Beverly Press/Park Labrea News
February 12, 2004
Chef Eric Crowley studied at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, trained under European Master Chefs in Barcelona and Munich, and has taught culinary arts in Los Angeles since 1996. That impressive background is enough to intimidate any student who walks into his recently opened Culinary Classroom, but unlike the stereotypical image of the ranting mad chef demanding adulation for his creations, Crowley quickly lets people know he is all too human in the kitchen.
“I was recently making a product, tomato confit, in the kitchen, when I walked away for a few minutes and had a brain lock. When I went back to the oven, I’d carbonized the tomatoes,” he laughs. That quick humor and easy-going nature makes an excursion to Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom enjoyable for experienced chefs as well as the kitchen novice. “One of the things that separates me from others is I don’t go around acting like I’m a know-it-all in front of students,” he says. “If I can show students I’m not infallible and I make mistakes, it creates an even playing field [in the kitchen]. But when I tell them how to fix those mistakes, it makes them look up to me.”
Crowley’s journey to opening his own cooking school is a lesson in taking the long road home. Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley (his parents have had the same house for 40 years), Crowley was exposed to the creativity of his artist father and the cooking skills of his mother. He dropped out of his college music program because he wasn’t passionate about the saxophone, and worked as a glorified bill collector to pay his own. It wasn’t until a friend suggested he turn his love of cooking into a profession that the light bulb appeared and he found his course in life.
Working in restaurant kitchens for free, he gained enough experience to be accepted into the Culinary Institute of America in New York. From there it was off to Europe for two years for training under fire. “I went to Europe to get experience not only culturally, but food-wise. That’s really where the basics, the roots of all culinary arts are. That’s where it started,” he says. After nearly four years away, he finally returned to Los Angeles, and hasn’t looked back since. He’s taught everyone from well-known chefs to people who didn’t know a cucumber from a zucchini. Through it all, he’s gained a reputation of being a knowledgeable instructor that encourages questions (“There are no dumb questions,” Crowley repeatedly tells his students) and whose constant enthusiasm makes cooking fun for everyone. “People say they really like the atmosphere and my style. A lot of people said I have the patience of Job,” he says.
The classes range from months-long culinary chef’s classes, to a specialty class focusing on anything from basic knife skills, to garnishing, to easy “date night” dinners. Crowley is especially excited about his private classes, where birthday parties, families and friends come to the Culinary Classroom for three hours and learn the culinary arts together. In the specialty classes, students are given a brief introduction to the recipes and ingredients from the evening and are then assigned certain dishes to prepare. Crowley and his assistants are as available for help, or removed from interfering, as they need to be during the process. At the end of the class, everyone joins together for a sit-down sampling of the evening’s cuisine while imbibing a variety of wine.
Though it is only five months old, Culinary Classroom has received significant interest from law firms, movie studios and other businesses that are using specialty classes as team-building experiences. No matter whom he teaches, Crowley says his goals are always the same. “I most enjoy getting to share my experience with students that have that desire, that ‘burn’ as it’s called,” he says. “I like [motivating] students to learn as much as they can, to learn a new technique. To see a student’s eyes light up when they understand why you have to use a certain technique, that’s what I love about it. Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom is located at 2366 Pelham Ave., just off of Pico Boulevard 1 block east of Overland. For information, call (310)470-2640 or visit www.culinaryclassroom.com.
Robert L. Gard, Managing Editor, Beverly Press/Park Labrea News