If white bean cassoulet with bacon, sausage and tomato, roasted bone marrow with a parsley salad on toast, grilled pear with walnut champagne vinaigrette salad and lemon curd fruit for dessert sounds heavenly to you, step right up to the Paris Bistro class a la Chef Craig Tinling.
Chef Craig has been teaching cooking classes at DFAC for three years so far. Maybe this explains his cool-as-a-cucumber style. He’s slicing a fresh French Baguette as we talk before class.
“This is an awesome facility,” he says, surveying the state-of-the-art 1,400 square foot teaching kitchen.
Anticipation builds with each new student to arrive. Two girlfriends who met in church came together prepared with their own aprons and a bottle of red. There were couples, singles and family trios gathered round as Chef began class.
Knife skills are first up with Chef Craig demonstrating the bear claw pose for the hand not wielding the knife. Other hot tips to surface as the night progressed: whisk in figure 8s, to slice a carrot lengthwise put the tip of the knife in the cutting board before slicing down on it (ya know, for safety), toss watercress gently with tongs, and my personal favorite… you actually get iron in your diet when you scrape a cast iron pan.
The featured cookware of the evening is a sexy Moroccan tajine with a turquoise top. “I love the surface area,” chef says. “It’s perfect for braising.”
We’re an hour in and yet another stick of butter makes its way from the refrigerator. At around the same time the wine-induced giggling kicks in. Chef is slicing another fresh baguette. Feels as gleeful as Paris in here.
Gasps around the room! Can you smell that? The butter is melting, the onions doing their thing, the herbs are…herb-ing. And would you believe Chef Craig brought fresh bay leaves from his own backyard?
Some students went rogue with freshly ground pepper from the shaker.
Two hours in and chef graces us with the hand on top of the knife trick – for chopping tiny things such as capers. Is your mouth watering yet? Have you seen the carrots and bacon playing beautifully in the tajine?
The succulent marrow is plated on a butcher block slab of wood. It is to be scooped out from the bone and slathered on the fresh toast like buttaaaa, then topped with parsley salad.
Taste of Thailand
Did you know that a green papaya is simply an unripe papaya? Not easy to find either but these are just a few things we’ll learn from Chef Renae Seiler, who when she’s not cooking at DFAC is a chef at Sur La Table in Tampa. She also likes to knit but that’s a story for another day.
“Peanut sauce even tastes good on shoe leather,” she exclaims as we depart on a Thai tour for our tastebuds featuring chicken satay with peanut sauce, classic pad thai and green papaya salad.
Chef starts the class by asking everyone what their favorite food in high school was. The fun ice breaker touched on lasagna and tacos. Someone’s mom used to make fresh granola.
The students begin by scraping papaya seeds from the green papaya for the salad.
“Sour, salty, sweet and hot, the green papaya salad represents traditional Thai food very well,” Chef Renae explains.
A half hour in finds the all-girl class smashing garlic. Chef introduces her own knife skills and here they are practicing the pinch grip for better control. She imparts more wisdom as the night continues: wetness in the pan from excess marinade inhibits browning, don’t play with food while cooking it. Moving the food introduces air and slows the cooking process. Cook chicken satay with thigh meat on medium high heat for 2-3 minutes per side. Do not mess with them.
A big revelation at the 45-minute mark. Are you sitting down? Now hear this: You do not have to peel fresh ginger. That’s right. Just cut it up and throw it all in.
“Asian people do not peel ginger,” Chef insists. “That is an American thing.”
If you are however going to peel your fresh ginger, you should do it with the back of a spoon in a scraping motion. This fresh nugget is a ginger game-changer for me. The peeling was always so intimidating.
“Fresh cilantro is magic,” Chef proclaims. She shops at Oceanic Oriental Supermarket in Tampa for the freshest ingredients and it’s the only place she’s found the green papaya.
Demonstrating scallions cut on the bias, Chef Renae smiles and says, “This is the kind of stuff that makes you look very chef-y.”
Story and Photography by Leslie Joy Ickowitz
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