|From Culinary Novice to Foodie Pro with Grand Rapids Cooking Classes|
by Brandy Arnold
Grand Rapids Restaurant week is still in full swing, and with its tagline of ďcalling all foodies,Ē itís become a week-and-a-half long holiday for those seeking the best of GR cuisine. I myself have made a beeline to Amore Trattoria Italiana for restaurant week both last year and this year.
I donít consider myself a foodie in the snobby way that insinuates I donít enjoy pizza from a chain occasionally, but I do consider myself an adventurous diner who places importance on knowing where my food comes from.
But what better way to do that than to cook it at home? Now, Iím not saying we should eschew area restaurants in favor of always staying in. I live in East Hills and am grateful to have Greenwell, Grove, Winchester, Trillium Haven, Radix Tavern, Electric Cheetah, and Brick Road Pizza within walking distance. But as someone whose meals mostly came from a microwave previously, Iíve found that growing your culinary knowledge by cooking at home makes dining out that much more enjoyable.
Which leads me to my point Ė since breaking out of my lean cuisine existence a few years ago, I love to try new foods, but Iím not a great cook. Have you ever looked at a recipe and became completely overwhelmed? Yup, thatís me. Jicama what? Never heard of itÖcan you get that at Meijer? Arugula? Oh, thatís a leafy green and not the name of a celebrityís kid? Good to know.
So, I decided to try cooking classes at Kissing Rock Kitchens and Grand Rapids Cooking School. My first stop was a farm-to-table class with Chef Tina Marie Greene of Kissing Rock. She teaches from two locations, Kitchen Sinc in MoDiv downtown, where I went, and on the businessí namesake, Kissing Rock Avenue in Ada. I walked in to find a small group already laughing and talking. Turns out this was a group of return patrons Ė they loved Chef Tina. It didnít take long to find out why. With a contagious excitement about food and obvious know-how, Chef Tina lead us through making four different pestos; pasta; and a quinoa salad with radishes, peas and asparagus. In addition, Tina brought in lavender shortbread she said we wouldnít have time to make, but had to try. Iím so glad she did. With lavender straight from her garden, it was delicious.
Iím grateful my first foray into cooking classes was small and intimate, as I wasnít afraid to ask questions. What I initially thought would be intimidating felt like five friends in a home kitchen cooking, laughing and enjoying each otherís company. Tina asked each of us to assist her in every step of the recipes. I held off at first. But as a pasta lover from birth, once we began making noodles, I jumped at the chance. We took turns rolling the dough and putting it through the pasta press. We also learned a pasta cutting trick that Iím still not sure I mastered. Then came my favorite part Ė eating what we had just created. As we sat down to try everything, I noticed the chatter immediately died down to a silence that only comes when people are really enjoying their food. It was a great experience filled with simple, yet flavorful recipes, and food I would readily make at home. Two bonuses - Chef Tina uses farm fresh vegetables from her local CSA, and you can bring in wine! If thereís one thing this girl enjoys as much as food, itís wine.
My next stop was a visit to Molly Clauhs and Chris McKellar of Grand Rapids Cooking School for a Taco Fiesta. The first line of the class description read ďAre you used to crunchy taco shells and flavoring packet?Ē Guilty as charged. To me, making tacos was choosing between Ortega and Old El Paso. So I was excited to learn how to make tacos from scratch. The duo utilizes Eastown incubator space Uptown Kitchen for their classes. Some take place in the larger kitchen, however this one was in the smaller demo kitchen. With 11 attendees, it was a little crowded, but I was still able to get a good view as they got to work.
I was especially intrigued by making fresh corn tortillas. Healthier and a cost saver! While they used a press, Molly said that you can substitute two pans to press out the tortilla as well. Then came the fillings - shrimp in adobo, homemade chorizo sausage, cumin & ancho chicken, vegetarian rajas poblanas and seared short rib. Once again, I was unfamiliar with abodo or rajas poblanas (marinade process and roasted poblano chile strips, respectively). That would usually have me running for the Ortega. But Molly, Chris and their culinary intern Char Morse were extremely helpful in explaining every step and giving tips.
After each taco filling was finished we were able to munch while the next one was being made. Full disclosure Ė I didnít taste them all, as the class was a couple weeks into my current experimentation with vegetarianism. The rajas poblanas was good, and while I tried to stay away from the meat, the shrimp looked too good for me to pass up. It was AMAZING. Judging from my classmates reactions, the short rib, chorizo, and chicken were just as good. Some of it was spicy, but we cooled our mouths with refreshing watermelon agua fresca. Making the fresca seemed to be a little time consuming, but the results were worth it. With more people in this class, it wasnít as hands on as I thought it would be, but Molly assured me that isnít usually the case. Bonus Ė GR Cooking School are regulars at the Fulton Street Farmers Market and have formed excellent relationships with area farmers.
Iím definitely a cooking class convert. I hope to gather a group of friends for another one soon. Hereís a list of upcoming classes if youíre so inclined to try one as well:
Kissing Rock Kitchens
September 6: Appetizers
September 11: Tailgating
September 18: Farm to Table
September 26: Soups, Stews, and Braises
GR Cooking School
August 26: Scratch Cooking for the Busy Family
September 12: Canning & Drying
August 25: Itís All About Beef: Grilling and Other Techniques
August 28: Coffee and Chocolate Ė A Divine Duo
(Classes through October)
Bekins Cooking School
September 10: Under the Sea
September 24: Easy Weeknight Meals
The Starving Artist
Check their website soon for fall classes
August 28: Boot Camp Cooking Class
Photos courtesy of Kissing Rock Kitchens and Grand Rapids Cooking School
Published: August 22, 2012
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