Last Sunday I was a volunteer helper at a Dispatch Kitchen cooking class taught by Robin Davis, food editor of the Columbus Dispatch and a James Beard award winner. It was instantly clear that Robin is an experienced teacher and demonstrator. Everything was perfectly organized with ingredients for each course on separate labeled trays, every ingredient prepped and every plate piled up. This made volunteering a pleasure and I was able to sit at the back and for the most part learn with the rest of the students.
Classes at the Dispatch Kitchen are not just educational – they are delicious. It’s more like dinner and a demo. Watch and learn, then eat. There is an overhead camera so you can really see what is going on and all the recipes and instructions are printed so that you only need to annotate rather than scribble notes. There are things that you might want to scribble because Robin is a mine of useful information – how many tablespoons of juice to expect from a lemon, what temperature a simmer equates to, and how to tell when salmon is cooked through – and fun stories.
Everything had a component from the land and the sea. The menu was:
Grilled marinated shrimp on a lightly dressed salad of greens and apples. An interesting and refreshing combination.
Spaghetti san Valentino, a crab, fennel, tomato, garlic and white wine sauce with lots of butter that was reminiscent of bouillabaisse.
Roasted Salmon with Mahogany Glaze, served with celery root puree. The glaze was made with molasses to add sweetness and color and was so good that I wanted to lick it up. Brushing extra glaze on after it was cooked really intensified the flavor too.
Salty Caramel Sauce with Jeni’s honey bean vanilla ice cream. Here the sea component was sea salt. Would it be too much to have that on salty caramel? I don’t think so.
I am usually wary of boiling sugar at home, but this sauce was simple and delicious enough for me to attempt it. Robin suggested that we could use it for caramel popcorn, now there’s a thought!
The best thing about the menu was that these were all dishes that you could see yourself making at home. The only daunting thing might be picking crab meat. It is essential to use whole crabs as the shells contribute both to the taste and color. I always learn something new in any class and cooking with crab shells was new to me. Apparently the purists will actually grind up the shells and add them to thicken the sauce.
Another gem I took away was to cook celery root in milk to give it a silkier texture. I love celery root and often serve it mashed either alone or instead of mashed potato. The milk definitely improved the texture of puree.
I highly recommend the Dispatch Kitchen classes, both the classes taught by Robin and those taught by guest chefs from around the city. If you have never cooked Thanksgiving dinner before, make a bee-line for the Thanksgiving boot camp on November 8th where you will learn all about turkeys, pies and stuffing. Upcoming Chef series classes include Richard Blondin from the Refectory and Paul Yow from Barcelona.