The saying that “many hands make light work” could be the motto of Yankee Hill Winery and Cooking School. Then again, so could “yum.”
Nestled among the hills in Columbia, Chef Ron Erickson and his team at Yankee Hill Winery and Cooking School teach locals and visitors alike how to prepare delicious cuisines from around the globe. And Erickson does it with such casual aplomb that his students feel comfortable in his kitchen regardless of their skill level.
“The first class I did was on pizza,” Erickson recounted. “I came out in my big chef’s hat and white coat and it didn’t take me long to see that everyone was feeling intimidated. So, I lost the hat and gained a sense of humor and people started to learn.”
Teaching cooking classes is a well-honed skill for Erickson. As he describes it, when he started cooking, “fire hadn’t been invented yet.” Over the years he has operated numerous eateries and bakeries and taught in the culinary department at Columbia College.
Erickson purchased the winery, which is the oldest in the foothills, in 1977. Everything the winery produces is bought up by a select group, so the real focus is on the cooking school.
Most classes are held Saturday mornings, but the growing demand gave Erickson the idea to offer additional classes on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. The style of cooking takes in a plethora of options, from bread baking to Tuscan and sushi to great breakfasts. Classes usually cost $40 and the size is typically around 16 students. The cooking school also does classes for private parties, families and groups, with a minimum of 12 people on any day of the week.
Erickson’s style of teaching melds his quick wit and clear-cut directions and tips into a smooth banter that makes for an enjoyable time in the kitchen. It’s also a style that has repeatedly proven successful as first-time attendees routinely become class regulars.
Karen Seals, a culinary instructor at Tioga High School in Groveland, said she routinely signs up for Erickson’s classes to not only give her new ideas for her classes, but also to reignite her love of cooking.
“I use stuff I have learned from Ron all the time,” Seals said. “He’s my go-to guru.”
Joan Koris of Elk Grove was given the cooking class as a Christmas gift and after her experience of making fresh raviolis, she plans on attending many more.
“The class has been a lot of fun and not stressful at all,” Koris said. “Everyone here is in the same boat and learning as we go. The wine also helps.”
While the preparation is fun and Erickson is quick to keep hands busy and the wine flowing, the real pay-off is when the dishes are set upon one of the long dining tables. The mood at the table is jovial and strangers quickly become compadres as they discuss the finer details of their dishes.
“Ron makes the cooking fun and the end result is always delicious,” said regular attendee and Turlock resident April Mailloux.
To view a list of upcoming classes at Yankee Hill Winery and Cooking School, visit yankeehillwinery.com or call (209) 532-3015 for reservations. ■