John Hogan's Pennsylvania upbringing did not inspire culinary pursuits early in his life. "My mother was an awful cook," says the Sarasota credit specialist and amateur gourmet. "We had to have tongue once a week. I remember her sticking a fork in a pot of water and pulling out this thing."

But his appetite wasn't discouraged, and 15 years ago, while he was working for Wachovia in West Palm Beach, Hogan's love of eating led him to a weekend cooking class at the Florida Culinary Institute. For three years, he went to the Institute nearly every Saturday, happily bringing home his finished schoolwork-sometimes as many as a half-dozen freshly baked pies.

The veteran banker moved to Sarasota in 2000 and now savors advice he picks up from classes and conversations with local gastronomic royalty like Paul Mattison and Judi Gallagher. Hogan, who once trained as an industrial engineer, admires the artistry and instincts of professional chefs, calling himself a "mechanic" who mainly adheres to recipes.

But even his talent for procedure doesn't prevent mishaps. Last October, as a member of the local amateur cooking club Creative Chefs, Hogan competed in the group's Iron Chef-inspired cook-off at the Hyatt Sarasota. In front of 500 onlookers and with television cameras focused on his hands, he attempted to prepare dried tomato biscotti.

"I was a nervous wreck, and I suddenly realized I hadn't added any oil [to the pastry]," he recalls. "I made a somewhat dry biscotti, but it did work. Some of the fun [of cooking] is trying to recover something when you've messed up."

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