(Sue and Cathy while conducting a culinary tour to Greece, 1995)

Clad only in underpants. That was my attire the first time I met Sue. I was four and my big brother George took me to Sue’s house to swim in her family’s pool. I remember the event because after the dip, wearing those wet skivvies, I was sent home. My teenage brother stayed on to make time with Sue.


(Sue in high school, taken by a Los Angeles Times’ photographer)

Who could have imagined that less than three decades after that swim, Sue and I would build a culinary career together? It was a cooking school bond that would have us teaching side by side for over 20 years, from the late 70s through 2000. Sue and George had married by that time and built a happy life together. Our mutual love for cooking and teaching made us a good team. Thousands and thousands of Orange County home cooks took our Tasting Spoon classes.


(Prepping for a cooking class mid 80’s)

Sue Young was downright fearless. Not prone to “culinary stage fright,” she never seemed nervous, whether we were cooking for 30 students or 300. If the oven holding a ginormous prime rib burst into flames, she made a joke while I doused the flames with baking soda. If a soufflé collapsed she renamed it using a moniker that praised its density. When equipment failed, electricity went out, or students asked if they could substitute cottage cheese for butter, she carried on.


(Teaching at Sue’s home in the San Fernando Valley, the home that my parents built and I grew up in. Later Sue and George purchased the home and raised their family there.)

Often at the beginning of class I would explain our relationship to students by saying that Sue was married to my perfect brother George. She denied his perfection by making loud gagging noises in the background.

Stories flowed. Laughter erupted. Wine poured.

We felt like pioneers. The Food Network didn’t exist, and only a handful of teachers were giving cooking classes in Southern California. Unlike most cooking classes today, our 3-hour marathons were demonstrations rather than student-participation episodes. We prepared six recipes, offering troubleshooting advice along the way. Teaching two classes a day, the morning class was repeated in the evening for new sets of eyes and palates.

During our tenure we saw food trends come and go. In the early years, French cooking was the rage and I remember boning whole ducks through their necks, then stuffing them with heaven-knows-what. Sue looked on with a dimpled smile, content that she wasn’t prone to such folly.

Food processors were the new must-have culinary gizmo in the 70s. We pureed everything from asparagus to zucchini, using the device to amaze our students. Merrily we ground, chopped and minced.

At about the same time, the popularity of nouvelle cuisine took hold with lighter, more delicate dishes that emphasized presentation; we carved root vegetables in to flowers and tomatoes into roses. On the plate, dishes were composed to yield balance and color contrast. Edible flowers produced a final flourish.


The culinary landscape was going through a revolution, and we went along for the ride.

Teaching cooking was just part of what we joined forces to do. Not long after we started teaching, we hosted international culinary tours to Europe and Asia. The culinary-travel concept was new and often we had to sweet talk chefs into the idea of letting tourists into their kitchens. We busted down barriers in renowned restaurant kitchens, taking notes and asking questions, while our guests reveled in their delicious good fortune. Sometimes Sue’s height worked to our advantage when foreign chefs mistook her for the oh-so-tall Julia Child.

When trying to ferret out which of Sue’s recipes to include in this story (three from the thousands she created when we were teaching together), I called friend Anne Nelson to give me a place to start. Nelson went through her recipes and counted 95 different classes that she took with us. One of her favorites is a simple bar cookie that Sue dubbed with a name that isn’t used in polite company, a somewhat offensive term used to describe a promiscuous woman. Students thought the name was hilarious, and embraced the easy-to-prepare bar cookie with glee. I’m renaming them “Sue’s Naughty Bars.” She called them Slut Bars.


Sue has retired and lives in Marina Del Rey. She still makes my brother smile and adores drinking Champagne. And she still tells great stories.


Sue hornswoggled this delicious salad recipe from the chef at the Tate Museum in London in the early 80s. We were conducting a tour that included cooking classes in London, Florence and Venice.

Joan Cromwell’s Salad
Yield: 8 servings as a first course, 4 as a main course
1 pound green beans
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup sweet pickle, diced
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1 pound cooked bay shrimp, see cook’s notes
1 head butter lettuce, washed, separated into leaves
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil or extra-virgin olive oil
Salad components:
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup diced sweet pickle
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1 pound cooked bay shrimp, see cook’s notes
1 head butter lettuce, washed, separated into leaves
Cook’s notes: To toast almonds place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet and bake 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool. I like the sweet taste of the tiny bay shrimp (90 to 125 per pound) sourced from Canada that are sold at Santa Monica seafood in Costa Mesa.
1. Trim beans and cut into 2-inch lengths. Fill a large pan or Dutch oven 3/4 full with water; bring to boil on high heat. Add beans to boiling water. Cook until barely tender, 3 to 10 minutes depending on size of beans. Drain and refresh with ice water. Drain. Wrap in clean kitchen towel. Refrigerate until chilled, or up to 2 days in advance.
2. In a large bowl, whisk vinaigrette ingredients together. Add beans and remaining ingredients except lettuce; gently toss. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Place lettuce “cups” on plates or serving platter. Divide salad among leaves and serve.
3. Tiny stuffed potatoes make delicious appetizers or side dishes. For these, Sue fills them with a combination of blue cheese and cream, and then tops them with bacon and green onions. She baked them atop a bed of course salt to keep them upright. If you prefer not to use salt, use a baking pan that allows a little space between the potatoes but is small enough to help keep them erect.


And … The Devil’s Baked Potatoes à la Sue


The Devil’s Baked Potato Appetizers
Yield: 20
Coarse salt, such as kosher
20 bite-sized potatoes, either small red new potatoes or fingerlings
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Garnish: 4-5 strips bacon, cooked crisp, crumbled
Garnish: 3 thinly sliced green onions, including 1/2 of dark green stalks
1. Place salt in oven-proof platter or baking pan (big enough to hold 20 small potatoes leaving a little space between them, 1/2-inch deep. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place potatoes in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium, cover and cook 8-10 minutes, or until barely tender. Drain. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, use small end of melon-ball cutter to remove one scoop from center of one side.
3. In a medium bowl, combine blue cheese, cream and pepper. Mash until roughly combined. Pour olive oil into a small dish (such as a custard cup); dip just the top of each potato (the side where you scooped it out) into oil. Spoon the cheese mixture into the cavity of the potato. Place potato filled-side-up in salt in baking pan. Repeat with remaining potatoes.
4. Bake 9 to 11 minutes, or until piping hot and skin is a little crisp. Sprinkle with bacon and green onions. Diners can dust any residual salt off or leave it on to suit their taste.
Source: Sue Young


Sue’s Naughty Bars
Yield: 36 to 48 bars
Soft butter for greasing parchment paper
1 package white cake mix, such as Duncan Hines Classic White
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup finely chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans or pistachios
1/2 cup dried cranberries or apricots, or a combination of both
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Grease paper with butter.
2. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, oil and eggs. Mix on medium speed about 1 1/2 minutes, or until thoroughly blended, scraping down sides with a rubber spatula as needed. Spread half of the mixture on the prepared parchment paper using a rubber spatula.
3. In medium saucepan combine chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk and butter. Bring to simmer on high heat; reduce heat to medium and gently simmer with mixture bubbling around the edges, stirring frequently until butter and chocolate melts. Cool 10 minutes. Stir. Pour chocolate mixture over cake base.
4. Add nuts and dried fruit to remaining cake batter; stir to combine. With a small spoon (and a clean finger) place dabs of mixture over chocolate layer in single layer (it is not possible to spread into a layer). Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest on cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a kitchen knife around edges. Invert on cutting board. Remove parchment paper. Cut into bars.
Source: Sue Young