No mess is too big to fix at Chef Tech Cooking School

We’re staring at a crooked cake that looks to be a cross between Bob the Blob and a giant misshapen marshmallow.

It needs a “fix-a-roo,” as Chef Teri Appleton Villanueva likes to say. In this case, that involves a little plastic wrap, a cake scraper and a dollop of frosting: “You can’t ever go wrong with that, right?”

As head of the only standalone training ground for aspiring chefs and bakers, Chef Tech Cooking School in Bixby Knolls, she has seen her share of mishaps in the kitchen.

“How many times have you done this?” she demands to know from one particularly frustrated baker, whose rose petals look more like banana slugs. “Never. Right. That’s why we practice.”

Chef Tech, owned by Appleton Villanueva and her husband, has been teaching adults and kids how to cook, bake and decorate for the last eight years.

I enrolled in her four-week cake baking class this fall, in part to figure out what to do with the billions of metal decorating tips that knock into each other every time I open my baking drawer.

After finishing the class, I will perhaps need a baking closet for newly-purchased molds, tips, boards, pans and a pallet of high-grade cocoa. (“You can’t skimp on the quality of chocolate,” she says.)

Villanueva spent the bulk of her career in recipe development—one of her creations, a molten lava chocolate cake, was sold under the Trader Joe’s brand name for 17 years—while her husband Jorge worked as a professional chef for 30 years.

They met in a restaurant (of course) several years ago. His job was cutting the fish; she created the pastries. They worked back-to-back, but had a falling out after she “tattled on him” for throwing salmon bones in her pastry trash.

They didn’t speak for three years. “Never a ‘Good morning, how are you?’—nothing,” she said.

Eventually, she had to apologize because she needed to know what kind of fish was on the menu in order to know what to bake. He accepted—and asked her to the movies.

After the couple’s kids were grown, he suggested opening a restaurant.

“I said, ‘You go get yourself a restaurant and get yourself a new wife at the same time,’” she said with a chuckle.

Running the cooking school gives them a “tiny bit of a personal life,” she said, along with passing their passion on to kids and adults.

The business offers a range of classes for both cooking and baking, including 10-week sessions on both American and French pastry. The school also hosts private parties for the holidays and special occasions, and several classes for kids.

One of Chef Tech’s specialties is classes for kids who are home-schooled. Cooking involves a ton of math and chemistry, after all, and the kids get real-world skills, time with their peers and tasty treats in the process.

I do it less for the education (certainly not for the math), but rather the stress relief. On a list of things that relax me: leveling off a cup of sugar, watching butter whip in a mixer, sitting cross-legged in front of an oven watching the tops of cakes blossom and crack—and now, squeezing a pastry bag and creating perfect rose petals.

Eventually.

Chef Tech is located at 3842 Atlantic Ave. For information on classes, click here.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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