Chef John Evenhuis strives to make complex recipes accessible in his courses and provide instructions for preparing dishes that are not easily found here.
“We’re trying to bring new tastes to the valley,” said Evenhuis, the instructor for culinary education courses at Trovare in Whitefish.
During a recent class, the focus was on helping students make kimchi, a Korean dish made from fermented vegetables known for its bright red color. Kimchi is also known among its devotees for being hard to find in the Flathead Valley, and the team at Trovare is trying to remedy that dilemma with its cooking classes.
Julie and Mallory Hickethier, the mother-daughter duo behind Trovare, the gourmet culinary shop, began offering cooking classes in the back of their store shortly after it opened in 2019. Covid-19 has suspended courses but the first practical courses were selected to resume in early 2022 and they had an immediately popular start. The few courses that were offered in January were quickly booked up after the schedule was published.
A February class focuses on an evening of authentic Italian home cooking, while another Valentine’s Day themed evening is all about cooking the perfect steak and ending the meal with a romantic chocolate dessert.
PARTICIPANTS ARE limited to 12 per class, and they say they are drawn to Trovare’s clinics for a variety of reasons. But one of the most consistent of these reasons is the chef himself.
Manda Warren, a student at a recent course, said she returned to Trovare after one of the courses in the fall because she was so enthusiastic about Evenhuis’s teaching.
“He’s fantastic,” Warren said. “His personality, his presentation, everything.”
“It’s great that Trovare is offering these courses,” she added.
Evenhuis himself is unlikely to be qualified to lead the course at Trovare, which describes itself as ‘a culinary adventure’. Although Evenhuis has taken on the role of teaching others the ins and outs of the kitchen, the chef himself never received any formal culinary training. Evenhuis is a self-taught chef from California.
There Evenhuis was immersed in Silicon Valley at a young age. First his father worked in the technology sector, and then Evenhuis followed in his footsteps as a technology salesman. When not in the Trovare kitchen, Evenhuis still works remotely for IBM.
But the importance of cooking was instilled in Evenhuis over generations, particularly through the influence of his grandmother “Billie Joe”.
“She was my inspiration,” Evenhuis told the recently assembled class. “Cooking was family for her. It was what spawned civilizations.”
Although Evenhuis eventually abandoned his grandmother’s traditional southern cooking style, he still carries her memory with him as he stands over the stove. It was her urges that prompted Evenhuis to take up cooking as a teenager to impress girls, a decision that helped Evenhuis win his first girlfriend. The success of this endeavor inspired him to continue honing his craft until he felt qualified not only to cook for himself, but to pass his knowledge on to others.
EVENHUIS HAS a few principles he sticks to no matter what he cooks. One of his principles is to use your own intuition to tailor the recipe rather than following strict instructions. He encourages the participants of the Trovare courses to be free in their approach and to free themselves from certain guidelines.
“Use your imagination and your own taste,” he urged.
Evenhuis’ other guiding principle is simple: “Are you having fun?” he keeps asking.
Despite his light-hearted approach, Evenhuis has a masterful grasp of complicated and unfamiliar foods.
He knows which soy sauce goes best with which dish from 83 different options, and he has the ability to expertly incorporate intimidating ingredients like salted freshwater krill into his kimchi.
“You want a balance of sweet, savory, spicy and funky,” Evenhuis said of preparing kimchi in a range of dishes, including pancakes, pork belly cups and fried rice.
Evenhuis also happily accepts the challenge of teaching unusual meals using ingredients found in the Flathead Valley. He relies on vendors like 406 Chop Shop and World Spice Merchants for many of his ingredients.
“I use whatever you can get in the valley,” he insisted.
These efforts have paid off for students on a recent course like Paul and Elise Val Valkenburg. The couple tried to make their own kimchi without instruction because Paul had tried the dish in Korea, but they couldn’t figure out the exact ingredients or the right mixing ratios. They were excited about the opportunity to perfect their technique under Evenhuis.
But culinary art is only part of the appeal of the course for many participants. Julie Hickethier pointed out that bringing wine to enjoy can be a big part of the fun, and the full, multi-course meal served throughout the evening is a draw for many.
“It’s fun,” said Evenhuis. “I love to see how the participants of the course try something new.”
Visit https://www.trovaremt.com for a Trovare course schedule.
Reporter Bret Anne Serbin can be reached at 406-758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.