I love taking cooking classes. It’s so much fun to be with other folks who — as hard as this is to believe — are as culinarily-challenged as I am. Yes, it’s true — there are a few of them out there. However, it’s also true that most cooking-class students are talented and innovative food fans who want to improve their skills and increase their repertoire. I mainly just like to eat. Every once in a while, though, I am able to impress. Such as during a recent class I took at the Shoals Commercial Culinary Complex. “Ah, you’ve done this before,” the instructor/chef said as he observed my onion-chopping technique: While keeping the ends intact, slice the onion in half and then half again to give yourself a flat base to work from, remove skin but don’t slice off ends, then make horizontal cuts and then vertical cuts and then cross-cuts, resulting in quick and easy diced onion. Of course, I learned that from my friend Sherry, who is a Shoals-famous cook and cooking instructor now working far away from home. Temporarily, we all hope. I mean, the chef teaching in her absence at the Culinary Complex is a nice guy. He knows what he’s talking about and is helpful and patient and everybody enjoys his classes. But is he Southern sassy? Does he know the difference between oatmeal and grits? Is he willing to stop at every Starbucks he sees on a road trip? Come home, Sherry! We miss you! I’ll even chop up some vegetables in your honor.
Don’t these vegetables look gorgeous? I went to an Oriental-cooking class earlier this week and watched amazed as the chef produced piles of perfectly chopped and consistently shaped fresh veggies. I would have snapped the actual cutting but his knife was flying so fast I didn’t want to get in his way. He made it look easy, but I’ve taken a knife-skills class and let me tell you that it is not. I guess experience is the key, though. Our teacher/chef — Justin Letson, chef de cuisine at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Muscle Shoals, Alabama — did show us an easy trick for julienning peppers: Cut off the ends, then make a slit in the pepper and sort of unroll it as you use the knife to cut out the core and membranes. Then pop out the stem and cut up the end, too — which I wastefully never did before. So simple! And the resulting Lemon Stirfry with LoMien was delicious. And pretty. Our class was at the Shoals Culinary Complex in Florence, Alabama — a kitchen incubator that’s part of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, http://www.shoalsec.com/facilities/SCC_index.html — and this class was so popular that director Sherry Campbell is scheduling a second one. Maybe I’ll go to that one, too — best stiry fry ever!