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Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 02:00 pm

A class way to cook away the winter blues

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Chef Chip Kennedy and Shelly Skeeters from 5 Flavors making sushi.

The holidays are over. It’s cold and dark and gloomy outside. Why not chase away those midwinter doldrums by taking a cooking class or two? A variety of cooking classes are being offered locally that should appeal to cooks of all levels, from total novices to experienced home chefs.

The first months of the year are prime time for cooking classes. The reason is that it’s the slowest time of the year for restaurants, chefs, caterers and other food professionals; so this is when they’re able to find time in their normally frenzied schedules to share their knowledge.

The amount of hands-on participation in local cooking classes ranges from mostly all demonstration, to a combination of demonstration and participation, to students preparing a meal under the guidance and watchful eyes of the instructors. Some include a full meal, others tastes. Some courses explore the cutting edge of gastronomy; others feature traditional and classic menus and dishes. Some focus on a particular skill or ingredient, and others focus on ethnic cuisines. Some provide aprons, others are BYOA (Bring Your Own Apron) — either way, it’s always a good idea to wear clothing that’s washable. Some classes include wine or beer in their cost, others have them available for purchase. There are classes about chocolate and cupcakes, and classes on Sunday brunches for which students are encouraged to show up in their PJs. There are classes that teach participants how to make food look and taste as if it were made by professionals, and others about “tablescapes” that demonstrate how to make settings that are as special and professional-looking as the food.

For most of the last decade, I taught cooking classes in my home. I quit in the winter of 2007 after having to cancel three classes in a row because of ice storms that caused more than two weeks total of power outages (though, thankfully not all at once) as well as roof damage over the kitchen. Repairs made rescheduling the classes impossible; as well I’d begun writing this column and selling a few articles to papers around the U.S.

Sometimes I think I’d like to teach classes again, though as time passes it seems less likely. But I’m always interested in seeing what cooking classes are being offered locally.

Lincoln Land Community College’s Culinary Arts Classes are being held in the Pasfield House again this year. Pasfield House owner and innkeeper Tony Leone designed the historic building’s basement kitchen with cooking classes in mind. This season, 12 different classes will explore a wide range of topics, each with different instructors. Most are chef/instructors or graduates of LLCC’s Culinary Arts Program, but there are others, such as bon vivant and amateur chef extraordinaire John Dale Kennedy, who will teach a class on the Spanish bar snacks known as tapas. Sangamo Club manager and chef David Radwine and Corkscrew owner Geoff Bland will offer a night of French Food and Wine Pairings. A Creole class will combine learning with a Mardi Gras celebration. Josh Sonneborn, chef and co-owner of Five Flavors Catering (see below) will introduce Springfield to the world of Molecular Gastronomy, a new trend that combines science and cooking. By using such things as alginates and liquid nitrogen it’s revolutionized the way chefs manipulate ingredients, and opened a new world of possibilities.

LLCC instructor/chef Denise Perry will be teaching four of the classes. Their range demonstrates her depth of knowledge: Knife Skills, Cooking with [different kinds of] Salt, Chocolate, and Cooking with Beer. I particularly recommend her Knife Skills class. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of acquiring good knife skills, always one of the first things taught in professional cooking schools. Topics presented by other instructors include Cupcakes, German Cooking, Cooking Out of the Box, and As Seen on TV.

LLCC classes are primarily demonstration oriented with a varied amount of hands-on participation. The cost is $49, which includes generous tastings — in most cases, essentially a light meal. The exception is the Creole Dinner, which is $59 and includes a full meal. A cash bar is available when appropriate.

For more information and dates, visit LLCC’s Web site, www.llcc.edu, go to Academics and click on Community Education.

5 Flavors’ cooking classes are Springfield’s newest — so new, in fact, that they’ll just be beginning as this issue hits the newsstands; so new that when I last spoke to 5 Flavors’ executive chef and co-owner, Chip Kennedy, he and his partner, Josh Sonneborn, and their construction crew were still putting the finishing touches on their new classroom/kitchen located just south of the Gold Center on West White Oaks Drive. Springfield natives Kennedy and Sonneborn are dedicated to providing a contemporary outlook in both their cooking classes and catering business, and their stylishly cool and modern classroom/kitchen reflects that orientation. There’s a work station for every two participants, complete with burner; the plan is to mix demonstration with hands-on participation in roughly equal amounts.

Class topics inlcude Mixology, that Sunday PJ Brunch, Tablescapes and making a meal from What’s in the Fridge? Courses will be offered in Man Food, Chefs in Training (a class for kids), and Dinner for Two. Thursdays will be devoted to touring the world: Italy, France, Mexico, Greece, and China nights are scheduled so far.

The Cooking with Organics class should be especially popular as people’s interest in sustainable food continues to expand. For Sonneborn and Kennedy, it’s more than lip service. They say, “We take pride in sustainability that extends beyond using organic, sustainable food from local vendors. Whether it’s using biodegradable cutlery or zero environment impact packaging, we go the extra mile in reducing our carbon footprint.”

After talking with Kennedy and Sonneborn, and especially after having eaten Kennedy’s delicious Holiday Farmers’ Market lunch, I’m sure their cooking classes will be fun and well worthwhile. Adult classes are $65 and include beer and wine, except the Mixology class which will include liquor. Kids’ classes are $35.

Visit www.5flavors.com or call 787-4654 for reservations and more information.

In contrast to 5 Flavors’ sleek modernity, the next local cooking class venue, Another Cooking School, exudes cozy country charm. Carol Fraase is unquestionably the grande dame of Springfield caterers. In February and March, she and her partner and niece, Sarah Workman, offer cooking classes Tuesday through Thursday in their catering kitchen at Fraase’s farm. As with the Five Flavors’ kid classes, they describe participants of their classes as “chefs-in-training” but in this case, the classes are geared for adults. There’s a certain amount of demonstration, but Fraase and Workman provide an experience that’s almost like two excellent cooks who’ve invited friends over to help prepare a wonderful meal that everyone will share. Each class features a three-course meal appropriate for an upscale dinner party. The recipes are discussed, and participants divide into groups that prepare one component of the meal. Participants must bring their own aprons, but the $75 course fee includes wine that’s specially selected in conjunction with the Corkscrew Wine Emporium to pair well with each menu. Fraase laughingly told me, “We make sure that all the vegetables are cut before we open the wine, though!”

Here’s just a sampling of the many different menus for this year’s February and March classes:

  • Black Walnut Soup
  • Coffee Rubbed Duck Breast
  • Buttermilk Panna Cotta
  • Butternut Squash Flan with Sage Sauce
  • Bacon-Wrapped Beef Filet with Crab Sauce
  • Rum Savarin with Fruit
  • Baked Three Cheese Soufflé
  • Poached Salmon with Artichoke Soufflé and Saffron Sauce
  • Hazelnut Profiteroles with Blue Cheese and Grapes
Visit caroljeansfinecuisine.com or call 217-546-3091 for a complete schedule, more information, or to register.

As for me, inspired by my encounter with Mangalitsa pigs, and Maldaner’s chef/owner Michael Higgins dinner utilizing this special breed (see my 12/3/09 IT column, Swine Dining, at illinoistimes.com), I’ll be heading up to Chicago later this month to take classes on butchering a pig and making testa, Italian-style headcheese.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.
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