neighbor and told her they would make everything right and wouldn’t charge her.

They still had the bottom of the glass cake stand so they plattered them beautifully once again. In hindsight, they both realized they should have packed them in a box and decorated them on site.

Same story, only this time Debbie dropped them, mostly all over her shirt. She was inconsolable.

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Now there really was no time so they jumped in the car and drove to an excellent bakery in Dana Point hoping to buy cupcakes. Alas, it was closed!

The only option they could think of was to get a coconut cake from the Cedar Creek Inn. They called ahead and the chef told them he had one but needed it for dinner. Debbie, sobbing, told him their sad story and he finally relented.

They delivered the cake in the nick of time and the hostess presented it as if it was homemade. She later reported one of her guests had said, “Gee, this tastes just like the cake at Cedar Creek."

Those early days involved a large learning curve, but now they’re pros, dealing confidently with the complexities of the food business.

Their second session was six classes every other week and included such interesting menus as: lemon herb goat cheese spread with crostini; soy wasabi tuna; ginger rice; sautéed edamame with caramelized shallots and a macadamia crusted cheesecake served with raspberry sauce.

This fall, there will be one class every month, leaving them time to work on a cookbook with the working title “Mix It Up in Laguna Beach" with menus, class recipes and Tina’s family recipes including her mother’s famous cioppino. Also on the agenda is branching out into catering. They can be reached at tina@tiezzi.net

Here is one of the recipes their students love.

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5 ounces room temperature goat cheese

2 ¼ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 ¼ teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

1 garlic clove, crushed

5 teaspoons of olive oil

ground black pepper to taste

toasted baguette slices, crackers or sliced raw vegetables

1. Place goat cheese in a small bowl

2. Mix thyme, lemon peel and garlic in another bowl. Add black pepper. Mix half of thyme mixture into the goat cheese. Add olive oil to remaining half of thyme mixture.

3. Form cheese into a two inch round. Flatten slightly and place in center of plate. Spoon oil-thyme mixture over cheese. Surround with bread, crackers or vegetables.


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