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Orson Gygi reopens with flare

Dian Thomas shows up for demonstration of cookbook recipes

Published: Tuesday, July 31 2001 3:33 p.m. MDT

Two Utah culinary institutions have been updated and were on display to the public July 21: The Orson H. Gygi Co., the 55-year-old cooking/restaurant supply store, opened a new store at 3500 S. 300 West. And on hand for the grand opening was Utah's own Dian Thomas, who demonstrated recipes from her latest book in her 25-year-old "Roughing It Easy" outdoor cooking series.

Brad McDonald, grandson of the original Orson H. Gygi and general manager of the store, said a fire destroyed the original store three years ago. The business had to move to nearby warehouses while the new store was built. "Now our facility is three times as large," he said.

You can find everything from Viking ranges to cotton-candy machines, cake-decorating supplies, candy-making supplies, pepper mills, pressure cookers, chopped nuts, kitchen gadgets, professional chef's knives, pots and pans, canisters of herbs and spices, dry mixes, a whole wall of cookie cutters and several aisles of paper plates, cups and napkins.

Although much of the clientele comes from churches, restaurants, caterers and other institutions that cook for large groups, at least half the people who visit the store are "professional home cooks," as McDonald describes them.

To cater to their customers, the company is building a culinary arts center within the store. Both hands-on cooking and lecture/demonstrations will be taught beginning in October, said Carl Rubadue, who heads the program. A certified chef with the American Culinary Federation, Rubadue will teach many of the classes and bring in guest chefs for others. The cost of the classes will vary.

"We've already had requests from customers for classes in pulled sugar, diabetic, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Creole and Latvian cooking," Rubadue said. "We're also going to have children's classes so they can be involved in the family meal preparation."

Rubadue said cooking classes are springing up all over the country right now. "When you get stuck in a rut, and you're using the same ingredients, you are always looking to expand your horizons. That's why ethnic restaurants are in such demand. But there are so many time constraints; people don't have a lot of free time to play in the kitchen and learn on their own."

McDonald and his mother, Marjeanne, got the idea after visiting a teaching center at the Viking company headquarters. He said the demand was so high that the company soon had to build a bigger facility, which is completely booked six months in advance for every class offered. "We visited a class and found that the students all had six-figure incomes — attorneys, doctors and so on, and cooking classes were a form of recreation for them," said McDonald.

The company's namesake, Orson H. Gygi, was a self-taught businessman, who is crediting for bringing soft ice cream to the Utah market before the advent of Dairy Queens and Arctic Circles. "He helped develop the fast-food concept in this area because of the different equipment he brought in for restaurants and the people he helped get into business," said his daughter, Marjeanne McDonald, who is the company president.

"He started out selling squeeze bottles for mustard and ketchup," she said. "He was from the old school where you paid your way as you went along. When he sold two bottles, he bought four more. When he sold those four, he used the money and bought eight. I think he would be really pleased with what we have now. It's a one-stop shop and your complete source of supplies."

AT THE GRAND OPENING, customers could sample Dutch oven dishes from "Recipes For Roughing It Easy," by Thomas. Now practically a classic, more than a million copies of "Roughing It Easy" and updated versions have been sold since it became a best-seller in 1975.

Thomas got her start during the back-to-nature movement of the '70s. She was raised on outdoor cooking, since her father was a forest ranger. She honed those skills while working as a staff member and eventually the director of the Brighton Girls Camp in Utah. While teaching home economics, she worked on a master's degree. Her thesis was eventually published into the first "Roughing It Easy" book in 1975, just as the energy crisis hit.

"Gasoline had jumped from about 30 cents a gallon to around $1 a gallon," Thomas said. "People were saying, 'How can we afford to travel? We'll be lucky if we can get out camping.' So there was a huge surge of interest in camping."

Thomas took to the television talk-show circuit to promote the book, which led to regular spots on NBC's "Today" and later, ABC's "Home Show."

Readers who own previous "Roughing It Easy" books will likely recognize many of the 200-plus recipes: the bacon-and-eggs cooked in a paper sack by Johnny Carson, "Kick The Can" ice cream once demonstrated by Tom Brokaw, and backpack chicken cooked by Martin Short on his show's premiere.

Thomas said that's because, in 1995, she combined the material from "Roughing It Easy" and "Backyard Roughing It Easy," into one book, taking out many of the recipes to make it a manageable size. She said that many readers then asked for more recipes. So, "Recipes For Roughing It Easy," includes those omitted recipes as well as some new "gourmet" dishes such as Herb Focaccia and Provencale Tomatoes.

She also revised the cooking directions, since many of the the old recipes used open fires, which aren't allowed in many forests and parks today. The recipes now include directions for several methods — grills, Dutch ovens, camp stoves and at home.

The book, which is available at Orson Gygi, other local bookstores or through www.dianthomas.com covers stick cooking, foil cooking, Dutch oven cooking, grilling, breakfasts, soups and stews, salads, sandwiches, one-dish meals, breads, side dishes and desserts.

Thomas' book also includes quick tips such as using a gallon-size zippered plastic bag to mix cake and pancake batter, so there's no messy bowl to wash. Or, making "fire starters" by filling an egg carton with clothes dryer lint and melted wax — just break off a piece and light it.

Here are samples from "Recipes for Roughing It Easy:"


SLOPPY JOE BISCUIT BAKE

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pounds lean ground beef

2 1.3-ounce packages Sloppy Joe seasoning mix

2 6-ounce cans tomato paste

2 cups water

1 16-ounce package prepared refrigerator biscuits

Dutch oven method: Heat a 12-inch Dutch oven over 9 hot coals. Brown onion and ground beef. Add seasoning, tomato paste and water, stirring well, and bring to a boil. Separate individual biscuits and place on top of the meat mixture. Cover with Dutch oven lid and place 15 hot coals on top. Cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until biscuits are browned and cooked through. Serves 4-6.

At home: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, brown onion and ground beef; pour off drippings and add seasoning mix, tomato paste and water, stirring well. Bring to a boil. Transfer mixture to an oven-safe dish. Separate individual biscuits and place on top of meat mixture. Bake 15 minutes, until biscuits are browned and cooked through. Serve with individual biscuit on top. Serves 4-6.


MIXED BERRY CRISP

1 10-ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed

1 10-ounce bag frozen blueberries, thawed

1 10-ounce bag frozen boysenberries or blackberries, thawed

3/4 cup sugar

Crisp Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted

In a bowl, combine berries and sugar; set aside. In a medium bowl or in a 1-quart self-sealing bag, mix together flour, walnuts, brown sugar, oatmeal and butter or margarine. Heat a 12-inch Dutch oven over 9 hot coals. Cover with Dutch oven lid and place 15 hot coals on the top. Preheat 10 minutes. Pour berry mixture into the Dutch oven. Sprinkle topping evenly onto berries. Bake, covered, 30-35 minutes. Serve warm or cold. Serves 6 to 8.

At home: Follow the above Dutch oven directions. Cook in a baking dish at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown.


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