Chop to it.Ever wonder why your cooking doesn't come out as good as a restaurant chef's dishes? Cooking classes can help shed light on tricks of the trade that turn raw ingredients into delicious meals. I recently attended a cooking demonstration held at Allyson's Kitchen in the Old Mill, and was amazed at how many helpful hints Chef Joe Morgan showered on his audience while simultaneously turning out a 5-course restaurant-quality Italian meal.
The three-hour cooking demonstration, called "An Evening in Italy," was a treat for the senses. Fourteen "students" sat enrapt on tall barstools and tables in front of the long granite countertop that houses Allyson's Kitchen's demonstration kitchen. From our high vantage points, we could see into most of the full galley-style kitchen. A mirror placed at an angle above the countertop allowed us a bird's eye view of what went on in aluminum mixing bowls and ceramic-coated cast iron pots below.
Just like in the cooking shows you see on TV, Chef Joe had many of his ingredients pre-prepped in glass bowls, and some dishes completed while he went through others step by step. The menu du jour started with an unusual Antipasto Platter with Prosciutto di Parma and Fruit. I say unusual because I don't usually see antipasto presented with fresh cut strawberries, peaches, plums and nectarines. Chef Joe did include a couple of traditional elements - roasted peppers julienned and tossed in balsamic vinaigrette and oil-cured olives. The antipasto was accompanied by small bruschetta toasts that are sold in the kitchen store downstairs.
We the audience also enjoyed munching on small plates of Panzanella (Italian bread salad), Chicken Cacciatore (chicken thighs stewed in a savory mushroom broth with green olives), Cannelloni Crepes (meat and vegetable stuffed crepes with a white sauce), and a show-stopper finale of Chilled Zabaglione and Berries (the Italian version of sabayon, a light concoction of Marsala-infused egg yolk custard, whipped cream and egg whites). Some people drank wine with the courses, at a few bucks per glass. As I tucked into each new offering that came around, I couldn't help but think that the meal itself was worth close to the $65 class fee.
But what really impressed me was the ease with which Chef Joe talked about each step of the cooking process while he worked up a sweat in front of us. A culinary school grad myself, I mentally applauded his commentaries. I imagine that few home cooks realize the grand importance of such simple steps as seasoning. "I'm a firm believer in seasoning everything as I go," said Chef Joe. He stressed that every ingredient that goes into a dish should be seasoned (with salt and pepper) to bring out its individual flavor.
I cheered inwardly again and again as Chef Joe talked about tasting your food as you go, using fresh and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, and the importance of presentation. "As you know, you can have a so-so dinner but if your presentation is great, people will be more forgiving," he said. Chef Joe backed up these teasers with practical examples. He showed us how to slice stone fruits across the pit and move them to a platter without disrupting their shape. He discussed keeping symmetry in plating and how to add interest with color and placement. He also emphasized the importance of making food accessible to the people eating it, by cutting foods into manageable pieces.
Chef Joe's lifelong passion for cooking really showed in his demonstration. Before becoming the Culinary Director at Allyson's Kitchen, he cooked professionally on both coasts, and received industry certifications by the American Culinary Federation. Chef Joe's spring classes at Allyson's Kitchen include a ten-week series called "Confident Cooking," a Kid's Confident Cooking series (5 weeks) and several three-hour cooking demonstrations of varying themes (Hands-on Pasta, Hands-on Seafood, Hands-on Comfort Food and more). Visit www.allysonskitchen.com for more information on course offerings and pricing.Allyson's Kitchen is a cook's tools and gourmet foods store, deli, wine shop and cooking school located at the Shops at the Old Mill. 375 SW Powerhouse Drive; 541-749-9974; www.allysonskitchen.com.
Hands on Seafood
Saturday, April 11; 2-5 p.m. $75
Hands on Comfort Food
Saturday, April 18; 2-5 p.m. $75
Guest Chef - Brad Wood (Scanlons)
Sunday, April 19; 2-5 p.m. $65