If you could earn a degree by attending cooking classes and demos, I’d have my masters. In our area alone, there are three well-respected “schools” to hone your skills: Viking, Sur La Table and Loretta Paganini. I’ve taken the bulk of my lessons at Viking, both hands-on and demo, followed by Sur la Table, demo only. Last week was my first experience at Loretta Paganini.
The class’s theme, taught by Chef Eric Wells, was pumpkin and squash. The chef demoed roasted butternut squash soup with gruyere croutons, zucchini crostini, squash risotto, pork stew with fennel and acorn squash and chocolate zucchini cake. Unfortunately, pumpkin was missing from all recipes.
I was surprised to see that the school is in a quaint old house. I believe there is a larger addition that we didn’t see; we only had access to the kitchen and small shop. The kitchen reminded me of sitting in grandma’s kitchen. It’s small but cozy and the décor is dated, which I think works in its favor by giving it an overall laid-back atmosphere, more so than Viking or even Sur La Table. There are two long communal tables for the students and you are encouraged to bring your own wine to enjoy with the meal – something the other two don’t offer (although Viking does provide small tastes during most classes). I was also surprised by how affordable this class was – only $35. That’s extremely reasonable for a class and a meal. (note: my class was comped, and my husband paid for his fee.)
The chef did a great job overall. He set the tone right away and made it as interactive and educational as possible. You can tell this guy loves to cook, and even more so, enjoys teaching people what he knows. We were entertained and informed. Everything he made was delicious, especially the soup and risotto, and easy to follow. I‘m trying the soup and risotto this week, and like the tomato paella, will use whole grain basmati instead. I hope it comes out just as flavorful.
The only critique I have is that the class wasn’t run as efficient as it could have been. Maybe no one else noticed this and we were only aware because our puppy, Stella, was home and can’t hold much after four hours. While I can appreciate the chef taking pride and ownership in each step of the recipes, there were several things he could have deferred to his two assistants, like topping crostini and plating. This way he could have been on to the next recipe while the assistants, who looked bored during much of the class, handled the smaller tasks.
In talking to the chef, I learned he has a catering company called Skye Larae, affectionately named after his oldest daughter. He specializes in intimate dinners for two and at-home cooking classes. For the intimate dinners, he provides everything from the china to flowers to cookware. All he uses from the client is the stove and water. What a great gift this would make. I immediately thought of my parents because these are two people who literally don’t need a thing and would appreciate something like this. I also like the idea of having him for in-home cooking classes. My husband and I entertain a lot and this could be fun with the right group. We are currently looking into hosting a wine tasting party with a local sommelier, but this could be a fun option, too.
Chef Eric also shared with the class that he is in the process of opening a restaurant near the Cleveland Clinic. He said it will be the type of place you’d expect to see in Tremont. The restaurant, also called Skye Larae, is expected to open in the next year or so.
All in all it was a great experience thanks in large part to the obvious passion of the chef. Somewhere between the risotto and stew, he shared that he just loves food and talking to people – that he would do this for free if he could. I absolutely believe that – and that, I think, is what makes him a great chef.