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Lake Geneva chef hopes to make cooking a ‘total experience’

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Kayla Bunge
September 27, 2009
— Chef John Bogan of the Lake Geneva School of Cooking gave participants a tip for the three hours that followed on a recent afternoon.

“Mise en place,” a French culinary term for “everything in place,” is an integral part of the cooking process, he said.


It involves selecting recipes, gathering ingredients, chopping vegetables, boiling water and setting the table and creating the ideal atmosphere for enjoying a meal with family or friends.


“There’s no one thing it means, really,” he said. “It’s always evolving. It’s a constant state of readiness.”


The participants were anxious. They had a lot to accomplish and a lot to learn.


Bogan divided the participants—five women, three men and a Gazette reporter—into three teams, one each for the first, second and third course of the luncheon. He laid out the ingredients, showed them how to properly hold a knife and explained how to assemble each dish. He also reminded them to not take themselves too seriously.


Cooking and eating are about celebrating, Bogan said.


A comfortable environment


The Lake Geneva School of Cooking, 727 Geneva St., offers classes for every skill level and level of interest. Some of the more popular classes include “Sunday Family Suppers,” in which families come together to create a casual dinner, and “Singles Night Out,” in which singles mingle with the help of food and wine. The school also does corporate team-building sessions, catering and private parties.


Bogan, a chef for more than 30 years, not only teaches participants culinary basics but also fosters a comfortable environment in which participants hone their creativity and newly acquired skills to transform ingredients into a meal.


“I treat the cooking school like my home,” he said. “We have the TV on. We have music going. We’re hangin’ out in the kitchen, celebrating.”


Bogan said a hands-on experience such as cooking forces people with different skills, tastes and attitudes to focus on nothing but the food. It’s either a recipe for disaster or a recipe for success, he said with a laugh, but it’s always interesting.


“You’re a team for sure,” he said. “You have to work together when you have that many people involved because, ultimately, we want to have great food when we’re done.”


Dominic Trumfio of Lake Como, who has known Bogan for many years and has participated in about a dozen classes at the cooking school, said the chef has a lot to do with the participants working together like a well-trained restaurant staff.


“He’s got the type of personality that can meld with people,” he said. “He’s just that type of person.”


Bogan said it’s just part of his job.


Giving 120 percent


Bob Day of Lake Geneva sliced a slab of smoked bacon into small chunks. I sliced dozens of cremini, shitake and oyster mushrooms into small pieces.


Bogan sidled up alongside us. He gave Day a pat on the back and dumped the pile of bacon into a sauté pan. He gave me a look of panic, explaining I was on a path to masking the shapes, textures and tastes of the vegetables by cutting them into tiny pieces.


“If you were to eat a forkful of this and breathe in, you want to feel all these things, taste all these flavors. You want to take a bite of this and know that’s a mushroom, know that’s a green bean,” he said. “That’s a sign of great food to me.”


“I want to give you 120 percent,” Bogan told said later. “If you’re cutting your onion wrong, I’m going to tell you and show you how to do it the right way, not because I want to tell you you’re doing something wrong, but because I want to give you 120 percent.”


Whole-body experience


Bogan strives to make cooking and eating an enjoyable experience for those who take classes at the Lake Geneva School of Cooking—a desire that stems from his childhood.


He spent a lot of time in the kitchen as a boy, cooking Sunday suppers with his grandmother and working six days a week at his uncle’s restaurant. He was drawn to cooking because it was a whole-body experience.


“I loved the sizzling. I loved the smells. I loved something as simple as cutting radish roses and putting them in cold water and watching them curl,” he said.


Bogan said cooking was an adventure. As a child, he relied on the kitchen, rather than video games, for entertainment.


“We didn’t have those things. We made our own things,” he said. “But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to cook.”


Bogan still treats the kitchen as his lab, and he encourages his cooking-school students to think in the same way.


“You’re creating things,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, and in the end, hopefully, you’re making people happy.”


Trumfio, after participating in about a dozen classes on everything from seafood to knife skills to Italian food, seemed to agree—although, he admitted, it’s hard to describe exactly what about cooking people enjoy so much.


“I guess it’s just one of those things,” he said. “It’s the beginning and the end. You go through it, you’re getting everything ready … you’re cooking everything, you’re plating everything … and then finally you’re eating. It’s just the total experience.”



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