The multipurpose room at Top of the World Elementary School smelled like an Indian restaurant Monday afternoon, redolent with garlic, ginger and curry.
Laguna Beach Unified School District board member Ketta Brown sautéed garlic in an electric skillet as she waited for her after-school cooking class.
Every Monday, Brown guides TOW first- and second-graders through recipes she's tested on her own family, dishes like Moroccan salmon with lemon-cilantro vinaigrette and couscous, stir-fried pork with kimchi and shiitake mushrooms and the latest: chicken with Indian-spiced rice.
Students sign up online through the school's Parent Teacher Assn. website on a first-come, first-served basis.
Before the students arrived, Brown set up each of their prep stations with a cutting board and ingredients: a couple green onions, one or two garlic cloves, a knob of ginger and a few cilantro sprigs.
Top of the World has ovens but no stovetop range, so Brown uses an electric skillet or a portable range to cook.
Because of time constraints, Brown cooked the basmati rice, yellow from the saffron, and cut the chicken into cubes at home, so the kids could focus on grating ginger and garlic and chopping green onions.
Brown, who has catered events, began the class by introducing students to ginger and saffron.
Students passed the bottle of saffron around, smelling its contents.
"It smells like fresh water, bright and clean," Brown told the students. "Guess how much this costs per ounce? $350 for one ounce."
Students then grated ginger, which would combine with garlic, cumin, coriander and turmeric to flavor the chicken.
Brown urged them to watch their knuckles so they wouldn't cut themselves.
Brown and assistant Chantale McConnell walked around, helping students learn the right grating technique.
Once the children grated the ginger and garlic, they grabbed their little knives and cut green onions, with a few instructions from Brown.
"Cut only the beard off," Brown said of the white hairs at the end of a scallion. "Don't talk with a knife in your hand."
As the students worked, Brown started sautéing chicken with the grated ginger and garlic.
Presley Jones, 6, made consistent cuts from white to green parts of the scallion.
As for the cilantro, Brown preferred to keep the leaves whole instead of chopping the herb.
"You want them whole because the dish is not very colorful," Brown said. "Last week we had red tomatoes and green from the herbs [in the orzo with shrimp and feta]. Not only do you eat with your mouth, but you eat with your eyes."
Brown finished the chicken and rice dish with peas and a lime wedge to perk up all the flavors.
To round out the meal, Brown served naan bread, vegetable fritters (pakoras) and a dollop of hummus alongside the chicken and rice.
Lucas Lessard, 7, learned the importance of safety in the kitchen.
"You don't want to mess around with a cheese grater," he said.
The class, which meets for one hour and cost $57 per student for the fall session, is one of several after-school offerings available at TOW. Other classes include knitting, ceramics and origami, according to the school's PTA website.
Lisa Pitz teaches cooking to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on Wednesdays, the website said.