Although we regularly share the Fullerton Arboretum‘s events on our Facebook page, like many, we had never actually been. So, it gave us good reason and great anticipation when Evelyn Brown, their Education Program Manager, agreed to have us cover one of their “Thursdays in the Kitchen” culinary classes.

Upon arriving on the picturesque grounds, albeit  just over the wall of Cal State Fullerton, it felt like an idyllic, rural locale. Verdant foliage grew all around; the air smelled distinctively cleaner; and a cobbled pathway led us to our destination. In true French fashion, we were welcomed with a complimentary glass of wine; one that would be refilled attentively throughout the evening.


Contrary to our preconceived notion of a classroom setting with podium and folding chairs, we entered a fairly spacious and pristine professional kitchen outfitted very efficiently. A U-shaped chrome countertop configuration afforded an unobstructed view of everything that was to be prepared. Introduced to us were the two Jonathans leading the cooking sessions. Jonathan Duffy Davis is the Arboretum’s resident biologist, head farmer and cook. He manages the three-acre farm that produces many of the ingredients used during this series. Jonathan Dye, local chef and Williams-Sonoma‘s culinary expert, has been teaching cooking classes throughout Southern California for the past decade. He is passionate about food and community and how the two intersect.

Duffy Davis gave the small congregation an overview of all the produce they cultivate, sans pesticides and handled with tender loving care. For color and as representation, a modest harvest of the Arboretum’s seasonal bounty was displayed on the prep table. Like a proud parent, Duffy Davis proceeded to show off his babies: prime specimens of romanesco and cauliflower; a coterie of citrus fruits; and fragrant bundles of fresh herbs.


Dye then started off the class in reverse order of the courses. Since it would require the most time to cook, the first instruction was that of the traditional French Coq au Vin. Several tips and techniques were given on marinating the chicken; simplifying the mies en place; getting a good sear on the meat; and the integral art of deglazing. We learned that a rough peel and chop on the vegetables was more than adequate as they were only being used as flavor enhancers and would ultimately be strained out of the final product.

Next on the roster was the Potato and Celery Root Gratin. It was explained that for those not familiar, celery root tastes faintly like celery, but has a texture similar to the potato, thereby rendering the two complementary to each other. It was during this cooking process that Dye’s definitive Paula Deen moment came as copious amounts of butter, cream and cheese went into swathing the hearty tuber vegetables. After all, a good rule of thumb is that indulgence in moderation goes a long way.

The Mache and Roasted Beet Salad was then assembled as Dye expounded on the characteristic of the mache over other types of lettuce as having a sweet, nutty flavor. He also mildly admonished anyone who didn’t find favor with beets and surmised that it was likely due to them having eaten them from a tin. Sacre bleu! The simple method of roasting beets was demonstrated and many took note never to use the can opener again.

With two hours having already transpired, and the tantalizing aroma of the Coq au Vin and the Potato and Celery Root Gratin wreaking havoc on our olfactory and salivary glands, the volunteer crew was cued to commence plating. As this was happening, the dessert course, Julia Child’s Best Chocolate Mousse was being whipped up, literally. Note that the eggs used here are not fully cooked, so take care whom you serve this to (no one very young, old, or pregnant) or use a pasteurized egg product that is suitable for whipping.

We must happily warn everyone that unlike other cooking classes where they dole out mere tasting samples, at “Thursdays in the Kitchen” you are feted with a generous, full dinner from the entire menu.


Mache and Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts: Roasted beets and haricots vert on baby mache, crowned with walnuts and roquefert and drizzled with a mildly tart walnut oil vinaigrette. The beets and haricots vert make the salad nutritious enough to justify all of the hedonism of the ensuing courses.

Potato and Celery Root Gratin: Unfortunately, we had to leave the class briefly for another engagement and did not get any photos of this creamy casserole topped with bubbly cheese. Suffice to say that just a wee dollop of this side was comfort food at its best, highlighted with fresh, chopped thyme and chives.


Classic Coq au Vin: Coq au Vin (literally “rooster in red wine”) with its rich red wine sauce; browned pieces of tender chicken and lardons; pearl onions and mushroom garniture makes for a rustic, yet elegant meal. It tastes even better the day after when all its elements have time to steep together. Different types of red wine or brandy can be used depending on what flavor you want to impart.


Best Chocolate Mouuse: Culinary doyenne, the legendary Julia Child describes this mousse recipe as one of the best. You will probably use all of your mixing bowls for this, but it will be absolutely worth it when you and/or your guests die from ecstasy. It yields a great texture, having just the right balance of air and rich flavor. The little espresso shot that went into this mousse results in a truly exquisite dessert.

“Thursdays In The Kitchen” explores the gourmet side of seasonal and locally sourced food. Classes are conducted by renowned Orange County chefs, farmers and food experts and utilize Arboretum-grown ingredients whenever possible.

Participants have a front row seat to clever preparations of a variety of edible delights and up-close gastronomic lessons from Jonathan Dye, Jonathan Duffy Davis and Alicia Hitchcock. Wine, snacks and dinner, in the form of the menu being taught, are provided during each class. Currently scheduled through the end of March, the Arboretum hopes to continue the series through summer, with a new set of menus.

For more information on Thursdays in the Kitchen visit Recipes from the series can soon be found on


Fullerton Arboretum
1900 Associated Rd  Fullerton, CA 92831
(657) 278-3407

Photography by: Brian Feinzimer of Feinzimer Photography.

Corky Nepomuceno

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