Richmond Review

Traveling Rec. and Park chefs teach cooking, making pet food

by Jonathan Farrell

Chefs John Rutherford and Matthew Fast are pleased and honored to provide culinary classes to the local community and neighborhoods by teaching at the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s various “Rec Centers” around town.
Rutherford has a life-long passion for cooking and baking and is excited to be able to share his knowledge with children and adults.

Through programs like “Petite Bakers” and “Future Chefs,” Rutherford, Fast and other chefs are able to share cooking and baking expertise with an audience that gets to take home with them the joys of cooking.
“Petite Bakers is comprised of kids ages three to six and they constantly surprise me,” Rutherford said. “They get an idea and they just go with it.”
Rutherford said there is tremendous enthusiasm and energy the students have for learning the very basics of food preparation and cooking.
No knives or sharp utensils are used in the Petite Bakers class.
“I teach basic skills and safety in the kitchen,” noted Rutherford, “like how to crack open an egg and how to weigh, measure out and combine ingredients properly. I use recipes that are fun and simple.”
The Future Chefs class is for kids ages 8 to 12 who have more advanced skills.
“The kids in that age group are more independent in the various skills and the recipes are a little more complicated, such as learning how to bake fish in parchment paper,” Rutherford said.
In both classes for youth Rutherford focuses on more than just learning how to make something from a recipe.
“I teach them the importance of healthy, safe and proper food preparation and cooking; things like how to avoid cross contamination of raw foods; keeping food prep and cooking areas clean; washing of hands and utensils; teaching them awareness about salmonella and e-coli bacteria.”
Rutherford also likes to incorporate the understanding of where fruits and vegetables come from; that they are grown in the soil and go from the farm to the market to the kitchen. Then, the cook prepares it for the table.
He stresses how important it is for kids to learn that food is precious and should be cherished.
“I try and make a positive impact on the kids that they can take home and share with their families. I was often sick as a child and I remember how my mother empowered me and gave me the opportunity to help in the kitchen when I was little – I got my passion for cooking from my mother,” Rutherford said, noting that learning how to cook and bake is a real self-esteem booster for a young person.
“What makes me really happy is hearing from parents that their kids now enjoy helping out in the kitchen and that making meals can be a way for families to bond – a group effort to prepare food.”
A graduate of the California Culinary Academy’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary program, Rutherford expands his culinary skills and talents to include the family pet.
“I hold an A.S. degree in veterinary technology and I am a registered veterinary tech­nician,” he said.
Rutherford believes that everyone in the family should eat healthy, fresh meals, including the family pet.
According to Rutherford, pet dogs and cats should be fed food that is nutritious for them, and should not necessarily be fed people food, which often has a lot of sugar in it.
The “Bow Wow Baking” class is an initiative Rutherford proposed to Rec. and Park, developed to teach dog owners how to make healthy dog meals and treats. Many people do not know that dogs do not digest gluten very well and artificial sweeteners like Splenda are toxic to dogs.
“Yes, that’s true. Things like raisins, grapes, onions and chocolate can be toxic,” said Anthony Smith, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) at Rainbow Bridge Pet Services.
Rutherford has created an entire product line of all-natural treats for dogs.
“My dog loves John’s biscuits,” Smith said.
Cooking, baking and preparing meals and food items at home allows people to provide that extra bit of care that seems to be lacking in over-processed and fast food.
“I want to help people take the fear and anxiety out of cooking and with facilities like the professional kitchen at the Richmond Recreation Center, the experience will be helpful, uplifting and fun,” he said.
Rutherford hopes to be able to offer more classes, especially to adults, including a course in home canning, which Rutherford calls “Food in Jars.”
“This will not be your grandmother’s way of canning,” he said. “This is a more up-to-date method, using a hot water bath process, no pressure cookers.”
Rutherford is glad his cooking classes are being offered through the SF Rec. and Park Department because it makes them affordable and accessible to everyone.
For more information and upcoming cooking class schedule, visit the Rec. and Park Department’s website at

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