June 11, 2012 by
Last week I had the pleasure of attending two excellent but very different cooking classes at the Culinary Studio in Kitchener.
On Wednesday evening, the menu was Korean and hosted by Christopher Kim, an avid member of the evolving local food culture and a producer of artisanal kimchi. Mother Nature had taken an angry turn that night – the skies went dark as rain and hail pelted down. Inside the studio, the heady aggressive aromas of garlic, ginger and chili seem to perfectly match the weather. The menu included some of my favourite Korean staple dishes like kimchi (fermented cabbage) as well as mandu (pork dumplings), and kalbi (short ribs) and I was excited to learn to make them myself.
As Chris began to take us through the steps to make the pork dumplings, it became clear that in any culture the real beauty of cooking is in the transformative nature of the ingredients. Made too many dumplings? No problem! Freeze some and use them for a satisfying soup on another night (and save the stems from the shitakes we sautéed for the broth), or steam them and create a dim-sum style appetizer the next time company comes over. It was interesting to listen to the students reflect on the similar dishes from their own backgrounds – everyone’s culture seemed to have some form of dumpling, and like the short ribs, most seem to have a family recipe that takes a tougher or less expensive cut of meat and transforms it into something tender and wonderful through marinating with intense flavours. Another beauty of cooking – it reminds us we aren’t so different from each other.
All around there are smiles, conversation, laughter, collaboration as people share their culinary experiences while learning new techniques and, for some, trying a few new ingredients. When all the dishes are complete, a grand meal is shared and faces beam with pride in being part of the little community that created it. A great end to a rainy night!
By contrast, Thursday’s class is a twist on the archetypal staple of North American backyard BBQ – the burger. Tonight, we ‘take them up a notch’. But just like the previous night’s class, there is continuity with the focus on quality ingredients and on cooking something together then sharing the meal with new friends at a communal table.
We create three marvelous burgers – the classic beef patty (using top sirloin from Charles Quality meats that we grind fresh in class!), a pork slider, and a 3 grain patty with caramelized onions. We also create our toppings from scratch – homemade ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise along with a yogurt and preserved lemon sauce for the grain burger. Jody from the Studio has helped us along and made exquisite brioche buns as well as fresh focaccia. I can honestly say I have never eaten a burger where every component was made entirely from scratch (I don’t think any of us in the class had) and it was without a doubt, the best burger I have ever eaten! I also vow to never use store bought ketchup again.
We even made our own ice cream to end the meal with a traditional summertime treat (and there is even enough for everyone to take some home).
It occurs to me that despite the differences in the style of the two classes, what we all really need more of is what tied them both together. Being brave and trying new flavours. Using fresh, local ingredients (and that doesn’t have to mean expensive ones). Sharing our experiences, a trick our grandmothers taught us, or a secret spice we love to use. Being involved in the creation of something and then enjoying it as we all become a little bit closer, a tighter community. The Culinary Studio is a great environment to experience all of this in, and they encourage everyone to bring that feeling home with them.
I make an internal pledge to turn off the TV and pass the peas.
Be sure to follow the Culinary Studio (@thestudiokw) and Chris Kim (@The_FoodStand) on Twitter! Check out www.theculinarystudio.ca to register for upcoming classes.
Michelle Sullivan lives in Kitchener and is passionate about all things food related and about sustainable, healthy living.