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Cooking 101

It doesn't take a professional chef to reveal what most of us can feel in our guts: After the holidays, lighter fare is in order.

But decades of cooking have shown Robert Gregson when it's time to get back to basics. So the certified executive chef and director of Medford Culinary Academy is kicking off 2007 with "Cooking for Dummies," a series of classes open to the community.

"It's probably been the number one request I've had," Gregson said of his planned courses in kitchen fundamentals.

"I thought it would be a good way to start off the new year."

After debuting last month with instruction on holiday hors d'oeuvres, Christmas cookies and yule logs, the community cooking series will pick up at a decidedly more pedestrian pace. Choosing and using knives; cutting up vegetables, shallots and herbs; and "fabricating" a chicken constitute the schedule.

His "Cooking for Dummies I" will give anyone squeamish over crunching through chicken bones the confidence to dismember a whole bird, Gregson said. Participants will learn to make stock from the bones, stuffed thighs and sauteed breasts, he added. Subsequent classes will repeat the theme with beef and fish.

"We're also including a lot of the local food products," Gregson said.

The Rogue Valley's growing food industry drew Gregson to the area last year from his former post as director of Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay. On the coast, Gregson said, he managed to always fill courses open to the public, a habit he hatched in 1989 while working in Florida.

In Medford, Gregson instituted an eight-month chef's training course sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, of which he is a member and accreditor. The school is housed in a 7,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Harvest Christian Academy School. Before opening in July, Gregson refurbished the facility's commercial kitchen and carved out a demonstration area, classroom space, resource library and a student-run restaurant.

Academy instructors Scott Gregson, Robert Gregson's grandson and fellow chef, and Jolene Petty, pastry chef at Ashland Bakery Cafe, will teach additional community courses. Because the school has fielded so many requests for baking classes, at least one will be offered each month, Gregson said.

February's classes will demystify Asian cooking techniques with help from Eagle Point resident Kathy Lystra. "Wok 101" is planned, along with a Hawaiian series building off Lystra's experiences at a vanilla plantation and with island seafood.

"It's innovative; it's what happening now," said Lystra, who also operates a small cooking school in her home.

Medford Culinary Academy holds community cooking classes Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 2330 N. Pacific Highway. Classes are $50 per person per session. Participants eat what they prepare. For a taste, try the following recipes.

Call 779-2266 to register or e-mail mcachefgregson@aol.com.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

RECIPE: Warm Scallop Salad

8 ounces mixed baby greens

4 strips bacon, finely diced

2 tablespoons light olive oil

8 ounces fresh bay or sea scallops (side muscle removed)

2 ounces julienned red bell pepper

2 ounces julinenned green bell pepper

2 ounces quartered button mushrooms

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 ounces balsamic vinegar

Arrange the salad greens on two large, chilled plates.

In a skillet, sweat the bacon in the oil until golden. Remove bacon pieces from the pan, reserving the oil. Saute the scallops in the bacon oil for 3 minutes. Add the vegetables and continue cooking until tender, being careful not to overcook the scallops. Season with salt and pepper and deglaze the pan with the vinegar.

Place the scallops and vegetables over the greens. Ladle warm pan-dressing over all. Serve immediately before the greens wilt.

Makes 2 servings.

Recipe courtesy of chef Robert Gregson, Medford Culinary Academy.

Chef Robert Gregson, right, works with student Tara Allison at Medford Culinary Academy. - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven