Cuero's Cooking Depot offers tools, tips, classes
July 25, 2012 at 2:25 a.m.
Over a speaker in the back of the store, a chef explained the difference between using pecan and olive oil. In front of her, a small audience of women sat at tables set with silverware wrapped in cloth napkins, sharing whispers and laughter in between tips and jokes.
If there were a camera in the background, it might be mistaken for a television cooking show but, instead, it was one of the Cooking Depot's lunch cooking classes.
High above the cooking area, a mirror gave guests a bird's-eye view of what Chef Molly Fowler was cooking on the gas range. The eggs came to a soft scramble in her small, nonstick pan, and the combination of bell peppers and ham put off a faint, sweet but salty, aroma.
The class, "Lazy Day Brunch," combined a fresh salad, entree, dessert and even a cocktail for entertaining with friends or family on holidays.
Once a portion of the meal was complete, plates were served to the table guests so they could enjoy the finished product.
"Some of these women are fabulous cooks, everybody just needs new ideas," Fowler said. "It's not that we're teaching them something brand new. We're just giving them some new thoughts and suggestions."
Fowler described the cooking classes at the Cooking Depot as "safe environments where everyone can come and have fun." Each month offers a schedule of casual one-hour lunch sessions or the more intimate, two-hour sessions. In addition to offering the classes, Cooking Depot owner Annette Rath has a roster of chefs who rotate to give guests a variety of lessons and teaching styles.
Fowler, 59, who has been a part of the classes at the Cooking Depot for 11 years, tries to include different trends. It may not always include beef or chicken, she said, but it will always be something "educational and instructional."
"We have quite a few men who come out to the classes. If you're doing beef, the men will be there," she said.
Donna Hisey, of Gonzales, started coming to the classes, when they started in 2001.
"I always learn something new, and there are always neat projects," the 54-year-old said. She added that she is "just a mom" who enjoys cooking.
The walls in the Cooking Depot are stocked to the ceiling with utensils, pots, baking pans and helpful gadgets for the cook at home, no matter the level of expertise.
"The staff is so knowledgeable," she said. "They help direct you to get the best for the money you want to spend."
During her class, Fowler joked that she may not be able to retire if she continues to work at the Cooking Depot because she always finds something new for her kitchen in Houston. One item that caught her eye was a specially designed whisk for making sauces that has a nonstick and non-scratch coating on it.
"That's my downfall, I come here and I use it in my class," she said.
Kitchen essentials, according to Fowler, include sharp knives, quality pots and pans, a food processor and a stand mixer. Each item serves its own purpose and can make cooking less of a chore and more enjoyable.
During her class, she used her stand mixer to make a basil vinaigrette for the salad and explained to her audience that it makes it easier to ensure the oil and the vinegar are combined more thoroughly than mixing it by hand.
"I cannot live without my stand mixer," she said. "I use it for everything."
Living in Gonzales, where there are few restaurants, Hisey finds herself cooking at home and entertaining more with friends and family. During her visits to the Cooking Depot for classes, she said she finds something to buy.
"For a nonstick pan, the Swiss Diamond pans are worlds beyond anything else I've bought," she said. "This store is equally as good as Williams-Sonoma."
Whether the cook at home falls under the category of amateur or novice, the Cooking Depot has the right tools to make the task easier. Tammy Bitterly, who is in charge of sales and ordering at the Cooking Depot, tries to maintain a variety of items for all levels of cooks.
"We cater to the domestic cook, commercial cook and outdoor griller," she said. "We have the top-of-the-line cookware, but we also have really good everyday cookware for the everyday kitchen."
The Cooking Depot, which started as the Cuero-Yoakum Propane Gas Co. changed its name in 1999 when it started carrying more than just outdoor grilling equipment. Bitterly said the company started to expand its inventory to include more domestic cooking equipment when she and Rath noticed a demand in the community. No other retailer in the area was selling the tools and items vendors, commercial cooks and home cooks were looking for.
"We pride ourselves on teaching new cooking methods and how to use the gadgets that we carry in the store," she said.
Bitterly, 46, said the merchandise in the store is exclusive to the gourmet stores. She admitted she's not into the more intricate gadgets like other cooks are, but did say they can make things much easier.
"The two things I use at home more than anything in the whole store is my Messermeister knife and my flexible cutting boards," she said. "I use them probably every single day."