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Fire it up!

Ashland's food co-op is getting beefed up for community classes

ASHLAND ' Garden-fresh kale sizzles with olive oil, garlic and French sea salt as Mary Shaw tries out the kitchen at the Ashland Food Cooperative.

Isn't that pretty? says Shaw, as the greens glisten in the teaching mirror above her head.

A trial run Sunday marked the first time Shaw had fired up the center's gas range. If all goes well, however, the coordinator of The Community Oven, a new culinary and wellness program, will be as familiar with the co-op kitchen as with her own.

Shaw, 58, is the force behind an inaugural series of 40 cooking classes taught by 18 instructors scheduled to start Sept. 19.

A former whole foods instructor for Bastyr University, a health sciences school near Seattle, Shaw moved to Medford last winter.

She and her husband, a retired administrator for the Seattle parks district, were looking for a smaller community in which to settle.

To make herself feel at home, Shaw did two things: She planted a garden. And she talked Annie Hoy, director of community outreach for the co-op, into considering creating a cooking school.

Both projects have flourished, says Shaw. First, her fast-growing Southern Oregon garden produced a plethora of tomatoes and chilies unfamiliar in the misty north. Second, Hoy was responsive to the school.

Not that the concept was a hard sell, especially for Shaw, who led a similar project in Seattle.

For years, the co-op has offered cooking and wellness demonstrations and short classes. But as Hoy told members in a recent newsletter, there was no staff member to coordinate a larger effort.

Having Mary Shaw move here from the Puget Sound area this spring and want to help us develop a program was serendipitous, Hoy wrote.

Taught for now in the newly remodeled co-op kitchen, the cooking classes will center on fresh, healthful foods and easy ways to prepare them. The wellness classes will focus on topics ranging from hypoglycemia and menopause to holistic pet care.

The first priority is to have the classes be practical and to understand what's available in the co-op and how to use it, Shaw says.

Most classes are one-time sessions that run &

36;20 to &

36;25 for members and &

36;25 to &

36;30 for nonmembers. Class size will range from a minimum of eight to a maximum of 15.

Topics vary from Fish is the Dish, the first class taught by Shaw, to Dancing with Your Hormones taught by Christy Morrell, a longtime registered dietitian in Medford.

Teachers will include local chefs, caterers, food writers and health professionals.

Part of having such a wide variety is seeing what appeals, Shaw says. There's a lot of talent in this valley.

Despite sessions titled What to Do with Tofu and Vegetarian on the Go, the new classes aren't aimed only at the greens-and-granola set, Shaw says.

All classes focus on whole foods, but part of the education process is explaining what the concept means.

It means food that has had nothing added to it and nothing taken away, Shaw says. We're talking sirloin steak and fish. Many of the classes are not vegetarian.

Appealing to a wide range of students with a wide range of teachers and subjects is the key, Shaw says.

The co-op sessions are aimed at a new niche of foodies interested in education as well as a culinary experience, she says.

That's a good thing, say Allyson Holt and Catherine Moore, local businesswomen who've spent years offering local cooking classes.

Holt, owner of Allyson's in Ashland, says the co-op's new sessions won't necessarily compete with her extensive and well-attended series of cooking classes.

There's room for folks who want to emulate the latest Food Network entree and for those who want to know what to do with grains, she says.

The trend toward home cooking and home entertaining and the home and hearth ' that's a trend that going to continue, Holt says.

Moore, owner of Caterina's Trattoria restaurant in Jacksonville, concurs. Although she wasn't aware the classes were starting, she says the co-op backing could ensure a good start.

If the co-op is sponsoring it, it's possibly an educational focus about food and nutrition, she says. I love the co-op. The co-op is about being supported by the community and helping change the way they think about food.

For now, however, Shaw is concentrating on getting the first sessions up and running, a challenge a little like cooking a big meal.

It's really like making eight stews at once, with all the different contents, Shaw says.

Sept. 19, The Community Oven will be ready to serve.

For more information or a brochure of classes with biographies of area teachers, call Shaw at 482-2237, Ext. 309.

Mary Shaw, organizer of a new cooking school on the lower level of Ashland Community Food Store has enlisted the help of many local culinary experts to help with a diverse curriculum of classes. Courses begin Sept. 19. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman