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Southern Delaware has an array of cooking classes available in the offseason, giving home chefs and self-proclaimed “foodies” a chance to learn techniques from a pro.
“I like to cook and this is a great opportunity to learn,” said Cindy Timmerman, an Ocean View resident attending a class at the Big Fish restaurant in Rehoboth Beach one recent Saturday.
The chefs, meanwhile, enjoy an opportunity for casual, relaxed interaction with their customers.
“It is nice to be one-on-one for a change,” said Marcus White, Summer House chef who was helping teach the class at Big Fish, a sister restaurant.
“I like teaching because it is interactive,” said Kevin Reading, chef and owner of Abbott’s Grill in Milford, site of a Feb. 24 cooking class on the art of cleaning and preparing seafood.
Abbott’s Grill usually does about six cooking classes a year.
Though the origins are uncertain, it is likely that restaurants in southern Delaware started offering classes to supplement revenues during the quiet offseason.
And the response has been overwhelming.
“Cooking classes are really hot right now,” said Reading.
Brenda Pfautsch of the Spice & Tea Exchange in Rehoboth Beach said their “Chef Series” classes were launched right after they opened in 2013 and have been popular from the start.
The proof: All eight of their cooking classes this winter season are sold out.
“It just completely took off,” she said.
The Spice & Tea Exchange sessions spotlight regional culinary talent, each demonstrating specialties from their own restaurants.
“We do try and bring in good local chefs,” Pfautsch said.
This year’s Spice & Tea Exchange lineup includes these well-known chefs: Zack Dick, Dogfish Head; Lisa DiFebo, DiFebo’s Italian Restaurant; Lion Gardner, Blue Moon; Raghu Kumar, Indigo; Norman Sugrue, Big Fish; Tony Lanuza and Chris Poeschi, Burley Cafe; and Hari Cameron of a(MUSE.).
Cameron also does cooking classes at Grandpa (Mac), a casual pasta restaurant in Rehoboth Beach and Lewes co-owned with his brother, Orion.
The next class at Grandpa (Mac) in Rehoboth Beach will be about “creating fantastic pasta dishes from items found in your pantry.” The 6 p.m., Jan. 28 class is free.
Hari Cameron’s next cooking class at Grandpa (Mac) in Rehoboth is on Feb. 22 and it will have a vegetarian theme: preparing and cooking root vegetables. The free demonstration begins at 6 p.m. and will include a take-home recipe packet.
Good food and fun
Many of the classes, including one held recently at Big Fish, include an intimate cooking demonstration followed by an opportunity to taste the chef’s creations.
The class was set up in the Big Fish bakery with participants — limited to 22 — seated at tables arranged in a square so all could easily see the demonstration.
Chef and Big Fish co-owner Norman Sugrue, assisted by White, demonstrated the art of properly cutting fish — after they took participants on a tour of the Big Fish Grill Seafood Market.
Sugrue and White then showed how to prepare a Caesar salad, clams in white sauce, garlic (bread) knots along with a main seafood course — barramundi (sea bass) over creamy polenta.
Each course served to class participants was paired with an Argentine wine from the Sposato Family Vineyards of Milton.
Winery owners Karen and Tony Sposato were on hand to uncork and serve a different wine with each course.
“All I can say is, good food, good wine, good fun,” said attendee Colleen Kirschoff of Ocean View.
Participants Tom and Barbara German of Milton love cooking and the couple had a great gift idea when they heard about the classes at Big Fish.
“We decided the class would be a Christmas gift to ourselves,” Barbara German said.
The Spice & Tea Exchange classes also provide attendees with the opportunity to sample the chef’s work.
“We call it ‘taste and learn,’” said Pfautsch.
For the Spice & Tea Exchange, it also allows an opportunity for local chefs to demonstrate dishes that showcase spices, oils and other ingredients available for sale.
“We try and feature the things we have in the store,” said Pfautsch.
For Reading, the classes help promote his acclaimed Milford restaurant.
“We are pulling people in so it is a win-win for the restaurant,” he said.
The cost of a cooking class varies widely.
Hari Cameron’s classes at Grandpa (Mac) are free. Big Fish classes cost $85, Spice & Tea Exchange, $50 and Abbott’s Grill, $35.
All the paid classes include a meal.
“For us, it is usually three courses,” Reading said.
And many chefs provide take-home recipes for the dishes they made in the demonstration.
Most of the promoters — and attendees — like the culinary classes because they offer activities during a quiet of time of year.
“It’s January, what else can I say,” said Beverly Straneva, of Ocean View, when asked why she was drawn to a class at Big Fish.
Pfautsch agreed. “It gives people a great opportunity for a fun night out in the middle of the winter,” she said.