There’s a petite touch of Paris in Ahwatukee, and area residents are being invited to share in it.
Paris-born Emma Caumont and her husband Ron Rocco own and operate the newly-established Phoenix Oasis Private Cooking School in their Ahwatukee home.
With their landscaped Nighthawk Way home boasting more than 200 plants and flowers, the cascading waterfall spilling into their pool augmented by their panoramic terrace view, it is an oasis — and yet the emphasis is on the wonders that occur within the couple’s kitchen.
The Phoenician Oasis classes are diverse, ranging from breadmaking to vegan to French immersion and a host of workshops like Culinary Classics and more that include instruction on topics like proper knifing techniques and nutrition science.
Classes can be taught in either English or French.
With a delicious French accent, Caumont is the main instructor — though Rocco laughs that in their nearly four years of marriage, “She’s taught me to be an excellent sous chef.”
These aren’t new ventures for Caumont.
As an award-winning professional chef in the San Francisco Bay Area, she owned two businesses — Slim Chef, a low-fat, low-sodium, low-sugar catering company; and the Celebrity Cafe with international cuisine and live music and where she also conducted classes including food safety.
Her Tri-Valley Northern California first place awards were for dishes such as jamaican jerk chicken with picante mango sauce, salmon mousse and a raspberry pork roast.
She sold her two businesses before moving to Arizona “for a quieter life” and met her future husband, who in 1994 started a business with the prophetic name, Accent Mortgage.
“Because I came from a customer service environment, I love the interaction with those who come to our classes,” said Rocco who purchased a home in Mountain Park Ranch in 1986.
Caumont said the Phoenician Oasis classes, both in groups and as business team-building sessions, have been successful. She recently took a breather to sit in her plant-filled enclosed patio and share her fascinating tale of her early introduction to the culinary world through her grandmother and a great uncle.
Her story in Paris with her grandmother, Marguerite Caumont.
“My grandmother owned a hostelry in Paris for international college-level students who were referred by the Alliance Francaise,” she said of the agency that teaches French culture and language.
She said every summer her grandmother’s housekeeper would go on holiday, and as soon as Emma turned 12, she would rush to Paris to help.
“I looked forward to my summertime each year. It was a fun environment, yet it was challenging. We prepared breakfast and dinner every day. My grandmother never paid me, and I never thought of getting paid either. She worked very hard, and ran a tight hostelry and kept her young guests in check,” she chuckled.
“We were very close and laughed a lot together. Those positive experiences naturally led me to my culinary studies a few years later. She taught me ancestral recipes that I never forgot, and in fact I still use, sharing them in my cooking classes.”
Caumont and her family moved from Paris to Toulouse when she was 11 when her father, a space engineer, followed his company to the aerospace hub of Europe.
Her father’s family also owned a 14-bedroom ‘manor house’ and 200-plus acre property in the Pyrenees for centuries. She said her family would often holiday there, and one of the regular family visitors would further influence her culinary career.
“My grand-uncle, Victor Bergeron, would come occasionally to visit us at our family manor in Izaux. He took notice that the little girl — me, was always keeping busy in the kitchens. He gave me advice I never forgot: ‘Go to culinary school.’ I never forgot his words, and followed his advice, and today, I have my own small cooking school. He’d be proud,” she said.
Toulouse was where she first attended culinary school.
The uncle giving her the advice was Victor J. Bergeron of the venerable Trader Vic’s restaurant chain created in the mid-30s using his nickname.
“He was very special because at the age of 5, one leg was amputated below the knee. But he persevered even after multiple bankruptcies until he came up with the tiki bar, mai tai, Polynesian menu, etc.,” said Caumont.
Caumont had an early start in the kitchen — partly because of her own dietary desires.
“When I was 3, I stopped eating my mom’s food. My parents took me to a psychologist to figure out why I didn’t want to eat. He told them, ‘A child doesn’t let herself starve to death, let her eat what she wants to eat’. I started eating things I liked: veggies, yogurt, cheese, nuts and fruits and completely eliminated meat and chicken,” she recalled.
“At age 5, I was tall enough to reach my mom’s cook stove and I told her, ‘Mom, I want to cook my food now’. I never stopped, and actually started to cook on a regular basis for the family. I developed at an early age my own preferences of food,” she continued.
I’ve always preferred vegetarian-based food, and my family preferred meat-based food, yet I had no issue cooking what they liked. I now had my own options and cooked for them and for me.”
Her vegan classes have proved popular, as are her French Immersion classes that include ancestral recipes on how to make things like mayonnaise, crepes and French sauces.
“In some classes l show how a crepe batter can be transformed into pancake batter then transformed into a cake without a recipe,” she said. “Moreover, everything l teach is made by hand without modern instruments. All becomes simpler, healthier, a lot cheaper and much more fun.”
She and Rocco are very much forward-looking.
“We’re all about leaving a positive impact in our community when it comes to remembering to connect to one another,” she said. “Create real experience, make connections, enjoy each other’s company, make something together, be active, be present.
“Our digital world is disabling our human connection. Our pre-packaged food is disabling our learning abilities to make homemade food. Our simple classes are meant to be a tool to help people reconnect and learn the basics in a kitchen.”
Phoenician Oasis also offers team building classes.
“There’s no better place to get to know people or find new common ground than in a kitchen. In the corporate world, HR faces daily struggles to help employees get along, improve productivity, improve communication, etc. Our kitchen setting and classes help fill the need for this human touch lost in busy offices,” said Caumont.
Those events are scheduled and booked upon request.
The Phoenician Oasis is available for all ages, and events can be scheduled online.
“My youngest student was 10,” she said. “I have men and women signing up for our classes. They cook together while sipping wine and savoring appetizers. There are lots of bookings being done to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, small family gatherings.”