By Karin Marriott, MSJC
Buckwheat blinis with smoked salmon. Wild mushroom turkey roulade with cranberry coulis. Buche de Noel. These are among the delights students are learning to prepare in Martha Culbertson’s cooking classes through Mt. San Jacinto College.
Culbertson, whose classes are offered through MSJC’s Continuing Education Department, studied under several master chefs, including her longtime friend Julia Child. Students from all over southwest Riverside County sign up for the classes.
Dee Freiman of Canyon Lake, who has been studying Culbertson’s cooking style for more than 20 years, said she enjoys the classes.
“She’s quite amazing,” Freiman said. “I never fail to learn something new, an easier way to do something or a new technique.”
Culbertson learned her skills from chefs like Child, famous for introducing French cuisine to the American public, and Diana Kennedy, renowned author of several books on traditional Mexican cooking.
Culbertson met Child in 1981 at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, while attending a week-long "Great Chefs" cooking course. Later, they served together on the American Institute of Food and Wine.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Child would stay at Culbertson's then Fallbrook home, whenever she had meetings to attend in the San Diego area. Culbertson prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for Child on several occasions, but never felt intimidated.
"I didn't even think about it much," Culbertson said. "She was a gentle soul, not at all critical. Her philosophy was that if you make a mistake, you grin and bear it and never apologize."
Culbertson now shares her collection of recipes and her cooking secrets in classes offered by MSJC’s Continuing Education program. Classes are currently held in the kitchen of Masía de Yabar Vineyard & Winery in Temecula, where students can sample wine during the short class break.
Rhonda Dixon, coordinator of Continuing Education & Workplace Training, said Culbertson’s classes frequently get high praise.
“I hear from students all the time about how much they love Martha’s classes,” Dixon said. “That is a testament Martha’s skills and to the quality of instructors and programs MSJC’s Continuing Education offers.”
Culbertson offers explanations and tips as she demonstrates her cooking techniques. During the class, she often tells anecdotes about the food she’s tasted in other countries and stories about the master chefs who taught her the techniques she’s now sharing with others.
“She’s a born teacher. She has that special way of making it interesting,” said Murrieta resident Audrey Cilurzo, another one of Culbertson’s longtime students.
Cilurzo said she has fun in Culbertson’s French cooking classes, but her favorites are those featuring Italian cuisine.
“My husband is Italian. I’ve enjoyed being able to go home and wow him with a meal,” Cilurzo said.
Anique Mautner of Temecula was a first-time student in Culberton’s French Holiday Cooking class earlier this month. She took notes as Culbertson prepared the blinis with smoked salmon and turkey roulade with cranberry coulis, and buche de Noel, a traditional Yule log cake decorated with meringue mushrooms.
Mautner said it was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season, and she plans to attend two more of Culbertson’s holiday cooking classes this semester.
Culbertson’s classes will move to Fantasy Kitchen in Temecula next year. Courses she plans to offer during the college’s spring semester will include a four-class series and eight individual classes focusing on food from her many travels.
Cuisines will include Australian, Cajun, Santa Fe-style New Mexican, Indonesian and more, she said.
For more information on the cooking and other classes offered through MSJC, visit the web site at www.msjc.edu or contact the Continuing Education Department at 951-487-3711.