Now You’re Cooking
Chef Jean-Pierre brings entertainment into the kitchen through his cooking classes.
Story by MARK BERMAN
In this classroom, there are no textbooks or exams. Instead of taking notes, students sip wine from elegant crystal glasses. Instead of a lectern, the teacher speaks from behind a broad countertop covered in bowls of fresh ingredients and sizzling pots and pans. And to review the material, the students are encouraged to eat what they study.
Chef Jean-Pierre Brehier, who never uses his last name and answers to “Chef,” glides behind the counter with the lighthearted grace. In each class, about two dozen students clutch clipboards with lists of ingredients and listen to the chef’s anecdotes and culinary tips. One minute, Jean-Pierre stresses the importance of keeping a clean kitchen; the next, he jokes about giving a piece of chicken breast he’s about to stuff with cheese and tomato “mozzarella implants.”
“We are a recreational cooking school — we teach the hobby of cooking,” says Jean-Pierre, who operates an eponymous cooking school in Fort Lauderdale. “We do not teach professional chefs. We only teach the people to cook at home.”
Florida has more than half a dozen professional culinary programs. But some chefs are now training people in recreational cooking, a rapidly growing field where trained chefs can teach their methods in entertaining sessions that seek to be as enjoyable as they are instructional.
Since opening Chef Jean-Pierre’s Cooking School in 1997, Jean-Pierre estimates he and the school have taught more than 14,000 students the “hobby of cooking.”
“Anyone can be a phenomenal cook,” says Jean-Pierre. “It doesn’t take a particular gift. You just need to understand the chemistry of the ingredients. There’s only one way to cut an onion.”
Working in the culinary field since he was a child, Jean-Pierre has followed in the footsteps of his mother, Yolande, also a trained chef.
“My first job, when I was 12 years old, was working in a butcher’s shop in France,” recalls Jean-Pierre.
The youngest of five children, he was born in the south of France and took on a number of cooking apprenticeships throughout his native land, where he continued to work until he opened up the Left Bank Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale in 1976. In 1997, he sold the restaurant, which folded two years later and is now an abandoned building housing stray cats, which he still visits to feed.
Jean-Pierre never planned on teaching, although it was something he’d always wanted to do.
Prior to opening the school, Jean-Pierre hosted his own cable television series on PBS, appeared on the “Today” show 28 times, and wrote a cookbook. He was testing recipes while working on a follow-up cookbook, and people wanted to watch him and learn, he said.