I almost fell off my chair this past January when I received an email from the head of Stonewall Kitchen’s cooking school, Kate Ellingwood, wondering if I would be interested in teaching a couple of Indian cooking classes this summer and fall. One of the guest teachers at the school, who is a highly successful cookbook author and award-winning chef in her own right, knew I had a blog, had only met me once in person and thought I would have the right personality to teach a class at the school. GO FIGURE! Big thanks to the talented Dana Moos, author of The Art of Breakfast, for sticking her neck out for me!
It was one of the coldest days in Maine, but my head was filled with warm thoughts of summer. More than anything I knew that the most important goal for me was to help demystify Indian cuisine: make it accessible, approachable and less intimidating for those who had the courage to sign up for it.
The class was August 30, 2018, a few days before Labor Day weekend. I wanted the attendees to feel inspired when they walked out of my class. I would hope they would head right to the food store and pick out some key Indian spices and fresh produce right off the shelf (no online shopping involved. ) What could be better than taking an Indian cooking class and then hosting a Labor Day cookout with a bit of Indian flair!
Flash forward several months later, I was ready to make my debut at Stonewall Kitchen. I was restless the week before as I knew it was coming up. I had lost my dear mother a few month’s prior and wanted more than anything to make her proud of me. I could hear her voice in my head reassuring me I was going to do great because I was her daughter first and foremost…! I knew she would have loved to attend my class and sit in the front row – gleaming from ear to ear with pride.
The school was so kind and graciously put me up at the charming York Harbor Inn, the night prior. I drove 2 and half hours from Boothbay and got there at midnight after a long day at work; feeding my family and putting my two kids to bed. I was so excited I could barely sleep, so I gently leafed through some of my favorite Indian cookbooks to help me unwind. I woke up bright and early and headed over to the school, only 6 minutes down the road. The parking lot was already full of tour buses. Stonewall Kitchen fans getting an early start to their day- enjoying the Labor Day sale tent outside, the gorgeous cafe inside and the MASSIVE store.
Pictured above: Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School
I’ll never forget walking into the building at 7:59 a.m. and looking through this glass window pictured above. I wanted to explode with happiness. It felt unreal to be the one teaching the class. The culinary team had just walked in and went right to work prepping, chopping, etc, putting together all my mise en place trays for each dish I was going to have to demonstrate with later. They worked seamlessly together, almost in silence — so focused and completely engaged.
Pictured above: Jane St. Pierre , my chef leader, who also teaches sold out classes at Stonewall Kitchen. Jane put me right at ease and gave me the warmest welcome.
Earlier that week, I wrote to Kate (head of school) to let her know that if she could make my garam masala from scratch and then marinate the lamb overnight that would be great, but its not necessary, a couple of hours of marinating time on the day itself would do. Well it came as no surprise that Kate and her team actually did make a big batch of the spice blend the night before and prepped the lamb. The culinary team at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School wowed me in every way. They wanted to make sure those folks who signed up got the real deal -no shortcuts, no compromising of any flavors here!
Garam Masala: Brown and black cardamom, cumin, black peppercorns, cinnamon, dried red chillis, turmeric, black cumin seeds,coriander and bay leaves.
Pictured above: Getting ready to demo my Mumbai Masala Fish Pakoras.
Pictured above: Lisa Corsi, prepping my Warm Roasted Curried Chickpea salad. She fell in love with the recipe. We both high-fived at least 5 times when trying it. It was so darn good!
Pictured above: Saffron-Infused Basmati Rice Pilaf mise en place.
Saffron Infused Basmati Rice Pilaf: I took on making this dish myself only because I had so much time before the class. Click here for the recipe!
Pictured above: Marinated skewers of Mughlai Lamb Kebabs ready for to hit the grill.
Pictured above: Jane St. Pierre, chef lead, taking no shortcuts. Jane went outside and fired up that grill. In no time, the entire parking lot smelled divine. You know your recipes work when the head of R & D at Stonewall Kitchen pays a visit to the cooking school in person. 🙂
Pictured above: Only the freshest Maine corn to make up a batch of Indian street corn slathered with cayenne-red chili lime butter.
Indian Street Corn: Once these were grilled to perfection, I drenched them in the spice infused butter as a side dish to go with the lamb kebabs.
Pictured above: Noah, prep assistant, mixing the mango puree into the Mango Kulfi.
Interesting story about this ice cream (kulfi.) When I came into the school in the morning, it was already done churning in the ice cream machine. But it tasted more like pistachio ice cream rather than Mango ice cream (Kulfi). I took one look at Noah and said, “its missing the essential ingredient – mango!” It was late summer and hard to find fresh ripe mangoes when Noah prepped this the night before. Within minutes the team had sent for 2 pounds of frozen mango. It was thawed in the oven and blended and immersed right into the ice cream. This was a teaching lesson for me later in the class as well. I shared this story letting guests know that no cooking experience is flawless. You simply have to think on your feet and make decisions and save the dish!
Seen above, are the 12 brave women who took a chance on me and signed up for the class. I know they all learned so much that afternoon from their awesome reviews they filled out after the class. But to be honest, it was me, this rookie teacher, who ended up learning the most! The wonderful part of this experience for me was engaging with these ladies, hearing them share about their personal experiences with cooking Indian food or going to a restaurant and not knowing what to order on the menu. I do regret not taking pictures of every course that went out to guests. I was super focused on demonstrating these dishes from scratch and really listening to all the great questions. All this, while the the culinary team plated all three courses so beautifully for guests. This was the only shot I was able to snag as I was done teaching at this point and the ladies were filling out their reviews. At the end of the class, one of the attendees came over to me and said,
” Cherie, I came with a friend and we decided to make a day of it, so we went to a big brunch and shopped at the store before we came to the class not realizing that we were going to be served three courses of incredible Indian food. So now we have a ton of left overs!” So now you know folks: please know come hungry to a Stonewall Kitchen Cooking kitchen class!
This post was truly to archive one of the most amazing days in my life. I would encourage you to bring a friend,a date or come by your lonesome and treat yourself to this culinary experience. Stonewall Kitchen does it right! I was so impressed that the school allowed me the freedom to create and develop my own recipes. Not once did they intimate nor ask that I incorporate any Stonewall Kitchen products. If you have ever thought about attending a class there or know of a foodie that might love this culinary setting where you eat, watch and learn, consider adding it to your Holiday gift giving guide. I know I will definitely ask for a gift card to the school on my Christmas list. I was fortunate enough to attend a class during the week of Julia Child’s birthday celebrations and it was a quite the culinary experience.
I’ll close this post with one last anecdote of that day. In the picture below, there is a lady on the right dressed in blue. She asked me a question that afternoon after the class was done. I thanked her for asking a great question and asked her to share her name with the class. She replied, ” it’s Regina.” At that moment, I burst into tears and ran over to her in the front row and gave her the biggest hug. Regina was my mom’s name. And, she told me she was Portuguese by birth too! Isn’t it amazing how my mother found a way to be at my first Stonewall Kitchen cooking class? She wasn’t going to miss it for the world. Love you mom…you continue to amaze me!