New cooking school engages students in Galena

She stands in front of the room, a teacher looking over her students. She’s wearing a red chef’s coat, which just makes her red hair pop even more.

As she studies the room, her smile is infectious. She’s Susan Steffan. She’s the Breakfast Diva. And the students are in for a treat at the Breakfast Diva Cooking School.

The class opened this year, and gives participants a unique visitor experience in Galena. This class

had eight participants, and some will have more or fewer. The recipe: strawberry almond dessert cake, and chicken piccata with homemade egg noodles.

The cake came first, as it needs to bake for almost an hour. Susan had the ingredients already measured, out in bowls like you’d see on the cooking shows on the Food Network.

Part of the way through the cake, she has one of the participants join her at the table to start mixing the batter. “It’s a thick batter,” she explains. “Don’t let that intimidate you!”

The recipe continues, and eventually the batter makes its way to a spring-form pan. Layers of sliced strawberries–purchased fresh at Tammy’s Piggly Wiggly–and almonds make the top layer. From there, the cake heads to the preheated 350-degree oven for 55 minutes of baking. And anticipation.

For Susan and her husband Don, this is the first year for the school, but the beginning of their fifth season in Galena as owners of Farmers Guest House. Where they go, success

36 galenian.com

follows. In January, Farmers Guest House was honored as one of the Top 10 bed and breakfasts and inns in the United States by BedandBreakfast.com.

And late last year, viewers might have noticed Susan bringing her culinary skills to a higher level on the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship. She won the first week.

She talks about some of the experiences she had filming those episodes. Even the process to simply be on the show was a challenge, as Susan recalled some of the conversations she had with the casting agent in the months leading up to filming.

Susan, a former teacher herself, is equally at home instructing several students, as she is talking about her experiences having her food judged by the likes of celebrity cake chef Duff Goldman.

It’s in front of a class that she thrives. One of the students asks about using a mandolin to slice strawberries. “I use a mandolin for a lot of things, but not that,” Susan explains. She uses a ceramic knife that she got downtown at Timothy’s Table.