From a culinary theatre to a kitchen that could be part of your home, there are a variety of cooking demonstration opportunities and classes encouraging foodies and newbies, to roll up their sleeves and whip up delicious recipes — an art in and of itself.
“Things that you used to learn at your mother or grandmother’s elbow,” are exactly the things Pat Mulloy, co-owner of The Wire Whisk, is offering at her Appleton store.
Many people don’t know the particulars of cooking, which can range from preparing a chicken breast to what type of cookware to have on hand, she says.
“We definitely see a lot more people engaged in food again,” adds Lindsay Brooks, owner and executive chef of The Runaway Spoon in De Pere.
Brooks is seeing newlyweds who are trying to navigate their way through food preparation and empty nesters with free time take up an interest in the classes she offers.
“Now they’re only cooking for two instead of four and they need a kick start again,” Brooks says of couples in their 40s and 50s.
Community cooking classes also are being offered in the Jones Dairy Farm Culinary Theatre at Fox Valley Technical College. The demonstration-style programming includes insight on food preparation and tips, along with sampling at the conclusion of the class. Eight faculty members take turns holding the classes throughout the year, with the exception of summer.
“Our faculty really enjoys the opportunity to work with the public,” says Chef Jeff Igel, program director for the Culinary Arts & Hospitality Department. He held his “Simmering Soups and Sizzling Stews” class in November.
“Cooking is still so hot,” Igel says, adding he reads a lot and is learning all the time by experimenting with new flavors, techniques, rubs and profiles. “People just want to do this stuff, they want to make good food.”
“The food itself doesn’t change much, it’s what we do with it,” he adds.
Grilling remains a requested topic, but due to unpredictable Wisconsin weather it’s been tricky to tackle with that many people.
“We’re having this conversation on a regular basis. I’d like to accommodate the crowds,” Igel notes. Other popular classes have been on “stealth health” subjects.
“We try to create raving fans. Every customer, every student needs to leave happy,” he says. Classes do include a participatory element by allowing students to ask questions. Recipes and outlines also are given out during the classes.
One ingredient at a time
You don’t need many ingredients and fancy equipment to make something tasty, Brooks notes. It’s more about technique and a good recipe.
“I can tell you why you want to chop everything the same way, but if you don’t, it’s OK. You don’t have to throw it out,” says Brooks, adding that many participants don’t realize how easy it is to make something themselves and how much better it tastes from scratch. Often, there are steps that can be done in advance as well to assist in streamlining the process.
The classes Brooks teaches typically include an appetizer, entree and dessert. They can be taught both in The Runaway Spoon’s commercial kitchen area or in a client’s home. An in-home class is more demonstration-style versus participatory. Attendees are involved in preparing the food and then enjoy it after.
“I’m a pastry chef and I love dessert so you’re just going to have to learn a dessert, too” jokes Brooks. “I prefer hands-on because I feel like I can do a better job of exciting people and teaching people.”
“We really want people to have a warm, wonderful experience out here,” says Mariann Sykes, owner of Givens Farm in Hortonville, of the open French-style kitchen with a cozy fireplace. Class participants are welcome to wear a vintage apron and are treated to dining off of family heirloom dishware.
“I have a collection of those from our ancestors. We use those because it is who we are today,” Sykes shares. It is important to her that dishes and the feel of the class match the topic being taught, which can range from holiday-oriented to basic principles to making the most of your own home and everything in between. For example, a tea would be set up like it would be at Buckingham Palace.
However, it’s more about the laughter and fun than proper etiquette that make hosting the classes appealing.
“If you can’t pronounce it, we don’t do it here,” Sykes adds. Classes are typically hands-on in nature and are meant for the youngest of chefs to the more senior and seasoned students. Families and corporations also have taken advantage of the classes.
“This is a time that they can work together and bond. It’s just really neat to see that bonding,” says Sykes.
Classes also can take on a seasonal flare and incorporate different parts of the property, both inside and out. Grilling and pasta classes have been popular with both male and female guests. Givens Farm welcomes different local chefs and restaurants, and showcases produce from area orchards and farms.
Just over a year ago, The Wire Whisk completed their theater-style demonstration kitchen and started offering classes ranging from the basics like knife skills to cookie decorating to beer crafting to ethnic cuisine. After being in business for 38 years and receiving customer inquiries about classes, it was a nice complement to the business. The intimate space allows teachers and students to have personal interaction and an open dialogue.
“We decided this would be something to bring people into the store and give them knowledge of our products,” Mulloy says. “People have a good time when they come here. It is entertaining, as well as informative.” The Wire Whisk hosts a variety of food experts, including Terri Milligan, a recognized chef and culinary instructor.
“We’re looking to expand our repertoire on what we could offer,” shares Mary Miller, Mulloy’s daughter and co-owner. Future ideas also include having a house chef and having the space available for use for special events, including birthdays and bridal showers.
“Food Network has done amazing things for our industry. There’s just so much buzz about food right now,” Brooks says. Igel agrees.
Better access, knowledge and understanding also has brought attention back to food, Igel shares. He also believes grocery stores have stepped up their game and quality, and the number of restaurants have increased in the area as well. The farm to fork and organic movements also are driving interest in food and leading to questions. People are now seeking more information and want to know where their food is coming from.
Cooking and food-related TV shows have exposed people to cooking and food awareness in new ways from the basics to challenging yourself in the kitchen. Having cooking classes available fulfills a need and desire to learn in a different venue, shares Mulloy and Miller. With that comes the possibility to grow through failure.
“Not every time is going to be perfect,” says Miller. “It’s what you do to recover.” “Edutainment,” a combination of education and entertainment, is how Miller describes what The Wire Whisk classes encompass. Future classes may include health-related lifestyle changes and offerings for teenage foodies.
The only hurdle Brooks has encountered due to the likes of food shows and magazines is explaining that some of the things clients see and aspire to make may be food styled and contain fake components to achieve the finished look versus being real and edible. She does, however, enjoy the challenge of tweaking recipes and working with students to see what they can whip up together.
Take a class
To enroll in a class or for more information visit:
Fox Valley Technical College: fvtc.edu/future-students/get-started/taking-a-class
Givens Farm: givensfarm.com
The Runaway Spoon: runspoon.com
The Wire Whisk; thewirewhisk.com