Cooking Classes and Practical Skills

Underwater basket weaving may not be a class offered at the University of San Diego, but cooking classes taught by a Food Network chef are.

Just before spring break, USD Auxiliary Services opened registration for a series of free cooking classes hosted by celebrity chef Penny Davidi. Davidi has been featured on several cooking shows, including Food Network Star, Chopped All Stars, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Kitchen Inferno.

[Photos Courtesy of USD Dining Services]

Davidi is well-known in the food industry and serves as a culinary specialist, culinary consultant, and chef ambassador to several renowned brands.

Registration for the classes reached capacity less than two hours after it became available to students and faculty.

Loryn Johnson, Marketing Director for Auxiliary Services, was surprised that the classes filled so quickly.

“We knew people would be interested, but we didn’t realize it would be quite so popular,” Johnson said.


Johnson explained that USD’s partnership with U.S. Foods created the cooking class series.

“[U.S. Foods] has been one of our primary food vendors for several years now, and we wanted to do a cooking class series for some time, but it can be difficult to get going when we have the other operations to run,” Johnson said. “They are providing us with the chef talent, and then we are responsible for bringing the food and organizing the event.”

The six-part series will cover a variety of ingredients and dishes, ranging from grains and omelets to smoothies and comfort foods, and will be held during dead hours in Pavilion Dining.

Johnson explained that the choice in menu was largely inspired by Davidi’s background in and passion for Middle Eastern food.

“We wanted the classes to have somewhat of a healthy component,” Johnson said. “We also know that the whole Mediterranean style of eating is pretty healthy and popular these days. That’s kind of [Chef Penny’s] specialty, and she proposed a variety of classes to us ranging from grains to smoothies to comfort foods.”

Davidi’s menu combines classic combinations with healthy twists. The introduction class covered a variety of grains, ranging from quinoa and farro to couscous and wheat berry. Subsequent classes, which run through May 18, will cover other dishes including egg white omelets, burgers, pot roast, brussel sprouts, and macaroni and cheese.

Johnson also emphasized that the series is a great way for students to learn more about cooking and practice putting together a balanced dish.

“[The series] was first opened up to the students because they are the primary audience that we wanted to take advantage of this, especially students who don’t know how to cook or feel that they could improve their skills,” Johnson said.

Junior Amanda Ennis  attended the first class in the series.

“I do feel like I learned quite a bit about the grains,” Ennis said. “It was nice to learn about their textures and flavors and what kinds of add-ins went well with them.”

Ennis registered for the class to learn more about cooking and expand her skills.

“I have always enjoyed baking, but have not ever been the biggest fan of cooking,” Ennis said. “I think the class [was] very helpful and fun. There really is no recipe for the things we [made], you [got] to choose what you add into your dish. The USD chefs [were] very helpful in aiding us in getting any dishes we need or suggesting different pairings and such.”

As college students take on greater independence, some skills formerly taught by home economics classes can be lost in the transition away from dependence on parents or guardians.

Senior Claire Flynn didn’t have the option to take a home economics class in high school.

[Photos Courtesy of USD Dining Services]

“There was one day my senior year of high school where they taught us how to balance a check, but there weren’t any course offerings,” Flynn said. “I learned how to cook from my parents, and, once I got to college, I learned by trial and error.”

Flynn doesn’t feel that she is graduating with a strong sense of how to complete typical adult tasks.  

“For people who are in the business school, some of their classes teach them how to manage finances and such,” Flynn said. “As a sociology and environmental sciences student, I don’t get the same instruction. I don’t know much about things like what health care I need or how to negotiate a salary, but I’ll probably learn it when I’m approached with the situation.”

This skill set disparity even prompted two women to create The Adulting School in Portland, Maine in 2016. The online program has instructional modules that include Finances, Make it/Fix it, Relationships & Community, and Health & Wellness.  Some classes are offered through local workshops in Portland.

“Come here instead of calling your parents,” the website said.

Flynn noted that she and many other students would benefit from workshops or other opportunities that USD could provide.

“It would be cool to have some kind of workshop to learn life skills,” Flynn said.

Though Auxiliary Services does not currently offer other resources for students to learn cooking skills, Johnson encouraged students to talk to campus chefs about their experiences.

“I always think in Pavilion Dining that it’s a good idea to chat with the chefs, especially if there is a certain type of food that they’re making that you’re interested in,” Johnson said. “[The chefs] always like to talk about their craft, and we recommend that, if students are interested, they can strike up a conversation with our chefs.”



Written by Kelly Kennedy, Feature Editor