Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cooking Class

My husband and I participated in a cooking class at a local restaurant last week. Our good friends, Bob and Diane, came up with the idea as a Christmas gift and invited a bunch of us to participate at Tin Fish. We love new experiences and this one sounded like fun, so we signed up. Little did I know what a surprise was in store for me late in the evening.

I guess I expected a chef to entertain and instruct the six of us, plus whoever else might have signed up. Would there be two more participants? Four?

Whoa, was I wrong! When we arrived we discovered a good-sized room set up with rows and rows of chairs. The woman who ushered us in told us that 64 people had made reservations. Wow! I had no idea this was such a popular event!

Luckily, four of us had gotten there early enough to snag seats in the third row and we saved seats for our two other friends who were running a little late. We were right behind a bunch of women who were clearly "regulars" and who greeted the restaurant staff like old friends. Okay, we were the newbies. But that didn't stop us from having a blast.

These photos are from before the event began. To the far left, looking at the camera is my husband, Curt, then Diane and her husband, Bob.

Our chef was Colin, and he was great... funny, and willing to interact with the audience throughout. The night we chose was Mexican Coastal Seafood night and Colin prepared Battered Halibut Fish Tacos with red chili slaw and tequila cream, Black Bean and Crab Enchiladas with goat cheese and fire roasted tomato salsa, and Caldo de Pacific Dorado, a sun-dried chili broth with fresh tomato, cilantro, radish and avocado.

Here's the beauty of this class. Not only do you watch Colin as he prepares each of these dishes, you listen to his hints and suggestions and learn from his substitutions (for instance, shallots weren't looking good so he substituted regular white onions at one point), and --best of all -- you enjoy each course as it's completed. Just like on TV, while Colin is working in real time, the kitchen is preparing/warming/serving finished courses. And then, as the food is being served, the wine comes out and an expert tells you about the choices he's paired with each course. We had a Gewurztraminer with the tacos, a white Sangria with the enchiladas, and a red Sangria with the soup.

I'm not the biggest fan of fish tacos but let me tell you, these were great. Paired with the Gewurztraminer (a California vintage) they were perfect! I wasn't crazy about the white Sangria (too sweet) but the red was not bad.

As much as I would love to include recipes for all the food we enjoyed that night, I have to admit, I didn't take comprehensive enough notes. The restaurant provides an ingredient list and I probably could have recorded each step, but I was enjoying the experience too much to do so.

So instead of providing a recipe here today, let me use today's post to suggest that you take advantage of new opportunities around you. Tin Fish has been offering these cooking classes for some time, but it wasn't until our friends Bob and Diane decided to make it a Christmas gift to themselves that we jumped in to try it. In the spirit of the seafood we enjoyed, I'd have to say we're "hooked!"

Not only are we planning to head back to Tin Fish as soon as our schedules allow, we're looking into other local restaurant cooking classes as well. I was surprised to find out how many places offer these events. I'm excited!

The big surprise of the evening came at the very end. We all put our names in for a door prize and Colin pulled four names. I hardly ever win these kinds of things, but he pulled my name and I did. Guess what the prize is? I get to be "chef for the day" at Tin Fish on the evening of my choice. That means I come in early and stay through the evening, watching, learning, and -- I assume -- helping out a little. I can't wait. I'll be sure to report back after my "Big Night."

Almost every day we have the chance to try something new ... My vote: Go for it!


You may have noticed that I've been running a pre-order contest. Well, guess what? The books are starting to be available *already* - BN.com got them into readers' hands last week and friends have spotted them at Borders brick-and-mortar stores.

So the contest below is not only a pre-order, it's a current-order contest! Hope you take a moment to check it out:

Julie’s first book in the Manor of Murder Mystery series,
Grace Under Pressure (starred review in Publishers Weekly!), debuts June 1st! To help launch the book and to celebrate its release, she's running a very special contest: Purchase Grace Under Pressure any time before May 31, 2010, and you're eligible to win a $25 gift certificate from Mystery Lovers Bookshop! (and if you've already pre-ordered, you just need to let Julie know!) No receipts required. Just email Julie at JulieHyzy@gmail.com with the date that you pre-ordered and thename of the bookstore you ordered it from, and your name goes in! (Please put "CONTEST" in the subject header. Thanks!)

Here are a few helpful links to get you started:
Independent Bookstore List: here
- Mystery Lovers Bookshop (free shipping on book orders over $10!)
- Centuries & Sleuths (Julie's local mystery bookstore)

And don't forget to check out Avery's website: Avery Aames for fun stuff, tidbits, and upcoming contests. Only six weeks to the launch of The Long Quiche Goodbye.


  1. This sounds like such a fun night, Julie! And y'all all look like you're having a good time. I think you're right--whether as a writer or a cook, we should challenge ourselves and see how we grow!

    That's so cool you won that door prize!

  2. This was so much fun and I'm looking forward to trying again. There was so much -- the food, the wine, the interactions. And I can't wait to be chef for a day. What wonderful research for the next Ollie book!


  3. My parents did a tour in France that included cooking lessons. They invited my brother (a former chef) and his wife to join them. I wish I could have gone too, but I'll be looking for things more local.

  4. What fun, Julie! And you couldn't have won a more perfect door prize. I hope you'll tell us all about it when the White House Chef is in charge of the kitchen at Tin Fish!

    ~ Krista

  5. There's a tiny restaurant in Plymouth (near here) run by a French chef and his American wife. It's kind of a salon--they serve what they feel like, and what looks good in the market that day, to as many people as fit in their restaurant. They encourage their guests to talk to each other, which is fun. They also offer small cooking classes, which I'd love to try (especially the bread-making one).

    But what I'm really holding out for is a short course at the Ballymaloe cooking school in Co. Cork, Ireland! Research, right?

  6. Hi Terry - wow, what a wonderful trip that must have been. But there's nothing wrong with local classes and I think they'd be a perfect way to get started. My husband and I went to Napa last year. I wish we would have thought about taking a cooking class on that trip. Great food out there.

    Krista - isn't that the *best* door prize? I'm ridiculously excited. Can't wait. This week's busy and I wouldn't be able to fit it in, but I'm hoping to schedule my chef day in the next week or two. The sooner the better.

    Sheila - research. Always. That's the ticket. And heading out to Ireland to get it right is a fabulous idea. Go for it!


  7. Wonderful post of your experience and (echoing Krista), I hope you'll tell us all about the night you become the Tin Fish guest chef. Great advice on looking around for similar opportunities in our areas. I can testify (for example) that many independent coffeehouses offer coffee tastings and coffee classes to educate their patrons about the many steps in the seed to cup journey and the many differences in the coffees of the world (just like wine, lol). So many wonderful things to learn in the world of cuisine and great advice to broaden our horizons....Hey, one week to go on GRACE UNDER PRESSURE'S official release, and I'll bet a lot of stores will have it out for Memorial Day weekend reading! Can't wait to read it, Julie. Congrats on launching a brand new series!

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. I've never had a formal cooking class, just learned everything from mama's home cooking ..congratulations on winning!

  9. Hey Cleo - thanks so much! I'm wildly excited about GRACE's debut. Can't wait. And I love the idea of coffee tastings. I've done wine tastings but how fun a coffee event would be!

    Momgate - this was really my first formal class. I tried taking a "knife skills" class once through the park district but that was a complete waste of time. Would have been more helpful if they'd given us knives that actually cut. They kept apologizing for providing substandard equipment, but the damage was done. Still, it's a fun way to learn something new. At that one I learned never approach a carrot with a butter knife *grin*


  10. PS - Momgate: Learning from "mom" really is the best of all, isn't it?


  11. Julie, this sounds like such fun! And to be the
    guest chef -- too cool! I love trying new things. I'll have to look around here for restaurant cooking classes.

  12. Julie, sounds like a great experience! I took a cooking class years ago at a fine restaurant and it was so much fun. Four courses with wine to boot. Loved it. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Julie that sounds like it was a blast! Sometimes I wish we lived closer in to Chicago so that Chris and I could do stuff like that. I'll be looking forward to hearing about your big night!