by Craig Chapman
Ever wanted to try your hand at making authentic Indian cuisine? Do you think sushi is only something you can get at a restaurant? Ever wanted to make you very own fresh pasta?
Here’s your chance! A new wave of cooking classes in Brevard are offering residents a unique opportunity to work with and learn cooking skills from local restaurant owners, chefs and caterers. Guests can gather tips and tricks on cooking authentic, cultural dishes, all while learning how to properly prepare their own tasty meals.
Here are a few hands-on cooking classes being offered locally along with a quick lesson in food and drink pairings to get your cooking school appetite whet.
Spice It Up with Smita’s Indian Cooking Demos
Indian food is delicious but it’s a cuisine that many people find too intimidating to try and cook on their own…until now. Welcome Smita Patel and her cooking demos. “I’ve been teaching these classes for five years now. My old shop was not big enough to do teaching classes before,” Smita said. Some 16 years ago Smita opened up her Indian Grocery store with her husband that is now located in a larger location on south Wickham Road.
In a crowded classroom tucked away in the corner of her Indian market, Smita stood in front of a full class, about 26 people. Normally a full class for Smita is about 18 people but the popularity of her class is growing and people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and with different levels of cooking skills are in attendance. She now gets hundreds of calls each month from people wanting to take the cooking class and always has to turn people away.
“People want to learn, they want to learn the spices. They always come in and smell the aroma and say they want to use the spices but they don’t know how,” Smita explains.
She’s right too. The aromas of Indian spices fill the room as she starts the class which is quickly followed by the ohhhhs, ahhhhs and bright smiles and watering mouths of the students. Smita is engaging, funny, informative and she hands out a full tutorial of how to make each dish so you can easily re-create them at home. She defines words that might be confusing, explains pairings of different types of rice with different types of dishes, gives in-depth descriptions about how the rice should look and then shows you.
Her ingredients are fresh and she has a tray full of Indian spices that she goes over. On this particular day’s menu she was making palak paneer, cumin rice, tamrind date chutney, and potato pea samosas.
“I come up with all the menus but if someone wants to make something else, I give them tips and ideas from the store so they can buy all the ingredients and make it at home. My main goal is not just the cooking class; I want people to be able to get their fill of eating while they’re here too!”
Smita speaks passionately about food, “Cooking truly is my favorite subject. I’m very picky. I like tasty food not bland food and I like to cook everything from scratch.”
Italy At Home with Chef Sean Joyce, Owner of Party Elegance Catering
If you have never had fresh pasta, you’ve been missing a naturally higher level of Italian food that shouldn’t be missed. Making your own fresh pasta is another item that is part of that culinary myth…it’s just too hard to make yourself. Sean Joyce, owner and chef of Party Elegance Catering is here to teach us that it’s not, all in the comfort of your own home.
He originally started teaching cooking classes in Vero Beach for a high end cookware store. He taught everything from pasta making to sushi making, to street food, soups and salad. It was these cooking classes that snowballed into people asking if he could cater birthday parties, holiday parties, business meetings and more, so he decided to start his own catering company. As part of Party Elegance Catering, he has kept teaching his pasta making classes, now in clients’ homes. At first Sean says it was good for business, “Classes are a way for me to get in front of a captive audience.”
For Sean this always leads to someone in the class who has a son or daughter or brother that’s getting married or having a bar mitzvah. “I grew my business from the inside out. So now what I usually do is when I book a wedding and I talk to the groom and bride about a rehearsal dinner, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to come in and teach a cooking class. Everyone can drink some wine, make some food together and it’s fun and keeps everyone interested.”
The pasta classes are especially fun. “It’s not just cut your own pasta, I bring in the sauces, I show them how to make them, plate them… it’s interactive and fun and it’s in their house so everyone is comfortable,” Sean said.
Generally, Sean brings some pre-made dough, and also demonstrates some techniques in front of everybody. He brings the already made dough because it’s a time consuming process. Sean teaches classes of all sizes and for all occasions. Most of all it’s about having fun, eating, and learning something as well.
“Pastas are a good mix of technical and interactive fun. It’s a way to get people excited about food and you leave that lasting impression on them.”
Pair It Up Wine Pairings with Chef Luca at Mango Tree Restaurant
Walking in to The Mango Tree you can feel a sense of history. Not in the decor but in the aura, the warmth of the restaurant and its gracious owners Luca Filadi (born in Parma, Italy) and his wife LeeAnn. “Everything used to be very formal. Clint Eastwood used to always sit by the window there. Pamela Anderson used to sit at the end of the bar so everyone that came in could see her…there
were a lot of astronauts as well,” LeeAnn said.“We took over the restaurant in 2011.”
On this night however we were here to drink and learn about wine. “Pairing wines is meant to complement and enhance the food. Also to give the right volume,” explained Chef Luca.
The goal was to learn the basics. If one wanted to prepare a nice meal at home and pair it with wine, what’s the basic rule of thumb to follow? So we got to it. The food to say the least was well executed, thought out, and exquisite.
Through the night Chef Luca took us on an extensive journey of wine and food and for a more in-depth and explorative journey they offer wine dinners once a month which I would highly suggest. But to make things simple, here is Chef Luca’s beginners guide to wine pairings. It starts like any meal would, with the salad, and continues through dessert. We dive in to an amazing spinach and beet salad to start as Chef explains, “The best is to balance the salad, a simple salad. You need to find a light wine with lots of fruit characteristics. Very delicate, in this case tonight we are drinking a sauvignon blanc.” He continues to describe that it should be one that is not aged in oak. “It will balance out the acidity and go well with anything with citrus.” In this salad the dressing had a citrus base.
The next course gives you a couple of options which Chef describes, “A white wine with white meat. It can be pork or veal or chicken. For this, we need a dry body and aromatic wine. In this case it should be aged in an oak barrel. It gives it a bit of structure and a bit of spice.” This wine would be considered a bit more complex than your salad wine.
You could pair a red wine with fish which many people would never think, “A pinot noir has a different kind of bouquet. It can be a balsamic, ginger, pepper,” he said. “The only thing you must be careful with is to not use chili. It can really create a problem to your taste. A white roast meat or baked fish would be good. It is also good with a prosciutto.”
Finally, a full bodied red wine like a cabernet sauvignon or Amarone gets a little more complex, Chef explains. “There are four main characteristics to this wine: the tannin, the body, the alcohol, and the acidity.” The tannin gives a great structure and is good for red meat and aged cheese. It also works great with grilled meats which balance out the tanginess of the wine.”
The final pairing of the night was with dessert. For this course LeeAnn was our wine expert and brought out Rose Regale, a slightly effervescent wine. “The rule for dessert wine pairing is you want something that’s not as sweet as the dessert. This wine specifically cuts through the fat of the chocolate,” in a light and fluffy chocolate mousse she shared. The wine was also paired with a light and delicious bite of lemon curd.
“These are all common wines that you can find anywhere,” LeeAnn continued. These basics rules hardly scratch the surface on the depth of education one can get about wines. The Mango Tree’s “Chef ’s Choice” exclusive wine dinner happens on the last Thursday of each month through October.
The Mango Tree Restaurant is located at 118 North Atlantic Ave. in Cocoa Beach. For more information, call (321) 799-2660 or visit Mangotree-Restaurant.com.
On a Roll with Sushi Class at Sushi Factory
There is no trick to making sushi. There is some skill involved, ingredients play an important role – rice plays the biggest role of all, but for the unskilled, the novice, sushi can be a blast to make. Chxm Chen, owner of the hidden little gem Sushi Factory, takes this “sushi is super fun” approach to the sushi making classes he teaches at his restaurant.
“I think people just want to have fun. They come here and everything is already prepared. They feel free. You come here create your own (sushi), all you can eat, all you can make. It’s like a party.”
The party definitely happens in Chen’s Sushi making classes. He starts by teaching the basic techniques: spreading your rice evenly on your seaweed sheets, only picking two to three ingredients to put inside each roll, rock your knife front to back when cutting your roll into pieces, etc. Then he brings out a huge tray of ingredients to use: tuna, spicy tuna, white tuna, shredded carrots, seaweed salad, wasabi, cabbage, crab legs, avocado, cream cheese, cucumber and more and the party begins.
You can make and create as many different types of sushi rolls as you’d like. Chen is there to answer any questions and offer help. For those who want more in-depth knowledge on sushi making, he’s got it, if you want your roll turned into a tempura roll, he can teach you that too. The reservation only class taught on Sunday evenings is always full, Chen says.
“Sushi now is very popular, everybody loves sushi. Sushi is a very healthy food. People go to the doctor and the doctor says you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that, then the person asks about sushi and the doctor says sushi is OK. That’s why everybody comes here.”
Sushi is also one of those foods that people think is too hard to make, but everyone wants to try. “Some people say, ‘I’ve been eating sushi for all my life but I’ve never made sushi’ so, they come here to make sushi.”
Chen is no stranger to the food business and has years of experience as a sushi chef. With Sushi Factory he wanted to try something that is different and new to the area, and if you didn’t know it existed, you would probably never just happen to come across it. The sushi comes out by the piece so you can try it all. “This is a totally new idea; you don’t see the outside. One person can try everything and everything is fresh. I believe if you have a good deal, good food, location doesn’t matter, people will come.” They do, in droves!
*Sushi making classes are on Sundays and you must call in advance for reservations.
Sushi Factory is located at 1547 Maple Ave. in Melbourne. For more information, call (321) 234-5560 or visit SushiFactoryMelbourne.com.