Seeking a second career after leaving her public relations job with the Red Cross, Jennifer Vogel took a few cooking classes to help her decide whether she wanted to attend culinary school.
The classes were all lecture-and-demo classes in the style of most cooking schools for regular folks. Such schools usually have a demo kitchen upfront, rows of seats for the audience and perhaps a mirror hung tilted from the ceiling, so the audience can watch the chef’s hands. A student might occasionally get to come upfront and join the chef for some aspect of the lesson, but typically, the bulk of the cooking is done only by the chef.
By the time Vogel had finished culinary school, she was convinced that a cooking school with hands-on stations for every student would be a better model — and she’d decided to open such a school.
“You’d never take piano lessons by watching somebody play the piano,” she said.
To this day, her school, The Learning Kitchen in West Chester, is the only cooking school she’s aware of that has individual stations for every student, complete with workspace, stovetop burners and small ovens. It’s an intimate space; maximum class size is 12.
Such a model is especially helpful for topics like the recent homemade pasta class. Homemade pasta can be hard to work with: The dough is difficult to pull together, and putting the dough through a pasta machine without making a tangled mess is an acquired skill.
Chef Kara Winterrowd directs her students in dough-making, warning them that this will be the hardest part of the evening – getting the dough not too dry and not too wet, but just right.
She suggests they use their hands to incorporate the eggs into the flour.
“Ewww, really?” one student pipes up.
“You’ve gotta get in touch with your food,” Winterrowd shoots back, noting that touching the dough will help students learn when it’s right.
BASIC FRESH PASTA
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
Mound flour in center of a large cutting board, large bowl or on a clean countertop. Make a well in the middle of the flour and cracks the eggs into it. Using a fork or clean fingers, beat together the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. As you incorporate eggs, keep pushing flour up to retain the well shape. The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half the flour is incorporated. Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Add more flour in small increments if the dough is too sticky. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board or countertop and scrape up any leftover dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes at room temperature. Roll and form as desired, using pasta machine, stand mixer attachment, or rolling pin and knife.
Note: Fresh pasta requires only about ½ the cooking time of dried pasta.
SOURCE: The Learning Kitchen
PAN-ROASTED VEGETABLE AND CARAMELIZED ONION PASTA
Unsalted butter or olive oil
¼ large onion, sliced thin
Herbes de Provence
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tomato, chopped
½ zucchini, sliced thin
Dried red chili flakes, if desired
3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth or white wine
Fresh-made pasta (half of pasta recipe above, cooked)
Place butter or oil in a nonstick skillet and add onions. Cook low and slow until softened and sweet, seasoning with salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence. Once soft and sweet, add balsamic vinegar and cook another 30 seconds or until absorbed. Remove onions from skillet and set aside.
Place more oil or butter in pan and turn burner to medium high. Add all other vegetables and season as desired with salt, pepper and red chili flakes. Once cooked and golden brown, add onions, broth or wine, and pasta, and combine and finish pasta with the sauce. Season and serve.
SOURCE: The Learning Kitchen
Some local schools
Several cooking schools in the area provide a variety of cooking classes, including:
Cooks’ Wares, Marketplace at Settlers’ Walk, 756 Main St., Springboro. Class topics in May include steak, home cooking for couples, cheesecakes and fresh sausage. cookswaresonline.com.
Dorothy Lane Market, 6161 Far Hills Ave., Centerville. Wide variety of classes taught by Dorothy Lane staffers and guest chefs for both adults and children; some include hands-on elements, and some are demo-only. Classes for the remainder of May include such topics as seasonal side dishes, wine tasting, island cuisine, gnocchi, grilling seafood, and homemade ice cream. Meadowlark Restaurant Chef Elizabeth Wiley will teach a special class on May 19. dorothylane.com/cooking.
The Learning Kitchen, 9276 Centre Pointe Drive, West Chester (moving in June to 7659 Cox Lane, West Chester). Remaining class topics in May include asparagus, shrimp, knife skills, steak, homemade mozzarella and a repeat of the homemade pasta class described in the story. thelearningkitchen.com.
Young Chefs Academy, 6649 Western Row Road, Mason. Cooking classes for children and teens, plus summer day camps. youngchefsacademy.com.
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Every Wednesday in Life, we bring you new recipes to try in your kitchen, plus time and money-saving cooking tips from chefs, caterers and food experts across our region.