It's probably safe to say that many people who love to cook have, at one time or another, considered teaching classes. It's true for me, at least. My previous home was teeny-tiny, but it had an amazing kitchen with a big island and a perfect work triangle. I always entertained the idea of teaching kids' cooking classes, but then I'd start to think about logistics -- advertising and insurance and health codes and all that -- and it all became too overwhelming.

Fairfielder Tracy Holleran, however, has felt that calling to teach and has successfully turned her culinary passion into her own cooking school, "The Secret Ingredient."

"I've always loved food," said Holleran. "I had two parents who loved to cook and an Italian grandmother. Dinnertime was sacred, and food was an important part of family."

Yet despite her history with food, Holleran didn't set out to have a culinary career. Instead, she got her master's degree in counseling and worked as a college counselor until she had her first child almost nine years ago.

"I stayed at home for three and a half years," she said. "I knew I didn't want an office job and I loved cooking and doing presentations." She started small, by offering classes through Fairfield Continuing Education and developed a following. "I realized I could do this on my own," she said.

Jenn Record has taken more than 20 of Holleran's classes. "I started with one of her classes at her house and took a few through Fairfield Continuing Ed with her. Since then, I've taken almost every class she has ever done."

The classes cover a wide range of subjects -- from brunch to tapas. "I like a variety of ethnic cuisines," said Holleran. Some of her most popular classes have been those for Thai, Moroccan and stir-fry.

"I make at least two out of three or four of the menu items at least once a month," said Record. "The pasta sauces and dishes are popular with my family."

The classes are small -- usually six to 10 people per class.

Barbara Bacco learned about The Secret Ingredient on the Internet. "I`ve taken many classes and I've made all the recipes at home," she said. "Tracy's recipes are not so complicated that it's overwhelming. It's a very hands-on class my friends and family love the recipes."

Holleran said she's given classes to book groups, neighborhoods, as team building exercises for offices, birthday parties and showers.

She leaves it up to the participants whether they want to get "hands-on."

"Her classes are relaxing," said Record. "You can sit back with a glass of wine and appetizer that she has prepared and just watch her cook, or you can be hands-on and make the dish with her standing next to you. She doesn't prepare anything ahead of time, so you know how the whole process works and how to time it."

In addition, Holleran likes to demonstrate techniques, such as how to use a knife, how to sharpen a knife, how to preserve food, and how to know when food goes bad.

Her upcoming classes include a soup workshop, five-ingredient cooking, stews and chili, and a Taste of Ireland.

"Because I'm self-taught, I demonstrate the types of dishes I love to prepare," Holleran said. "It's not too simplistic, but the recipes are practical. I'm careful to use ingredients that you can easily find at the store."

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