NEWS

Southborough chef's 'underground' movement

Evan Lips

Spending 10-hour workdays on her feet in someone else's kitchen was not the goal Southborough resident Lori Leinbach imagined after graduating from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.

Five years ago, Leinbach decided to drop the title of personal chef and move underground - literally.

Culinary Underground, the school for first-time cooks Leinbach launched out of her home kitchen in 2004, takes its name from her house's unique location. The modern Hillside Avenue home is a berm house, built into the side of a foothill, partially set underground. When she designed her kitchen, complete with south-facing windows and wraparound granite countertops, she had her class in mind.

On Monday night, three aspiring chefs took turns learning their craft in Leinbach's kitchen, focusing on cheesemaking.

"Cheesemaking itself is a scientific art," Leinbach told her class. "Nomadic people, probably the first cheesemakers, came upon the craft by toting milk in sheepskin bags."

"After enough traveling, the curds were all that was left of the milk."

Her students, Donna Reynolds of Princeton and Framingham residents Lori Bornstein and Caraline Levy, appeared nervous at the outset. But by the end of the night, the trio couldn't believe how easy it was to make great cheese from scratch.

"Look at this mozzarella," said Levy, after the loose curds in her saucepan transformed into round balls of cheese. "This must be how they do it in the North End."

"Not yet," Leinbach said a smile. "You have to kneed a while longer to give it that shine."

Leinbach errs on the side of perfection. When one student asked if it was acceptable to estimate a half-gallon of milk, she frowned.

"No way, not in this kitchen," she said, pointing to a conversion chart taped to the wall. "In here we don't eyeball recipes."

When she's not teaching in her kitchen, Leinbach leads continuing education cooking classes at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School. Before a career change that led to culinary school, she was a grade school teacher.

Bornstein, who has taken several Culinary Underground courses, said Leinbach's natural teaching ability shows.

"She's tutored for students taking the MCAS, volunteered to lead Girl Scout classes, she's great," Bornstein said. "She even teaches a knife-using class at Assabet."

Leinbach said the idea for a course dedicated to knife technique was an easy one.

"When I was teaching another class I saw that no one knew how to use a knife," she said.

Bornstein said the knife class is "always packed."

When Leinbach created Culinary Underground, she had the beginner in mind.

"I noticed there were no classes anywhere for first-timers," she said. "Cooking classes can be intense, I remember from experience, and I wanted to create a setting that was relaxed."

When Monday night's cooking was complete, each student had created a cheese-related dish - none of which looked like the work of a beginner.

"It's easy when it's fun," Leinbach said.

To learn more about Leinbach's class, go to www.culinaryunderground.com.

The MetroWest Daily News