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Posted February 25, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Sage advice: Professional chef leads class on Italian food made easily, correctly
By Stacey Keenan -- Daily Staff Correspondent
STEPHENSON -- The scene is set for a romantic dinner for two. Red roses add a splash of color to the dining room table. Candlelight creates a warm glow in the room, and a bottle of merlot waits to be opened. There's just one thing missing: the Italian dinner.
For anyone who possesses the suave skills to transform their dining room into an idyllic Italian ristorante but lacks the culinary capabilities to actually feed their beloved, fret no more. Or, for those who've mastered the basics and are ready to step up to the next level, this one's for you, too.
Next month's Global Cuisine: Italian I cooking class at Historic Jordan Springs in Stephenson will teach students everything they need to know to create even the most basic gastronomic masterpieces in their own kitchens.
"Students have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of Italian cooking, or what we call global cuisine," says Dan Hayes, executive chef at Historic Jordan Springs. "We also delve into stuff like braising and sautéing, and the fundamentals of slicing and dicing, stuff like that. It's the overall cooking experience."
Hayes, who has been a chef for more than 30 years, will be teaching the class. He's worked on Nantucket Island and in Boston and Washington before coming to the Winchester area. From seafood restaurants and fine dining establishments to catering and serving as a personal chef for an owner of an NFL football team, Hayes brings a variety of culinary experiences to the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
"I've literally done almost every kind of cuisine," he says.
The cooking class is a four-week, interactive program. While new topics are brought in each week, the sessions will build on the previous week's class. The program is designed for students to attend every session, says Hayes.
"It's a gradual learning process all the way through," he says. "The students go home, they cook something and then they come back with questions, and we go back through it. So we do something different each week, but it builds."
In addition to learning basic cooking techniques, including how to debone a chicken as well as what the different cuts of meat are and how to properly prepare them, students will also learn about some Italian-specific topics. Students will learn the steps to make such sauces as pesto and Bolognese. They'll learn about different cheeses and how to pair them with wines. And, a portion of one class will focus on the different kinds of olive oils.
"We'll do an olive oil tasting, so they know what they're buying when they go to the store," Hayes says.
Sessions of the class will also focus on pastas, meats, fish and chicken. Students will also learn about the differences in Italian rice and the many different kinds of flavorings to go with them.
During each session, students will receive a recipe to follow while they watch Hayes create the dish from start to finish.
"There is some hands-on, but most of it is watching and listening and learning what we actually do. I start with a dish and do the dish all the way through. Then [the students] taste that one and then we go on to the next one. They're eating all the way through, it's an interactive class," says Hayes.
Hayes says he hopes participants will take away the knowledge that they can create delicious Italian cuisine at home, just like what they see on restaurant menus. He adds that the point isn't to take business away from restaurants, but rather to illustrate Italian cooking isn't as difficult as it seems.
"It's not as hard as it sounds. People go out and order something like carbonara or fettuccine Alfredo, and it sounds hard to make. I can put it together in five minutes, and they go, 'Wow!'" he says.
He adds, "It's a good time for people to come to a class like this and learn stuff. Take something simple like an Alfredo sauce. You go to a restaurant and pay so much for it. Then you go to a class, and then go home and cook it and say 'Wow, that's pretty easy.' You don't have to go out to eat it. In these economic times, the class saves you a lot of money by learning some simple things to take home to your family."
Hayes says the class is useful for cooks of all skill levels, from beginner to experienced. The classes are always fairly diverse in terms of culinary skills, he says, and everyone learns something, including himself.
"[The class] is great for newlyweds, for housewives who can only make reservations and can't cook. It's good for anyone who can't cook. It will teach everyone to think out of the box, to look and see what you can do other than open a box and microwave it some," Hayes says.
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