Arias and Appetizers

'When I structure my classes, they're usually themed," says Elizabeth Podsiadlo, known as the Opera-Singing Chef. "If I'm doing Italian, I'll be singing Italian. If I'm doing French, I'll be singing Carmen. Once I did an Italian-Mexican fusion and sang a [Enrique] Granados song, a beautiful Spanish piece. It's hot and sultry." Podsiadlo became a personal chef 14 years ago when her husband, after reading an article about the subject, suggested she give it a try. In the article, Podsiadlo remembers, "They put out a large figure of what a personal chef could make, like, $60,000, which now I know was totally a lie. You would have to be super fit and be on your feet 12 hours a day, every day. Most of the personal chefs I know work two days a week. Making that kind of money [as a personal chef] was not realistic unless you were Superman."

To supplement her income, Podsiadlo conducted a cooking demo at an expo for Healthy Dining San Diego. While setting up, she began to sing to herself. A woman who was helping to organize the event encouraged her to sing during the demo.

"I was really shy and embarrassed, because I knew I had far to go on my voice," Podsiadlo remembers. "But these people would be walking around like zombies under the fluorescent lights in the home show, and they would see these seats and sit down in front of me and look like they were about to fall asleep. So I would come out with this note, Waaaa!, and they would be shaken awake." After that demo Podsiadlo decided to incorporate singing into all of her demos and classes. For the past six years she has offered cooking classes to seniors through the Oasis program, a national nonprofit organization that benefits mature adults, and to the general public at Great News Cooking School.

On Saturday, September 15, Podsiadlo will conduct a cooking class at the Quail Botanical Gardens, during which she will prepare appetizers and sing opera. "I try not to sing too much because I don't want to shy people away who are open to the idea but new to the experience," she says.

As original as the idea may sound, there are quite a number of singing chefs. In Florida, P. Francesco Milana prepares Italian food for dinner parties and sings Neapolitan ballads and Italian love songs when each of his six courses is served. Olga Watkins of Pittsburgh sings gospel music while hosting cooking demos and classes at Whole Foods Market and boutique cookware stores. Sarah Allen in Toronto is a personal chef who cooks, serves, and sings arias in her customers' homes.

In New York, Jackie Gordon offers what she calls "eatertainment," a form of dinner theater. After cooking in the kitchen, Gordon (who calls herself Divalicious) takes the stage before a room full of diners and sings about the food, educating by way of entertainment. Philadelphia's singing chef Frank Borda combines food education with cooking education. When he's "cooking Puccini," he serves foods and wine from Puccini's region (Tuscany) while singing Puccini songs. Andy LoRusso, a traveling singing chef, sometimes sings his recipes as he prepares his dishes.

Podsiadlo sings opera before class resumes after a break or prior to beginning a dish, but she does not sing while cooking. "Opera takes a certain level of energy," she explains. "It's like a laser beam as opposed to a fluorescent light. Opera is the martial arts of voice. It's very difficult to sing Vivaldi while cooking; Vivaldi's pretty harrowing." It is more relaxing for Podsiadlo to sing Appalachian or Celtic folk music. "I love German lieder songs. My mother was German, so I grew up singing those, like Schumann and Schubert."

When it comes to food, Podsiadlo prefers unique combinations. "The other day I made a gastrique [a thick, sweet sauce served with meat] using balsamic vinegar, wine, and spices that made it look and taste like a syrup of chocolate." She tops her pumpkin-walnut cake with candied orange slices, over which she drizzles syrup flavored with allspice and bay leaves. Her savory pumpkin lasagna contains apples and pumpkin, and her apple crepe is prepared with thyme and served with a Greek lemon-rosemary cookie. -- Barbarella

"Awesome Appetizers," cooking class with the Opera-Singing Chef Saturday, September 15 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Quail Botanical Gardens 230 Quail Gardens Drive Encinitas Cost: Quail Garden members, $25; nonmembers, $30 Info: 760-436-3036 or www.theoperasingingchef.com

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