Summer Comfort Food was the theme of the class I recently attended at Aux Delices’ Cooking School in their commissary kitchen in Stamford. As we are smack in the middle of this steaming season, I was happy to be invited to relax, observe and learn something new about how to prepare summer dishes, utilizing the season’s bounty. Aux Delices has retail store locations, all with seating, in Darien, Riverside and Greenwich. The shops offer owner/Chef Debra Ponzek’s culinary creations of prepared foods and a unique collection of specialty food items. Their name translates as “all the delicious food in life,” and considering their choices of scrumptious take out items, private and corporate catering offerings, and classes at their cooking school, the name is certainly apt.
Lynn Manheim is the cooking school’s Chef/Director and serves as the instructor of most of the classes. She trained at the French Culinary Institute in NYC, and joined Aux Delices as Executive Chef, soon after graduating. She founded the cooking school in 2003, adding another facet to the expanding catering and retail business. She offers classes for adults on most Wednesday evenings. Classes for young cooks, ages 8-13, are offered on Sundays from 4-6 PM.
I was joined by 9 adults and 3-4 college aged enthusiasts in the class. The menu consisted of roasted figs with olive oil and rosemary on crostini, spicy yellow tomato gazpacho, honey glazed baby back ribs, corn on the cob 2 ways, oven roasted potatoes and brown sugar shortcakes with mixed berries and fresh cream. Manheim was happy to demo and serve a fresh salmon fillet for the non meat eaters in the group.
As the group filed into the baking side of this large commissary kitchen, students quickly settled into their seats around a high, stainless steel prep surface/counter that had been set for dinner with cloth napkins and wine goblets. Participants helped themselves to red or white wine and chilled bottled water. The group was a mix of young women sharing time with each other, a couple celebrating their eight wedding anniversary and a few mother/ daughter teams enjoying the summer break. Lynn started instructing and preparing the meal promptly, as she had a lot to cover in 2 hours. Her quick no nonsense and friendly style facilitated a rich learning experience as she chopped, explained and demonstrated her way enthusiastically through the courses. She demonstrated most aspects of the process for all courses, and had much of it prepared in advance to allow for quickly moving through so much information.
Basic skills were demonstrated and explained, most of which were a helpful review for the more experienced home cook. For the less experienced, there was a lot of information on knife skills, using cheesecloth for immersing herbs in a liquid, how to separate and cut a rack of ribs, tricks for roasting crispy potatoes, using a micro-plane zester to access citrus oil from lime, the benefits of using a blender vs. food processor, and how to blanch and peel tomatoes.
The most interesting section of the class was Manheim’s demonstration of how to make yellow tomato gazpacho. She rapidly incised the tops of 6-8 bright, yellow tomatoes and blanched them briefly in boiling water. The quick immersion in an ice bath released the tomato skin with barely the pressure of a pairing knife. Now, I’ll admit that I have watched my share of cooking shows but have never blanched tomatoes. After watching Manheim execute this technique, I will never hesitate again. She then, rhythmically pounded the fresh garlic with the back of her knife, explaining that the fresher the garlic, the milder the odor, and went on to devein and chop the jalapenos. I found the information helpful, but a little basic. Consider, though, that there is no way for the instructor to gage the experience level of the participants. The virtues of Kosher vs. sea salt were covered and fresh herbs were discussed and included. Manheim has a pleasant, warm and efficient manner which kept things light as she demonstrated how to chop veggies and garnish the velvety smooth, chilled soup. Her assistant was great at providing another set of skilled hands for the prep and for serving the hungry group of students.
Manheim’s menu selection was a reflection of the season’s bounty. She emphasized the importance of sourcing the ingredients locally and the conversation naturally turned to Fairfield County’s many farmers’ markets. Her preparation of corn on the cob, 2 ways, illustrated a couple of interesting options for serving farm fresh corn with a twist, either with a simple lime infused butter or rolled in freshly grated Parmesan, butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkling of hot red pepper flakes. Either way, these ideas were simple ways to change up the simple grilled or quickly boiled corn on the cob.
Brown sugar shortcakes with mixed berries provided a wonderful way to utilize summer's fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. This simple recipe was made even easier to execute as Manheim worked the dough with her nimble hands and scooped it onto a baking sheet with the help of an ice cream scooper. She shared many tricks for making basic tasks simpler, proving her classes of value to the home cook looking to add some helpful tricks and delicious dishes to his or her repertoire.
Upcoming classes for the early fall start in Sept. with kids’ classes on Sundays between 4-6 PM. Themes like “Celebrate the harvest” on Sept. 19 and “Food from the local farmers’ markets” on Sept. 26 , focus young cooks’ attention on utilizing our area’s crops and bounty. Other classes for kids between 8-13, are aptly themed “bake sales” and “cooking on snow days”. Having baked often with my own daughter on many a day off, it is clear that Manheim understands the burgeoning young chefs’ interests and inclinations. Classes for adult cooks begin again in September, also, with those earlier in the month focusing on seasonal ingredients. Most popular class for adults? Learning how to cook fish. You may find that class on September 22 when Manheim will demonstrate cooking 3 different fresh fish, with 3 different techniques and 3 delicious sauces and condiments. And for those yearning to bake better and new recipes for holiday cookies, watch the schedule for the holiday baking classes. Private parties for kids and adults can also be scheduled by contacting Manheim directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information go to www.auxdelicesfoods.com.