Learn to Cook Like the Pros
Whether you’re an Emeril in the making or just looking for that easy one-pot creation, local pros invite you into their kitchens and put you at the…stove
By Diane Weintraub Pohl Photography by Iko
It used to be the hallmark of mundane domesticity. It has evolved to the realm of refined accomplishment. Mention that you cook and you’ll get oohs and ahhs instead of our mothers’ generation’s condolences. Cooking has claimed its improbable place in the pantheon of pop media culture, the cozy intimacy of Julia Child overrun with the manic exhibitionism ofa Quentin Tarantino showdown. But at its heart, cooking is really all about nurturing, sharing, love. And, as interest in cooking has grown, so have cooking classes and courses. Westchester abounds with them, from private in-home tutorials to restaurant chef demos to continuing education programs. No matter what your favored cuisine may be, if your skill level falls somewhere between those of Culinary Institute of America graduates and those who can barely boil water, there’s a cooking class just for you. It’s a safe bet you’ll find it in these pages.
Preparing Tapas, Marinades
ChefWorks at MacMenamin’s Grill
The chefworks demo kitchen was designed to evoke the Rockwellian ideal of a family nestling in the warmth of a cheery, cozy kitchen, though in those days kitchens tended not to include granite countertops, cherry cabinets, Wolf ranges and Sub-Zero refrigerators. This kitchen has them all, complete with brick walls, linen-swathed dining tables and adjoining pastry kitchen, should whipping up a triple chocolate torte pique your fancy.
“There’s not another place like this in Westchester, where you can cook then eat in the same welcoming space,” says Joy Lorono, ChefWorks’ director of special events. And that’s without mentioning the cavernous stainless-steel-clad professional kitchen down the hall, with seven stoves and 16 workstations for getting down to some serious mise en place.
It’s all on the factory-converted loft-like ground floor of MacMenamin’s Grill, originally intended for filming and promotional purposes. There’s plenty of that too, but parties and classes have become the space’s mainstay. “There’s something every night,” declares Lorono, “wine dinners, theme parties, all types of cooking classes.” “All types” is not overstating it; about 15 classes are taught monthly by MacMenamin’s chef, James Cawley, and his staff. In August, the culinary tour has tapas, clam bakes, marinades and jambalaya on the itinerary, and kids ages 10 to 12 get their own three-day global journey in “culinary boot camp.” Come September, an intensive wine series, “From Vine to Bottle,” debuts on Monday nights.
“These days everybody likes to cook, and everybody likes hanging around in the kitchen,” Lorono observes. “Why do it in your own kitchen? Mess up ours.” And what kitchens to mess up!
Classes held throughout August and the fall for adults and teens, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., $70, or 7 to 10 p.m., $80; kids camp, August 10 to 12, 10 to 2 p.m., $120. (914) 632-4900; www.macmenaminsgrill.com
Baking breads, buns
Southern Westchester BOCES
The way pastry chef Ian Lewis recalls it, BOCES Adult Programs Supervisor Harry Kaplan told him he wasn’t looking for a teacher, just someone who knew his trade. “After a few minutes of conversation, he knew he had his man,” says Lewis, who started working in kitchens in his native England at 14. Beginning as a small-town dishwasher, he later became a cook at London’s venerable Savoy Hotel and various Michelin-starred destinations, then moved to the U.S. as an executive pastry chef and picked up an ice-sculpting certificate from the CIA along the way.
In the year since his talk with Harry, Lewis has become an excellent teacher. His two continuing education classes, “Artisan Bread Baking” and “Breakfast Pastries and Sweet Breads,” are routinely filled with students of various ages, backgrounds and interests, from twentysomethings considering a career in cooking to suburban wives looking to master a pain au chocolate to retirees reveling in a long-subordinated passion. His method is a combination of compassion and discipline. “I’ll turn a student’s failure into a success by making light of their mistakes,” he says. “I believe you get more with sugar than with vinegar, yet I’m a tough taskmaster.”
In his “Artisan Bread Baking” course, those tasks begin with baking white and whole-wheat bread, moving on to bagels and foccacia, then to brioche and Italian sourdoughs. Students in the “Breakfast Pastries” class progress from waffles and pancakes to the laminated-dough intricacies of croissants and Danish. “People often think baking is something only professionals can do,” Lewis says. “I show them that it’s within their reach.”
Each class is held over two Saturdays in September,
9 a.m. to 1 p.m., $125; (914) 761-3400 ext. 367 or www.sw
Grilling Desserts and
preparing Haute Dinners
Cornerstone, Port Chester
Leave one of cornerstone chef Katherine Rich’s classes and you won’t know if you’ve been to school or to a party. “I never had anyone walk out not having had a phenomenal time,” she declares. The CIA grad has been teaching hands-on classes at the caterer’s Port Chester production kitchen for three years now and, besides laughter, she provides recipes for summer grilling, appetizers and hors d’oeuvres and one-pot family dinners. Actually, forget the recipes. “I’ll go over them in class, then tell the students I don’t want them to follow them,” she says. “A lot of people are afraid of cooking, and, if they’re missing one recipe ingredient, will either run to the store or just not make it. I try to get them to think past that, like what’s the flavor, what can you use instead?” Method is the point, she emphasizes. Know how to make a custard base, and you know not only ice cream and crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e but bread pudding and quiche. “That’s when the nickel drops and they say wow,” Rich beams.
Apparently there have been a lot of wows, since many students return to learn to master-cook an entire meal, including dessert, on the grill; to create fall’s iconic apple crisps and flambÃ©s in a dessert class; and to upgrade a family supper to dinner-party status by, for instance, transforming a kid-friendly cheddar potato bake to a sophisticated blue cheese gratin. There are theme classes, such as Super Bowl and Asian, and private custom classes by request. Rich provides wine, hors d’oeuvres, take-home meal plans and lots of individual attention. “Half the fun is having both people who can flip the food in the pan, and others who are like, â€˜This is black, is it done?’” Rich says. Either way, they leave sated—and smiling.
Classes are held every other Tuesday, 7 to 10 p.m., $100. (914) 967-0035
Searing Salmon, Scallops and Swordfish
Fish Cellar Restaurant, Mt. Kisco
The class title might read “great grilled fish,” but to chef Jonathan Everin, it’s wine, dinner and a show. “It’s a nice night out, something different,” he says of his demo classes at Mt. Kisco’s Fish Cellar Restaurant. Spending a Monday evening with a glass of wine in hand, nibbling his seafood couscous appetizer and watching him prep miso-grilled salmon would be something different for most of us, which is why his classes have been filled for the past 10 years. Come September 20 and 27, chowders and seafood braises get their due.
CIA-grad Everin has been cooking for 25 years, for the past decade solely fish (don’t pardon the pun) at the restaurant’s retail sister, Mt. Kisco Seafood. His students’ goals are to master a weekend Bar-B-Q or nice weeknight meal; his is more calculated: to prove that it’s easy.
A few key tools and ground rules are all it takes, he vows. One of those ground rules is: Keep it simple. “Don’t try to copy what you get at a restaurant. Just pick three ingredients, the best that you can buy: the finest scallops, the freshest basil, the ripest tomatoes. Combine them, and you’ll have an excellent dish.”
This advice proved especially cogent at a recent grilling class. Wielding only utilitarian kitchen tongs, a perforated grill screen and a battered stainless bowl, Everin breezily concocted tuna with mango/wasabi coulis, soft-shell crabs drizzled with lemon and basil, and tender squid goosed with hot sauce, all while dispensing nuggets of seafood-grilling wisdom: If you don’t have a screen or basket, use foil poked with a few holes; forget kabobs, the items never cook evenly; don’t use drippy marinades, they cause flare-ups and leave a carbon residue. While deftly turning over some shrimp, he advised keeping them a little underdone since the carryover cooking will finish them. A minute later they’re scooped up and lounging in a shimmering basil pesto, as indolent as summer.
Classes held Mondays starting September, 7 to 9:30 p.m., $40; (914) 241-3113.
Mixing Latin Cuisine with French Traditions
Sonora and Pacifico
With today’s exaltation of celebrity chefs, you’re lucky if they even cook your food. Remarkably, Rafael Palomino will actually teach you to make it. This avatar of Nuevo Latino cuisine, owner of two popular Port Chester restaurants and a catering company, cookbook author, James Beard House regular and, most recently, bottled-sauce entrepreneur, regularly can be found on the business end of a cutting board, demonstrating the finer points of churrasco Argentino and sun-dried tomato chimichurri.
In his classes, held at both Sonora and Pacifico, four courses are prepared, with the 20 or so students broken down into smaller groups guided by his sous chefs, many of whom are CIA graduates. Palomino supplies equipment, appetizers and very mean Mojitos. “We want to make the classes entertaining,” he explains. “No one else here is doing what I’m doing right now, mixing Latino cuisine with Thai and French. People are fascinated with that. We make it exciting, sexy.”
And approachable. Palomino will often teach dishes from his cookbooks, confirming their accessibility. “I want to make cooking fun and simple and not have people think they have to stay in the kitchen for five or six hours,” he says. This summer and fall, the simplicity will derive from South American ceviches, Argentine meat specialties and a Nuevo Latino clam bake; the fun from muchos Spanish wine.
If you prefer your kitchen to his, Palomino will bring menus to you. Or create specific ones, as he recently did “for a lady who wanted to feel she was in Brazil.” These private classes, with a 12-guest minimum, can be scheduled at his restaurants as well. So many options, such singular food.
Classes held July 29, August 12, 26, Sept. 23, Oct. 14, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., $60 plus tax and gratuity. (914) 933-0200, www.sonorany.com.
Cooking By Heart
Cooking In Your Home
In dina cheney’s cooking class-es, your nose will get as big a workout as your mouth. “I’ll bring something like pomegranate molasses for a marinade and tell people, â€˜You have to smell this,’” she explains. “I love introducing new flavors to broaden their exposure, their sensations.” Smelling ingredients, tasting them and discovering their possibilities are the pilot lights of Cheney’s culinary passion, often igniting revelation in her small, private classes.
“Small” and “private” are the keywords to her 19-month-old business, Cooking By Heart. Unlike conventional classes, she teaches only in homes, preferably for one or two students. Four is her maximum. “Any more than that and it becomes catering,” she says. “I don’t want to do that.” What she wants to do is provide a menu of her client’s choosing (she offers a collection of about 20), then devote about two and a half to three hours of one-on-one attention to preparing it. It’s all about control—her clients’, not hers.
She ticks off the advantages of her method: “They choose the menu, they choose the time, they don’t have to travel, they get personalized attention.” They do have to shop and supply equipment, though she’s often pressed her own rasp or melon baller into service. Her menus span the globe, from Latin America to the Mediterranean diaspora to Eastern Europe across Asia and back home for a very delectable brunch.
Chocolate is another of her passions, which she shares in guided tastings for larger groups of 10 and more (fewer than 10 can be pricey). She supplies 10 premium chocolates, baguettes, bottled water, copious hand-outs and a 20-minute lecture (followed by another hour of tasting). Clients supply chairs and, if so inclined, their beverage of choice. Cheney’s upcoming menus will reflect recent weeks spent sampling cuisines across France and Asia. Lavender, green tea, star anise, lemongrass—put your mouth, and nose, on high alert.
Prices start at $350 weekdays; (incl. Friday night), for a 2- to 3-hour class. (203) 629-1831; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.cookingby
Painting with Food
My Mother’s Kitchen
You’ve got to love a guy WHO accessorizes his chef’s jacket with khaki shorts and moccasins, who shrugs off a fallen ingredient with “real chefs don’t drop the shrimp,” who announces he needs a break and steps out back while the class gobbles his finished demo—a guy who, after a long corporate career, reprioritized and named his new cooking school in tribute to his beloved mother. This is unapologetic home cooking from around the world, pure and simple, a mecca for those yearning to cast off a “can’t boil water” complex and liberate their inner chef.
Richard Cooper likens his method to painting, viewing certain core dishes as “canvases” on which to apply the “paint” of additional ingredients to create a “masterpiece.” In his popular “Intuitive Italian” class, that canvas is a basic tomato sauce, the paint a skiffload of seafood, the masterpiece—and it was, the night I attended—a zesty, brine-infused zuppa di pesce worthy of Amalfitana. Other dishes were competent sketches: a quick blender-Caesar dressing for the grilled Caesar salad, garlicky sautÃ©ed spinach soothed with a last-minute spoonful of chicken stock and a lusty tomato/ricotta salata bruschetta. Cooper dispensed chopping/slicing jobs to the six of us along with practical tips from his sweltering post at the compact catering kitchen’s 10-burner Vulcan: The freshness of your ingredients matters—not how fast you can chop them; use canned stewed tomatoes for your sauce—they’ve already been cooked and have more flavor; cook squid for either minutes or hours—anything in between gets you rubber bands.
His many classes range from sautÃ©s and salads to couples workshops and “Guys Night Out” (“just meat and potatoes; bring beer, wine, brandy and cigars”). His most popular class is an in-home dinner party where guests help prepare the meal (as many guests as
the kitchen can accommodate). A mother/daughter program and kids cooking camp have just debuted; he’ll also come to you. “My approach to cooking is about innate creativity, not technique,” he says. “I like to cook it the way I like to eat it.”
Several classes held each month with a limit of eight students, 11 to 2 p.m., 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., 7 to 10 p.m., $65 to $85; (914) 763-0487.
Food writer and cooking school graduate Diane Weintraub Pohl has written for The New York Times and Time Out New York/Kids premiere issue. She profiled caterers in Westchester Magazine’s December issue.
What’s Cooking at Area Schools
Westchester Community College Creative Cooking
You’re on your college campus strolling the quad, eyeing the coeds, pondering not term papers or midterms, but linzer tortes. A reverie then, reality now, thanks to WCC’s Creative Cooking continuing education classes. The tart- and rugalach-focused “Baking for Holidays” class is just one of eight offerings slated for fall, from the traditional “English Tea Party” to the topical “Kitchen Survival for Men.” The evening classes are held in the college’s Food Service Administration program’s professional kitchen, taught by local chefs, caterers and staff professors.
“It’s a fun, stimulating atmosphere, with
people sharing their experiences,” says WCC Community Services director Sarah Fowler-Rogers. “We get a diversity of adults, from novices to those who want to fine-tune their skills. It’s fun.”
Should all this fun lead to a bunch of new friends, you can always sign up for October’s “Entertaining with Ease.”
Classes range from one to six sessions, from $25 to $200 (plus materials fee), beginning September. (914) 785-6830 (request option 5) or www.sunywcc.edu and click on Continuing Education.
Westchester Community College A Taste of Westchester
Sure, we love our Wusthofs, All-Clads and Microplanes, but sometimes it’s nice to watch somebody else use theirs. Luckily, several of the county’s restaurant chefs are here to indulge us. In WCC’s Taste of Westchester program, they open their kitchens to demo their specialties and then, even better, to serve them. This fall’s lineup includes rabbit with saffron potatoes and port wine sauce at Irvington’s Solera on Hudson; salmon, leek and shiitake spring rolls at Tuckahoe’s An American Bistro; and muscovy duck breast with star anise at Yorktown’s Peter Pratt’s Inn. South Asia weighs in at Tarrytown’s CafÃ© Tandoor, and Thailand at White Plains’ Reka’s. Watch, eat, drink, then take home the recipe hand-outs and sharpen those Wusthofs.
All classes $15 plus sampling fee. To register: (914) 785-6830 (request option 5) or www.sunywcc.edu (click on “Continuing Education.”) Schedules and phone numbers for directions: Peter Pratt’s Inn (914) 962-4090, Sept. 22, 7 to 9 p.m.; CafÃ© Tandoor (914) 332-5544, Oct. 16, 1 to 3 p.m.; Reka’s (914) 949-1440, Oct. 24, 11 to 1 p.m.; Solera on Hudson (914) 591-2233, Oct. 18 (Tapas), 7 to 9 p.m., Nov. 15 (Piquillo Peppers), 7 to 9 p.m.; An American Bistro (914) 793-0807, Nov. 1 6, 6 to 8 p.m.
Westchester Community College mt. vernon center
South-central Westchester pulses with pan-cultural and demographic currents, and that energy has been routed directly into the new state-of-the-art kitchen of WCC’s culinary-focused Mt. Vernon extension site. “We’re hoping to draw from across the population,” says interim director Regina Smith, “everyone from baby boomers looking to enhance their cooking hobby to young professionals looking for things to do in their neighborhood to seniors who need to start cooking differently.” (Kids aren’t excluded from that equation; a fall after-school program may be in the offing.)
This fall, three new Monday night series will debut. “Super Soups” features standards like stews and chowders and novelties like Creole Onion Soup, and “Baker’s Delight” explores the rudiments of breads, croissants, pies and cakes. Harried parents and commuters will find dinner-time salvation in the one-pot casseroles, stir-frys and sautÃ©s of “Quick Time Meals.”
All classes held Mondays, 6 to 9 p.m., $140 plus $40 materials fee. “Super Soups,” Sept. 13 to Oct. 4; “Baker’s Delight,” Oct. 11 to Nov. 1; “Quick Time Meals,” Nov. 8 to 29. (914) 699-6871 (request option 5) or www.sunywcc.edu and click on Continuing Education.
India, Cuba, France, Spain—pick a country, then pick a course. Their cuisines are all represented in these continuing ed classes, and, if you’re intractably democratic (or insatiable), choose them all in the “International Cuisine” offering. Then again, there’s the less exotic “Healthy Cooking Made Quick and Easy,” and even the utilitarian “Food Sanitation” for the microbephobe among us.
Ten classes ran this past spring and are a sure bet to repeat come fall. “We’ve offered culinary classes for 20 years,” says coordinator of Adult Continuing Education Alyson Kistinger. “With the increased interest in ethnic foods, healthy cooking and on-the-run meals, the program keeps expanding. We’ve got professionals looking to relax after work, moms looking for new family dinner ideas and seniors eager to share an interest,” Kistinger explains.
Classes meet one evening a week, for either four- or eight-week sessions, in the BOCES professional kitchen. But not all of them teach just cooking. “Eat Your Way to Fluency” throws in some Spanish language lessons along with Spanish cuisine, your chance to finally talk and eat at the same time.
Fall classes meet at 6:30 for 2 to 3 hours,
$150 to $180; (914) 248-2430; www.pnwboces. org/adulted.