Monday, November 24, 2008

The Viking Cooking School

Viking Cooking SchoolThere are certain times when I sit back and think, "I love being a writer." Okay maybe I'm not sitting back--I'm on the move doing something fun and exciting which is kind of my point.

Several months ago a magazine editor asked if I'd be willing to write a piece about the Viking Cooking School which is a class-by-class culinary program designed for everyday folks like me and run by Viking, the same folks who bring you those fancy six-burner stoves and those food processors that can blow something to smithereens better than the Death Star itself.

It took me all of seven seconds to respond with a huge "Yea!" because I would be writing (something I live for) about cooking (something I love nearly as much) for money (another thing high on my "I'm okay with" list) then on top of all that I'd get to go to the Viking Cooking School myself to try out the classes. You might say they were embedding me in the school.

Well with a deal like that you knew there'd be a post coming.

So the question is: How did it go?

It was wonderful! In fact it was so much fun that I pretty much wore out my husband making him listen to a recap of all the details once I got home from the first class.

Viking Cooking School is run nationally--the website has a list of cities where the school operates and Anchorage just happens to be number one on the list. Locally you can find it at Allen and Peterson Home Appliance Center or on the Kenai Peninsula at the Allen and Peterson store down there. The calendar of classes offers everything from ethnic cooking classes to classes on grilling, cakes, soups and sauces. You can take a class on Argentine grilling techniques or on basic knife safety, sushi or candy making.

Me? I opted for two ethnic classes, first the popular "Thai Taste Explosion" and second (as a birthday treat to myself) the "Indian Feast." I chose those two because after the approximately 17,260 meals I've fixed around here I pretty much know the basics and I wanted to try something in an area where I knew absolutely nothing (beyond my brief foray into the wonders of pad thai). Besides, Thai and Indian food are trendy right now and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Upstairs at Allen and Petersen’s Viking test kitchen I was one of seven students taught by Scott Johnson, a chef who has worked in some of my favorite restaurants and we got to work on Chicken Satay complete with Peanut Sauce, Thai Spring Rolls with Sweet and Sour Chili Dipping Sauce and Banana Leaf-Wrapped Red Snapper with Thai Red Curry Sauce.

The recipes, which came directly from Viking, were easy to follow and assemble and allowed Scott to demonstrate basic techniques such as how to most effectively bone and slice a chicken breast, how to wrap a spring roll or how to choose the best fish fillet before he turned things over to the class. He encouraged us to jump right in and learn by doing while his able assistant followed behind to clean up our messes, wash our used utensils and measure out trays of ingredients (something my dream kitchen must have to qualify as a "dream" kitchen).

As a grand finale to the evening we sat in the dining room next door to the kitchen to enjoy our labors and best fish I’ve ever eaten. I’d had three hours to work up an appetite and between the dishes we’d prepared ourselves we were served Thai Cucumber Salad, Steamed Jasmine Rice and Lemon-Ginger Sorbet and I went home completely satisfied, with a fistful of recipes and vowing to make the Banana Leaf-Wrapped Snapper for my family the next day.

Viking Cooking SchoolThough the recipes weren’t particularly difficult to accomplish, having someone with experience translate and de-mystify foreign ingredients such as “kaffir lime leaves,” “sambal oelek” and “tamarind paste” then tell me where I could buy banana leaves made all the difference when deciding whether I'd ever make the dishes on my own--which I have done to the satisfaction of five happy mouths here at Casa Mitton.

The second class, the "Indian Feast" where we fixed Curried Vegetable Pastries (Samosas), Cucumber Yogurt Dip (Raita), Split Pea Curry (Dhal) and Chicken with Roasted Coriander in a Coconut Curry Sauce (Dakshini Murgh) wasn't quite as good, probably because I didn't care for the food as much. I've heard so much about Indian cuisine but when it came right down to it a lot of it was heavily fried in ghee which is nothing but clarified butter (I can feel the ol' arteries glopping as I type the words) though not terribly satisfying and the rest was all the same: hot and curried. It smelled great cooking but it was all so similar that I quickly got tired of the flavor and began to wonder how all those billions of Indians could live on the stuff (sorry, just an opinion and I'm quite sure it's wrong).

The yogurt sauce was good but not as good as tzaziki, its Greek cousin, and the samosas were okay but not nearly as good as calzone or empanadas. The bread--chiapati--was better than a saltine but not as good as a pita so I wasn't as enthusiastic for the experience as a whole but then I know I'm definitely in the minority here as Indian food is THE hot thing for food trends it seems.

But regardless of the food it was nice getting instructions and widening my food horizons and fun trying new things, it made this housewife feel pretty adventurous.

With the holidays coming up if you want to treat yourself to a night of fun and tasties then check out your local Viking Cooking School--see what classes they offer, there are date night classes, girls' night out classes, even teen classes where you can go with your child and bond over some baklava. Brush up on some basics or learn something new (I'd like to try the Argentine steakhouse class and try my hand at some chimichurri). They're nice because you don't have to commit to a long running event--just two or three hours depending on the class. I'd definitely sign up if they offered a pastry class--those can be tricky but if you do them right the results are show-stopping.

Who knows? You might discover your own inner Iron Chef.

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Technorati tags: Viking, Thai, cooking


Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

Ooooohhh, my stomach is growling now. This Viking cooking school sounds great.

I think I'll send the hubby though. He's the cook in the family.

Now how do I hook up with this "writing" + "money" gig? ;)

Inkling said...

Very cool. I may just have to ask for a class for my birthday. I've never been brave enough to try something like that, but you make it sound approachable and fun.

The Thai food (and your picture) have me wishing for something other than cereal this morning. I'm sorry the Indian food thing didn't meet your expectations. I have to say the picture of what you made didn't meet mine either, when I think of Indian food. So if you ever come south to BC, you should send us an email. My husband makes the best Chana Masala, various chicken dishes, and we know a great place to get samosas and fresh naan bread. I can never make Indian quite like he can. It helps to live in a town where half the population is East Indian. (I always know I'm home from a trip when I come back and see saris and turbans in our little town. Oh, and the other half is Mennonite. Talk about a weird combo.)

Janet said...

That sounds like something even I might enjoy. We love Indian food, but I suspect that the clarified butter is why - we are Southerners after all. Butter is all we have left once we gave up lard.

I have to admit, when I saw the post title I thought of lots of meaty Norse dishes.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I envy your Thai food, but I want to cry over your Indian food experience. One of the things I love so dearly about Indian food is the amazing combinations of flavors. The fact that your meal tasted all the same shows that it was a poor menu. And I cannot believe you weren't taught to make chutnies. Indian food without mint and/or tamarind chutney is like french fries without ketchup!

You are right about all the oil though. I have an Indian friend who was teaching me to cook a few things and she kept saying, "the recipe calls for this much oil, but really you don't even need half of that."

reprehriestless warillever said...

I love your honesty -- that you started the post with an explanation of how you came to attend the class. You also touched on the positives and negatives of the experience.

I am little disappointed that you didn't get a helmet with horns at viking school...

cndymkr / jean said...

What a great idea. Now this is something I could really get into. I'll be adding this to my Christmas list.

Brandi said...

That sounds like sooooo much fun. I love to cook. Maybe one day...'ve been picked for a meme award on my blog!

Kim said...

Thanks for the review!

I've been receiving A&P's little catalog listing all the cooking classes for (literally) years, but have never gotten around to signing up. I'm really interested in taking my daughter to one of the parent/child classes.

Alison said...

I was curious enough after reading your article to check out the list of Viking cooking schools. Too bad the closest is over 3hrs drive away from me. Game Boy and Artist Girl went through a phase of watching lots of cooking shows. Unfortunately that did not translate into lots of cooking in the kitchen, though I'm sure they understand all the terms now at least.

Sorry to hear you did not enjoy the Indian cooking results. I'm rather partial to Indian cuisine, provided it is mild. Personally I stick to the breads and curries, rather than the fried stuff. It's one thing about the UK I miss. A good jar of chutney and a good curry are rather hard to find in my current neck of the woods.

How nice to be invited to try out something like this :-)

Naomi said...

Oh, geez. I was slightly disappointed when I clicked over from my reader... I was expecting some kind of Nordic fare! But it looks like a great experience, even if you don't get to wear bearskins and hats with horns.

Duke, Kathryn, & Seamus said...

I have been wanting to try the cooking school for a long time. My little sister went and she loved it. I guess it's my turn. Your food looks delicious.

I'm sorry you didn't like the Indian food. It sounds like the menu was a litle boring to me too. None of my favorite dishes are listed. My favorite place is Bombay Deluxe on Northern Lights, across from the Old Northern Lights Hotel. Their food is TO DIE FOR! My favorite is the Vegetable Korma. They have a lunch buffet that is only $10 or so. The closest to "real" Indian food that I've had wass in Southall in London (the biggest Indian population outside of India) and I think it's safe to say that Bombay Deluxe is authentic.

If you decide to give it a second try, I hope it goes better. You might not be able to avoid the cuisine once your Parents get back. :-)

Now after mouthing off it's my turn to go and try Thai food.

MoziEsmé said...

Lucky you! That looks amazing...

Robin said...

How fun, I love cooking classes! We did a full day class in northern Thailand which was complete with a trip to the local market, then back to their kitchen to cook up a feast. Everything was delicious, I learned a ton (and now cook Thai food at home at least once a week), only problem was that their souvenir cookbook is so full of mistakes that you could easily ruin dinner if you blindly followed any of the recipes (typos like "use a CUP of curry paste" - holy cow, I'd have smoke coming out of my ears and would probably never be able to eat again LOL).

Don't know the basic classes though, if they've got a good teacher. I did a course on ground meat of all things a few years ago, because the fancier course I'd wanted got cancelled. It was taught by a top chef who'd put out a cookbook just on ground meat, and it was AMAZING! He took simple ground beef, lamb and chicken to levels I'd never dreamed of!

PS I agree with some of the previous commenters - the menu for your Indian class does sound a bit boring. Where were things like tandoori chicken and tikka masala, not to mention all those double onion (do piazzo?) dishes?

Robin said...

That was supposed to be "don't KNOCK the basic classes". Oops.

Kristen M. said...

I would love to learn how to make the thai food in your picture. I just ate dinner but now I'm craving satay and peanut sauce!

Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

I'm not much for curry, but the Indian restaurants I've been to (both of them) offered absolutely yummy tandoori chicken and naan that I could probably eat for a week.

C D said...

I just wanted to chime in about the Indian -- I was skeptical after my first experience, which was horrid... but my husband introduced me to lamb korma, and it is definitely delish -- creamy, kinda sweet and really good when eaten with na'an.

And I adore samosas... and it is just one of those kinds of dishes that everyone has a version of in their culture... or so I was told :D.

The class sounds awesome!

One Mom said...

Just when I got all excited about taking a class with my granddaughter, I checked the Viking site and discovered, to my great dismay, there are no classes even remotedly close to where I live - bummer :(

all over the map said...

Can I just say that I, for one, am totally excited that you got to experience the class.
I had a Viking range in California and I always wanted to take the class.(now I have a little rinky-dink crappo oven & yeah I'm a little bitter about it - is that ok?) My neighbours also had one and she was the one who told me about the class but I never did get around to taking it. Boo hoo. Maybe one day?
Sounds like so much fun. I am a huge curry and Indian food lover. I'm also a huge Thai fan so I would have been in heaven.
Glad you had a great time.