Arlington, VA

(Updated at 2 p.m.) Arlington’s culinary school La Cocina is planning to add a cafe and a business incubator — as well as triple the number of students it teaches.

The bilingual non-profit donates healthy meals and trains Hispanic immigrants for culinary jobs. But now La Cocina is planning to move from the basement of a church near Ballston to a 5,000-square-foot space in the affordable Gilliam Place housing development at 3507 Columbia Pike, where the organization’s CEO and Founder Patricia Funegra says La Cocina will help residents cook up new businesses.

“We call it the zero-barriers training and entrepreneurship center,” Funegra told ARLnow today. “The new center will triple our capacity.”

For the last two years, she said she’s worked to raise money ($2.5 million so far) for the new space where La Cocina will continue training residents for culinary jobs — but also rent out its kitchen space and offer micro-lending to low-income entrepreneurs looking to start their own food businesses.

Funegra says the plan is also to launch a “pop-up cafe” with space for 40 seats where these burgeoning business owners can sell their offerings.

Also planned for the new space is an in-house catering business to help pull in revenue for the nonprofit.

The kitchen space itself will include six to eight prep tables and industrial ovens, fridges, and a walk-in freezer. All together, she hopes to quadruple the number of students a year from around 30 to 120.

“We are moving from a workforce development nonprofit in the food service to becoming producer of food,” Funegra said of the ambitious plans. “So there is some learning process we are going through as well.”

Funegra also hopes the new location on Columbia Pike will also allow Cocina to better reach low-income individuals who need access to healthy meals. She said the organization’s existing food donation program has given out 12,000 such meals, but they hope to give out 40,000 in the new location thanks to the bigger space and larger staff.

Currently, Cocina employs six full-time staffers. It now plans to hire another six come January, including cooks, a manager of operations for the cafe and catering service, and a social worker.

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Ballston Quarter just opened another culinary business, but this time it isn’t a restaurant.

The newly-renovated mall welcomed Cookology Culinary School last week to its third floor.

Cookology fills a 6,000-square-foot space with rows of stainless steel counters, sinks, bright orange mixing machines, and a large wooden table placed by a white board.

The culinary classroom hosted its first lectures this weekend, according to press releases, and taught participants to make a range of recipes from Honey Meringue and Macaroons to Spinach Fritters and Baba Ganoush.

This week, Cookology’s lists courses in sushi-making, Paleo meal-prepping, and a 5-week class called “Basic Culinary Boot Camp.” Prices range from $75 to $425 per person.

Ballston Quarter is the second location for the culinary school, which first opened in Dulles Town Circle ten years ago, according to its website.

Cookology was closed on Monday when this reporter visited, but contractors at the location confirmed to ARLnow the space had hosted events this weekend and was open for business.

The cooking classroom is the latest in a series of openings at the Ballston mall this year.

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At a ceremony in Arlington Thursday evening, ten students graduated from La Cocina, a bilingual culinary school for the unemployed or underemployed.

The culinary job training program holds classes for 12 weeks. The students then complete a four week paid internship at different hotels and restaurants.

The majority of students, 85 percent, graduate with a job at a local restaurant or hotel. Employers of program graduates include Washington’s Sfoglina restaurant, National Harbor’s MGM Casino and supermarket chain Wegmans. La Cocina has a partnership with 30 businesses, which take on program graduates.

Current La Cocina students are all Latino immigrants from across Central and South America. The program is hoping to soon expand its student body to include refugees, military veterans, and non-Latino immigrants.

This graduation marks almost 100 program graduates over 11 graduating classes since its inception in 2014. Patricia Funegra, La Cocina’s founder and CEO, was inspired after volunteering in 2012 at DC Central Kitchen, which trains low-income people for cooking careers.

“I just fell in love with the model and how the program was transforming lives, but at the same time I thought, ‘Oh my god Latinos are already in kitchens and they are not receiving this training,” said Funegra.

The graduates receive three certificates degrees after completing the program —  in culinary arts workforce development from Northern Virginia Community College, in food safety from the National Restaurant Association, and in food allergy prevention.

Students walked into their graduation ceremony at Ballston’s Mount Olivet Methodist Church to Pharrell’s “Happy” before listening to speeches that touched on the importance of hard work and perseverance.

“It wasn’t easy for you to get here,” said Daniela Hurtado, La Cocina’s program manager. “Each of you had a goal, each of you had a vision, and you gave it your best.”

One graduate, Jose Cordova, originally from Peru, shared his experience at La Cocina during the ceremony.

“Standing up every morning and coming here was hard,” he said. “But we [did not] give excuses and we are not to give it now nor ever.”

For Cordova, who will be working at Crystal City’s Hyatt Regency hotel, the classroom became his home and the professors were like family.

Another graduate, Luisa Gil, who was born in Honduras but immigrated to the United States nine months ago, feels very connected to the other students in the program. She told ARLnow.com that she’s excited to start a new challenge as a Sfoglina chef.

“Everyday I have to learn many, many things. I have to be at the same level as my coworkers, improving my skills and learning or discovering new ingredients and techniques,” Gil said.

The ceremony concluded with a reception of American, Mexican and Peruvian food made by the 12th class in the program. Throughout the program, as food is prepared and graded, it is boxed up and donated to shelters and affordable housing units.

“It’s kind of a circle of sustainability using those resources to feed our neighbors in need,” said Funegra.

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(Updated at 5:25 p.m.) Local chefs walked away with big wins at a charity cooking competition in Clarendon last night.

The Arlington County Fire Department’s finest firehouse cooks faced off against three groups of local professional chefs in a reality TV-style cooking competition where the competitors had 25 minutes to whip up dishes using only ingredients found in the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s pantries.

Judges Scott Brodbeck of ARLnow.com, Becky Krystal of the Washington Post and Chef George Pagonis of Kapnos Taverna sampled each dish before choosing a winner of the round by ringing a large bell, signaling a vote for the firefighters, or putting on a chef’s hat. Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery served as emcee for the night.

At the end of the night, the local chefs walked away from the Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd) with two of the coveted “Golden Eggplant” awards.

Arlington County Fire Department’s Lt. Romulius Queen and firefighter Frank Rachal took home the first “Golden Eggplant” of the night with their Southern Style Fried Chicken topped with a homemade barbecue sauce and accompanied by a zucchini pasta with a thai peanut and ginger sauce. All three judges rang the bell.

“That fried chicken, he really nailed it,” Pagonis said.

Queen and Rachal beat out SER Restaurant chef and co-owner Josu Zubikarai, who made Rulada chicken ragout with mushrooms and spicy vegetables.

It was Queen’s first time competing in AFAC’s Chiefs vs. Chefs event.

“It feels good to go home with a trophy instead of going home crying,” he said.

Chef Tom Madrecki of Chez le Commis took home the second “Eggplant” with his caramelized onion soup with buttermilk, accompanied by homemade bread with butter. He earned the votes of two out of the three judges for his simple but flavorful soup.

Cooking with only the food in AFAC’s pantry was a challenge, Madrecki said.

“It’s reflective of what thousands of Arlington families have to do every day, so it’s very rewarding,” he said.

Facing off against ACFD’s finest brought its own difficulties as the firefighters were both skilled chefs and have a connection to the community, Madrecki said. Votes for the firefighters were applauded by the crowd, whereas votes for the chefs were greeted by good-natured boos.

“We’re the underdogs as the chef because they’re the ones out in the community everyday,” he said. “They’re the ones protecting us so it’s an honor to cook with them.”

Cooking is part of the firehouse lifestyle, said Acting Chief Joesph Reshetar, adding that the firefighters often try out new dishes on their coworkers.

“The firehouse is where they experiment,” he said. “If you can please us, if you can please a group of people, you know you’re on to something.”

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Chiefs v. Chefs logo (via AFAC)Three firefighters will see if they can handle the heat in the kitchen as they take on three local chefs in an annual cooking competition and fundraiser in Clarendon.

The Chiefs v. Chefs 4: Too Hot to Handle challenges chefs and firefighters to cook three courses using ingredients found in the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s pantry. The competition will be held from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd) on Oct. 28.

“Pick your favorite team and watch three of the area’s most scintillating chefs go toe-to-toe with three of Arlington’s hottest firehouse cooks in a three-course throw-down! This infamous on-stage battle is on fire as each team tries to impress our panel of judges and set their taste buds ablaze,” AFAC said in a press release.

This year, Chef Josu Zubikarai of SER Restaurant, Chef Tom Madrecki of Chez le Commis and Chef Jesus Guzman from the U.S. Navy will take on three different firefighters. The competitors will battle to impress judges Chef George Pagonis of Kapnos Taverna, Becky Krystal from the Washington Post and Scott Brodbeck of ARLnow.com to win the “Golden Eggplant.”

“This competition is going to be a challenge, but it’s nothing like the one faced every day by hundreds of Arlington residents. It’s on us to raise awareness and help AFAC continue to deliver positive results in our local community. As a chef, what better way to do that than to show the judges how you can transform commonplace ingredients into something interesting, complex and unique,” Madrecki said in a statement. “It’s going to be an uphill battle against the chiefs, but no matter the results, the real winner will be Arlington families who need greater access to nutritious food.”

Tickets for the competition start at $100, with a package of two tickets selling for $175. Proceeds will go to helping AFAC feed Arlington families.

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Kitchen sinkArlington County is reminding residents to avoid pouring fats, oils and grease down their drains.

In advance of the holiday season, the county’s Department of Environmental Services sent out an email reminder to community listservs warning that dumping fats, oils and grease (FOG) down the sink could cause harm to the county’s sanitation system when the substances solidify.

Cooking oil, fat, butter, margarine, shortening and food scraps could all potentially damage sewer lines and the environment, according to DES.

“When FOG is dumped down the drain, it forms large, thick grease balls that clog our sewer pipes,” Watershed Outreach Program Manager Aileen Winquist wrote in the email. “Clogged pipes can result in sewage backups and spills, flooding homes and businesses, causing environmental problems and traffic tie-ups.”

A sewage line clog was blamed for the sewage backup that flooded the Harris Teeter near Potomac Yard, though the exact cause of the clog has not been revealed.

To help avoid backups, Winquist advised residents to pour grease into metal trash cans, wipe down dishes with paper towels and to clean drains “by pouring 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by ½ cup vinegar. Wait 10 to 15 minutes and then rinse with hot water.”

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Restaurant Talk is an occasional feature written by Nick Freshman, a native Arlingtonian and co-owner of Spider Kelly’s and Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon. Photos added by ARLnow.com.

Rabbit restaurant in ClarendonSometimes people ask me: How can I cook like a pro? How can I make my food taste more like food that I eat in restaurants that I love?

There are certainly some tips you can take home that will improve your cooking, but it is important to note that technique will not replicate that amazing meal you had last week. Nor will the exact recipe, or even the top of the line commercial equipment in your kitchen (though that really helps).

The fact is that your meal was made wonderful by much more than the food. Eating out is as contextual as any experience — it is all about the moment. It was the setting, your mood, your companion and many other things that worked together in concert with the food to make the meal special. That is why we go out, and it can’t be copied at home. Home is for different moments.

Okay, having got that out of the way, let me also throw this one out to you: I did not go to culinary school, and thus I am not a trained chef. I have spent plenty of time ‘behind the line’ in professional kitchens, but I am not a pro. I know how to cook, however, and I know what to look for in food. I also ran these ideas by the real pros that I work with for their approval before I submitted them. Given those disclaimers, take this advice for what you think it is worth.

These are some simple tips and strategies that should help your cooking at home. The most important tip I have is that the more you can approach cooking without anxiety or fear, the better your food will taste. Many people see recipes as intimidating and hosting as nerve-racking. I can guarantee you it comes out in your food. The more fun you have and the more relaxed you are, the more sumptuous your meal will be. Many chefs and cooks chose this line of work because it is their passion. It isn’t ridiculous to suggest that their passion as much as their expertise is what makes their food taste so good.

More Heat

Kitchen fire at Cafe Asia in RosslynI cannot walk by the range in my kitchen when my wife is cooking without dialing up the burner. Whatever it is set at, it should always be higher. She used to put in the oil and the vegetables in the cold pan and then turn on the burner. Now she heats the pan, adds the oil and waits until it is hot. I hear it sizzle and pop, and I know dinner will be good.

Many home cooks are too tentative with temperature. Life in a restaurant is always hot; 350 is a minimum, 500 is lots of fun. Of course, there is simmering, slow cooking and baking, but most of your food benefited from a red hot skillet, grill or pot. Heat makes flavor — not only do you get that wonderful texture from a charred steak, but the marking also enhances the flavor tremendously.

Smoke in your kitchen is a good thing. Next time you ‘cook’ a chicken breast, try ‘searing’ it first: Turn the burner up and wait for the oil to almost start smoking. Drop in the chicken and listen to that sound. You’ll never go back. Just turn on the fan or open a window.

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Normally around this time of year, readers and watchers of local news are bombarded with warnings about the dangers of turkey fryers. Those dangers still exist — see below — but the Arlington County Fire Department says there’s another Thanksgiving danger that often goes un-publicized: distracted cooking.

“Burnt food or food on the stove calls are more frequent than turkey fryer incidents,” ACFD spokesman Capt. Gregg Karl told ARLnow.com. “Distracted cooking is hazardous.”

Distracted cooking leads to almost daily fire-related calls to houses and apartment buildings in Arlington. Most food-on-the-stove calls just result in lots of smoke or minor fires that are quickly extinguished, but some can lead to full-scale fires.

The department offered the following cooking safety tips for the holidays and beyond.

Don’t be distracted while cooking. Guests and other distractions can take your attention from cooking which could result in a fire or injury. Don’t leave any cooking unattended.

Wear short sleeves or fitted sleeves. Loose fitting sleeves can contact heat sources and catch fire.

Turn pot and pan handles away from the stoves edge to prevent burns and scalds.

If you are going to fry a turkey follow all recommendations by the manufacturer for the fryer. Do not use the fryer on a deck or close to a residence.

Have a “kid free zone” 3 feet around the stove or areas where cooking is being done. Keeping the children away will help prevent burn and scald injuries.

On the inevitable topic of turkey fryers, Karl cautioned against a new indoor turkey fryer that seems safer than the traditional kind, but which is susceptible to the same fire hazards.

Karl said the popular Butterball Indoor Electric Turkey Fryer, seen in the video below, can still cause a fire if overfilled with oil.

“We do not believe they are any more or less hazardous than a regular deep fat fryer,” he said. “The same risks still exist frying a turkey indoors or outdoors. We ask people read the manufacturers recommendations and be certain the turkey is completely thawed before frying.”

“We wish everybody a safe Thanksgiving,” Karl added.

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Morning Notes

Paws to Read Coming to Cherrydale — Paws to Read, a program that allows children to practice their reading skills by reading books aloud to dogs, is making its debut at the Cherrydale Branch Library next month. The ‘Paws’ dogs will be at Cherrydale the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 10 and for one Saturday each month afterward. The program is intended for children from K-5. [Arlington Public Library]

Controversy for Fmr. Arlington Official — Former Arlington Deputy County Manager Kenneth Chandler has resigned as City Manager of Portsmouth, Va. The resignation came as the city council was preparing to fire him for the bungling of the resignation of the city’s former fire chief. [Virginian-Pilot]

Resident Pens Va. Tech Cookbook — Krista Gallagher, a Pentagon City resident, has co-written a recently-published cookbook for Virginia Tech alumni. The book, “A Taste of Virginia Tech,” compiles recipes from various restaurants around Blacksburg. Gallagher will participate in a book signing event at Bailey’s Pub and Grille in Ballston (4238 Wilson Blvd) at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8, before the nationally-televised Virginia Tech-Florida State football game. [A Taste of Virginia Tech]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

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The Whole Foods Market in Clarendon (2700 Wilson Blvd) is gearing up for another year of free cooking classes with in-house chef Michael Kiss.

On the menu for January are two vegetarian classes and a how-to for curried lamb. The classes are held from 7:00 to 7:45 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Seating is limited. Interested cooks are asked to reserve a spot by emailing michael.kiss[at]wholefoods.com with the subject line “Cooking Class.”

See the list of January classes after the jump.

Flickr pool photo by Erin Johnson

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