A Touch of Class

Channel your inner Giada or Emeril at these area cooking programs

By Jane Marion


Frances Vavloukis makes koulourakia cookies –Stacy Zarin

March 2012

What’s cooking in Baltimore? From sushi to Thai food to homemade pasta, pretty much every cuisine under the sun. Lucky for us, Charm City is blessed with an array of classes for fledgling cooks and experts alike.

People are heading home to the range for a couple of reasons. “The meteoric rise of the Food Network helped fuel foodie awareness and enthusiasm,” says Jay Blotcher, a media specialist for the Culinary Institute of America in New York, a leading training ground for chefs.

But 9/11 was a factor, too, even today. “We’ve had a seismic shift,” Blotcher says. “It really did shake us up to the point where people want the security of home-cooked meals again. People want to get back to basics.”

With that in mind, we went in search of the best cooking programs in the Baltimore area. And we found a veritable smorgasbord of classes, sure to bring out the inner chef in everyone. Ready . . . set . . . cook!

Note: This version of the story contains classes and recipes that did not appear in print.

Chef’s Expressions at the Gramercy Mansion

1400 Greenspring Valley Rd., Stevenson, 410-561-2433

The classes, taught by chefs Jerry Edwards and John Walsh, are dinner theater and culinary lesson all in one. “This class is more of an observation class,” says Edwards, who runs cooking demonstrations as a companion to his successful catering company, Chef’s Expressions. “The idea is to get people excited, to give them a good meal and good drinks. We are there to entertain, and while they may learn things along the way, we are not there to turn them into chefs—we don’t need the competition.” Occasionally, however, the duo competes with one another. “We are culinary soul mates,” cracks Edwards. “John likes to say, ‘Never trust a skinny chef.’ I like to say, ‘You are only as good as your last meal.’ And both of us have total joie de vivre.”

CUISINE: A variety of classes, including Middle Eastern-inspired dishes and homemade pasta. DETAILS: Classes are held from 6-8 p.m. about six times a year; upcoming classes include “Poulet and Poisson,” “Celebrate the Pig,” “Hearty Pasta & Soups.” Single classes: $60 (including wine pairings); three classes, $160; six classes, $300. Participants receive a take-home recipe book. Capacity for up to 60 people. INSTRUCTOR: Jerry Edwards and French-born chef John Walsh. COOKING TIP: “The recipe is only half the story,” says Edwards. “Technique is the key. How hot was the pan? How long did it sear? How whipped are the eggs?” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Being able to cook is a natural-born talent,” believes Edwards. “Just as a musician can hear the music without playing, I can taste a dish just by looking at it.”

Cooking at Pierpoint with Nancy Longo

1822 Aliceanna St., 410-675-2080

With her classes at Pierpoint Restaurant, Nancy Longo’s mission is to take the fear factor out of the kitchen. “I’ve had some people tell me they’ve taken classes with the ‘Frenchies’ and been screamed at the entire time,” says Longo, who started her classes in 1990 and has more than 500 students a year. Though her classes are more laid-back in style, they’re also reminiscent of what you might find in a professional culinary institute. “I teach technique,” she says. “If I’m teaching a fish class, for instance, I teach how to gut and debone a fish. We’re not just making pâté. You don’t come to my class to make something cute in one hour.”

CUISINE: Indian, Southwestern, barbecue, modern American, sauces, holiday cooking, vegetarian, gluten free, and classes for kids.DETAILS: $75 ($65 in advance); discounts for taking more than three classes and for students. Includes a group meal with wine and beer; classes capped at 10 and last up to three hours. INSTRUCTOR: Nancy Longo, a James Beard nominee and a graduate of Baltimore International College. COOKING TIP: “If someone has written a book, and they are a credible author, follow the directions,” Longo says. “Don’t just add soy sauce to a dish. You have to be an anthropologist and understand borrowed cuisines and spices that go together.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The most surprising thing about teaching?” she says. “I’ve had 8-year-olds in my class who knew the history of garam masala and how to make hollandaise. We can thank the Food Network for that.”

Donna’s

5850 Waterloo Rd., Columbia, 410-465-2399

“Ten years ago, I started cooking classes thinking I was going to write a cookbook,” says Donna Crivello of Donna’s. “When I was still in the space at The Baltimore Museum of Art [now home to Gertrude’s], I was talking to a publisher about recipes for home cooks, and there was interest, but I never had a deadline, so it never got done.” Having so many tried-and-true recipes in her repertoire prompted Crivello to start teaching. “People take classes for a variety of reason,” she says. “Some people go home and try to cook what I’ve shown them or modify what they’ve seen. For others, they’re just happy to get out and socialize.”

CUISINE: Single-session demonstration classes on soups, pies and tarts, holiday dishes, salads, dressings, and vegetarian dishes. DETAILS: $50, includes samples of the recipes that are prepared, wine, and take-home recipes; most Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. INSTRUCTOR: Former Sun food stylist turned eponymous restaurateur Donna Crivello. COOKING TIP: “You don’t need to have tons of equipment or special ingredients to be a good cook,” Crivello says. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “My goal is to help everyone learn to cook without a recipe and without having to run to the store for every ingredient,” she says.

For the Love of Food

20 Clarks Ln., Reisterstown, 443-865-0630

Diane Bukatman has an impressive culinary resume that includes an apprenticeship at the famed Le Cirque restaurant and teaching gigs at the New York Restaurant School and French Culinary Institute. But after years of teaching for others, Bukatman decided to start her own cooking school. “I love sharing a passion for food,” says Bukatman. “But I didn’t want to teach in a place where I had to administer tests.” Twelve years ago, she founded For the Love of Food, a culinary school she runs out of two professional kitchens in her Reisterstown home. She likes the challenge. “To teach cooking, you have to be part cooking teacher, part actress, and part stand-up comedian,” she says.

CUISINE: The focus is on promoting kitchen confidence through technique and the how’s and why’s of cooking; other classes offered include Thai cooking, sushi, pasta, and knife skills. DETAILS: “How to Think Like a Chef,” a six-class series costs $425; some classes are single sessions; a meal is included; BYOB; some equipment used is available for purchase. INSTRUCTOR: Diane Bukatman. COOKING TIP: “Never cook when you’re in a rush and love what you’re doing,” she says. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “For me, when I’m cooking, something opens up,” she says. “When I’m having a hard time breathing, and I’m cooking, it’s like, ‘I’m there now.’”

Kaleidoscope

Roland Park Country School, 5204 Roland Ave., 410-323-5500

Culinary classes at Roland Park Country School’s Kaleidescope give students an opportunity to whip up delicious dishes and also bond over food. Recently, after a popular Thai cooking class ended, the class convened at Thai Arroy with teacher Ang Robinson. “They all had fun and made new friends,” says Judy Comotto, director of external programs at Roland Park Country School. “People are looking for ways to make connections with other people—to share their culinary and often their life experiences.”

CUISINE: Single-session and multi-session cooking classes on topics from gluten-free cooking and Thai cooking to Ayurvedic healing Indian cuisine and appetizers for entertaining. DETAILS: Varies according to class. INSTRUCTORS: Teachers include nationally known writer Jules Shepard (gluten-free cooking), area caterer Kerry Dunnington, and Thai cooking teacher Ang Robinson. COOKING TIP: “[The key] is having a curiosity and willingness to learn and explore new foods and cuisines and make it your own somehow,” Robinson says. “It’s limitless.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “These classes are only going to grow,” says Comotto. “The baby boomers want cooking classes. They are not going to rock into old age the way that generation before did.”

RA Sushi

1390 Lancaster St., 410-522-3200

A class at RA Sushi features a sushi lesson and a history lesson (no pun intended) rolled into one. “We include a brief history of sushi so students understand the tradition,” says restaurant manager Andy Gaynor. While students learn assembling tips and tricks, Gaynor and sushi chef Aldon Blackwood allow plenty of latitude for mistakes. “Everyone messes up their first roll,” says Gaynor, laughing, “The main goal is to keep it light and have a good time.”

CUISINE: Participants learn sushi basics, including how to make shrimp and salmon nigiri, California rolls, and “tootsy maki,” a RA specialty. DETAILS: $32 per person/$60 per couple; take-home sushi mat included; classes offered once or twice a month and capped at 18 to 20 students. INSTRUCTORS: Former sushi chef Andy Gaynor and chef Aldon Blackwood. COOKING TIP: “Cooking the rice correctly is key,” says Gaynor. “You don’t want it to be too mushy or too hard, and the timing is crucial.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The sky is the limit with sushi,” he says. “That’s what makes it so much fun.”

Rev. Oreste Pandola Adult Learning Center

914 Stiles St., 410-866-8494

In 1996, the late Rev. Oreste Pandola came up with a recipe for revitalizing a downtrodden corner of his Little Italy community. “There was a school around the corner from St. Leo’s parish that had closed, and it was wasting away,” explains Rosalie Ranieri, principal of the Rev. Oreste Pandola Adult Learning Center. “At the same time, the Reverend saw senior residents with idle time. He decided to open an adult learning center.” Pandola passed away a year after the school opened in 1997. The center named in his honor is now host to hundreds of local residents who enroll in a variety of classes, including painting and Italian language. But the cooking classes tend to draw the biggest crowds. “My challenge is to empty the building every night,” Ranieri says. “No one ever wants to leave.”

CUISINE: Italian; includes learning how to make mozzarella, ravioli, gnocchi, sauces, breads, sausages, Easter treats, and Limoncello. DETAILS: Average class cost is $10; the next session of classes begins March 8. INSTRUCTOR: Various instructors, most of whom are Italian home cooks in Little Italy. COOKING TIP: “When it comes to cooking, just follow your instincts,” says Joe Platerote, who teaches a pasta course. “There is no one way to cook.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The interest in cooking classes is part of a return to people’s culture and their roots,” Ranieri says. “They want to make recipes that their mothers and grandparents made.”

Waterfront Kitchen

1417 Thames St., 443-681-5310

Long before Jerry Pellegrino became the consulting chef at the new Waterfront Kitchen and host of WYPR’s Radio Kitchen, he was enrolled in a molecular genetics Ph.D. program at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “I never finished my thesis,” he says, “but I always enjoyed the teaching.” Pellegrino, a lifelong foodie, went on to teach cooking basics at Federal Hill’s defunct A Cook’s Table before offering a cooking program at the now closed Corks—his Federal Hill mainstay for almost 15 years—and now at Waterfront Kitchen.

CUISINE: Classes include pasta-making, knife skills, how to make chili, and pairing food with wine. DETAILS: The classes are $59 and held in Waterfront Kitchen’s state-of-the-art kitchen. INSTRUCTOR: Chef Jerry Pellegrino. COOKING TIP: “Cooking is mostly practice,” he says. “Jacques Pépin has this famous quote. When asked, ‘Why do you make the best prime rib?’ he says, ‘Because I have prepared so many of them in the past.’” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “I went into this business for the instant gratification,” he says. “As a scientist, it can take years to prove something. When I cook, people tell me they like it right away. I like the pat on the back.”

Whole Foods Culinary Center

200 Harker Pl., Suite 100, Annapolis, 410-224-2042

“Our kitchen is laid-back,” says culinary specialist Frances Vavloukis, who teaches at the cooking school. “It’s not all stainless steel. It’s meant to be inviting and is designed to feel like you are coming to my house for dinner.”

CUISINE: Gluten-free cooking, date-night cooking class, “Chefs in the Kitchen” summer camp, Greek pastries, knife skills, Mediterranean cooking, and surf and turf. DETAILS: About 12 single-session and multi-session classes are offered each month, including hands-on and demonstration classes and lectures; demo classes, $30-35 for a single session; hands-on class, $50-65 for single session (includes a meal). INSTRUCTORS: Frances Vavloukis, a Philadelphia Restaurant School graduate and personal trainer, teaches the majority of classes; some classes taught by Whole Foods staffers and area experts, including food photo stylist Rita Calvert and Culinary Institute of America graduate Robert Chaisson. Guest chefs have included Hell’s Kitchen winner chef Rock Harper and Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star finalist Tom Pizzica. COOKING TIP: “The key to being a good cook is not to stress about it and to practice,” says Vavloukis. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “For me, cooking is a high,” says Vavloukis. “In the way that some people like to paint, I like to create using herbs and spices.”

The Dogwood Restaurant

911 W. 36th St., 410-889-0952

In response to repeated requests from diners, chef Galen Sampson started cooking classes at The Dogwood Restaurant two years ago. “We speak with our guests pretty regularly,” says Sampson, “and in talking to them, they all wanted to know when we were going to start a class, so we did.” Sampson, a former electrical engineer who also runs a cooking apprenticeship program for his staff, hopes to share his enthusiasm for his trade. “I had no passion for what I was doing as an engineer,” he says. “When I was growing up, everything revolved around the table, and my parents were the first generation to leave the farm. With my classes, my goal is for people to get an idea of how to put flavors together, to understand why things don’t work out, and to have a good time. We try to make it fun and festive.”

CUISINE: Classes are offered quarterly and include demonstrations and some hands-on cooking. In the past, they have focused on Indian, Asian, low-country, holiday cooking, and “Cooking with the Seasons,” including grilling and outdoor smoking. DETAILS: $78 per person (including tax and gratuity) includes wine; classes are held the second Saturday of each month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. INSTRUCTOR: Galen Sampson, whose culinary bragging rights include stints at Utah’s five-star Stein Eriksen Lodge, Virginia’s famed Homestead, and Baltimore’s Harbor Court Hotel. COOKING TIP: “Commit to using fresh products and, whenever possible, shop at the farmers’ markets,” says Sampson. “Cook in the season. Don’t buy strawberries in February.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Cooking is an art form that everyone can do,” he says. “You can create things for other people, make them smile, and feel good with your hospitality.”

Germano’s Trattoria

300 S. High St., 410-752-4515

Eight years ago, Germano’s Trattoria hosted school children from Fort Garrison Elementary School in Stevenson for the restaurant’s first-ever pasta-making demonstration for kids. The field trip was such a hit, owner Germano Fabiani decided to make it a regular ritual. “The kids love to throw flour at each other,” he says. “We don’t advertise, but we must be successful because after all these years, the buses keep coming.”

CUISINE: Italian; pasta-making demonstrations primarily geared toward kids. DETAILS: $17.95 per person for lunch, gelato, and demonstration; by appointment only. INSTRUCTOR: Italian-born Germano Fabiani. COOKING TIP: “Making pasta couldn’t be simpler,” he says. “You add equal amounts of eggs and flour and maybe a touch of salt.” FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “The demonstrations are all hands on,” he says. “We help the kids get messy, and they learn that cooking is fun.”

Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Restaurant

720 B Aliceanna St., 410-659-0099

Patrick “Opie” Crooks’s first cooking demonstration at Roy’s in Jacksonville Beach, FL, was a bit incendiary. “Everyone makes mistakes, especially in front of a crowd,” he says. “On my first day on the job, the other chef didn’t feel like doing a demonstration. He said, ‘You do it.’ I was cooking lobster pot stickers on a camping stove, and, the next thing I knew, I lit the tablecloth on fire.” He’s learned a lot since then. These days, Crooks cooks in Baltimore for everyone from actor Mario Lopez (who was in town to promote his TV show Extra) to former Orioles Rick Dempsey. In addition to doing demonstrations, his goal is to demystify Hawaiian fusion fare. “The purpose is to get the guests involved,” Crooks says. “I want them to learn what curry paste is. I want them to learn what lemongrass is, and I don’t want them to be intimidated by our cuisine.”

CUISINE: Hawaiian-fusion inspired demonstrations of various Roy’s menu items as well as special-request dishes; past classes have included Parmesan-encrusted mahi mahi with blue-crab bisque, smoked salmon ravioli, and vanilla-bean crème brûlée. DETAILS: $55 per person (including multicourse meal) for up to 50 people; classes held monthly. INSTRUCTOR: Patrick “Opie” Crooks, a young Ron Howard look-alike who attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Atlanta. COOKING TIP: “The balance of salt, pepper, and acid are the key to good cooking,” Crooks says. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: “Cooking is fun,” he says, “and that’s what we are trying to demonstrate with this class.”


Alfredo Sauce
From the Rev. Oreste Pandola Adult Learning Center

1 stick unsalted butter
3-4 tablespoons flour
2 cups cream
1 cup Pecorino Romano grated cheese
White pepper
1 pound pasta, cooked

Melt butter in sauté pan over medium heat. Add flour to make roux. Mix in cream, grated cheese, and pepper to taste. Cook for several minutes until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.

Mix in pasta.

Note: If sauce becomes too thick, add a bit more cream.

Recipe courtesy of Joe Platerote, a teacher at the Rev. Oreste Pandola Adult Learning Center

Lemon Asparagus Soup
From Chef’s Expressions at the Gramercy Mansion

1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, rinsed and peeled
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
3 shallots, minced
1 small sweet onion, diced
Sea salt
White pepper
1 lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream

Peel the asparagus. Trim the tips from the asparagus, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Cut the stems at the snap point and discard the woody ends.

In a stockpot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Blanch the stems for 5 minutes or until tender and remove. Add the tips to the stock and blanch until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove with a strainer and refresh in an ice-water bath. Drain on paper towels and reserve the tips for the garnish. Reserve the stock.

In a medium stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When foamy, add the shallots and onion and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the asparagus stems, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Squeeze the lemon into the mixture. Add the reserved broth and simmer until the asparagus are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

With a hand-immersion blender or in batches in a food processor, purée the soup until smooth. Add the heavy cream and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Cook, until the soup is warmed through, about 3 minutes. Garnish with asparagus tips that have been quickly sautéed in butter.

Kolokithokeftedes (Zucchini Fritters)
From Whole Foods Culinary Center

3 medium zucchini, grated
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 teaspoon dried mint leaves
8 tablespoons flour
1/ 2 teaspoons pepper
Olive oil for frying

Mix zucchini with salt and let stand for 1 hour. Squeeze out moisture. Beat eggs in a bowl. Add zucchini, cheese, mint, flour, and pepper to taste. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add zucchini mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. Brown on both sides.

Recipe courtesy of Frances Vavloukis, Whole Foods Culinary Center

Middle Eastern-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant
From For the Love of Food

2 medium (but long) eggplants, split in half, see note
2-3 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
¼ cup diced dried apricots
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¾ teaspoon ground sumac, or 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Fresh chopped parsley
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted Tahini sauce for serving

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roast eggplant, cut side down on foil-lined cookie sheet, for about 15 minutes, or until flesh is tender. Scoop out flesh from inside eggplant and mash. Save eggplant shells.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add just enough olive oil (2-3 tablespoons) to cover bottom of pan and add diced onions. Cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up with a spoon as it cooks.

Add eggplant flesh, tomatoes, apricots, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and cook about 5 minutes to allow all flavors to combine. Taste and correct seasoning with salt, pepper, and sumac or lemon juice.

Divide filling among the 4 eggplant halves, sprinkle with parsley, drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and place in hot oven to bake for about 15 minutes, or until eggplant shells have softened. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve immediately with Tahini sauce on the side.

Note: Zucchini can be substituted for eggplant.

Rice Noodles with Basil and Garlic
Recipe courtesy of Ang Robinson, Roland Park Country School Kaleidoscope Programs

1 pound package fresh rice noodles, thawed if bought frozen and brought to room temperature (thin or flat)
5 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2-3 cloves garlic, pound into paste with 3 chili peppers in a mortar and pestle or crushed with side of a cleaver (add more or less chili to taste)
1 pound medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 pound chicken breast, sliced (marinate for 10 minutes with soy sauce, oil, and rice vinegar)
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup red bell pepper, julienned (optional)
½ cup carrot, julienned
1 cup fresh Thai basil
Fresh chili peppers, thinly sliced

For fresh noodles, bring to room temperature. For quick results, put refrigerated noodles in microwave-safe container and heat for 3 minutes or more. Let cool and noodles will be soft and easy to separate.

In a wok, heat 2-3 tablespoons oil over moderate heat, stir in 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce, then add noodles. Toss noodles in oil and soy sauce until well-coated (about 3 minutes). Place noodles in a large bowl.

In a saucepan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Stir in garlic and chili paste. When garlic turns yellow and chili peppers start giving out a fiery smell, add onion and then chicken and stir a few times. Add soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir bell pepper, if using, and carrots into the mix when chicken is done. Cook a few more minutes and, just before turning the heat off, add basil.

Divide noodles onto four plates, spreading chicken, vegetables, basil, and sauce on top. Serve hot with soy sauce and fresh chili peppers.

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