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Find Your Cooking “Mojo”

In my experience, cooking skills are developed by applying equal parts perseverance and determination, mixing with a dash of curiosity.    I grew up in the kitchen at my mother’s side, learning the basics of baking cookies and eventually helping with meal preparation.  Through her example, I was able to feed myself with creations from my kitchen when I left the family home.  Later in life, I began pursuing other culinary interests.  My cookbook shelves began overflowing as I started collecting books specializing in a variety of regional cuisines.  I know I’ll never be able to cook all the recipes I’ve flagged in those books during this lifetime.  But, I find inspiration to continue the pursuit in each page marked with a colorful tag that extends beyond the book’s binding.

Now, with a bit more confidence, I often tweak a recipe and am becoming adept at creating some original recipes.  Reading about and practicing techniques are important steps in honing kitchen skills.  However, taking a course from a kitchen professional provides that critical teacher/student interaction so helpful to developing confidence in the kitchen.  In the Triangle, we have many avenues to help further our cooking skills and satisfy our culinary curiosity.  If you feel the slightest trepidation about tackling a new kitchen challenge, or would like to expand your current repertoire, one of these professional resources can be very helpful in achieving your culinary goal.

Your Local Farmers’ Market

Local chefs and food crafters can be found frequenting our area farmers’ markets weekly, not only shopping for ingredients, but demonstrating dishes.  Durham Farmers’ Market hosts two monthly series, Quick Dinners from the Market (for the adults) and the Durham HomeFries, a cooking program for kids ages 9 – 13, teaching them how to cook using local, seasonal ingredients.   Chef cooking demos are a regular event at Carrboro Farmers’ Market, and returning to the market this year is the Community Canning Series, featuring workshops from local canning experts.  Check with your local farmers’ market for additional learning opportunities.

On the Topic of Food Preservation

Before I delved back into home canning, I felt I needed some guidance and a little supervised hands-on experience.  I found Ginger Zucchino of The Gardener’s Kitchen during a visit to Western Wake Farmers’ Market.  Class sizes are small and taught in Ginger’s home kitchen in Cary.  The water-bath canning class I took included a wealth of information and a lunch of mixed greens salad, harvested from her backyard raised bed gardens, along with a simple pizza made with a red onion jam (a jam I make frequently for topping my homemade pizzas).  Find more information about upcoming courses (covering canning and more) at The Gardener’s Kitchen website and get ready to “put up” the summer’s bounty.

CLASS is always in at A Southern Season

The foodie mecca of the Triangle is A Southern Season in Chapel Hill’s University Mall and the Culinary Lessons at Southern Season (CLASS) offer courses on nearly every conceivable topic, from knife skills, to specialized dietary needs (gluten-free baking), to treats for your favorite pooch.  The well-appointed teaching kitchen is upstairs and roomy enough to accommodate many eager students.  Instructors for courses may be local culinary experts, Southern Season staff, as well as visiting celebrity chefs (the James Beard award-winning Peter Reinhart will be teaching an artisan bread course June 10th).  The popular “Taste of the Triangle” cooking series features local restaurant chefs.  Be forewarned – popular courses fill up quickly.  If you see an upcoming class that’s of interest, make that call and register sooner rather than later.

Durham Spirits Company & The Cookery’s Culinary Workshops

Durham can boast (at least) two unique cooking school venues, the first being set in a historic home in Old North Durham.  Durham Spirits Company started in early 2011 by Chef Katie Coleman (a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham) and features both cooking and mixology courses.  Upcoming classes found on the company’s website include Seafood 101 with Dock to Door Seafood (July 25th), and a special summer travel theme exploring cuisines of Italy, France, Spain, India, Korea and Morocco.  The Cookery is a food incubator kitchen for several food trucks, and the culinary workshops are the perfect opportunity to see “behind the scenes” of a working commercial kitchen space.  The hands-on classes are led by Cookery members and local chefs, covering a wide variety of specialties:  home brewing, pasta making, ice cream-ing, raw food-ing, and beyond.

Local Restaurants and Retail Shops

Many restaurant and retail shops offer special classes at their locations.  As a frequent visitor to La Farm Bakery Cafe in Cary, I’m often checking their list of cooking classes.  Classes at Raleigh’s Irregardless Cafe combine a lesson, dinner and wine tasting.  Revolution in Durham schedules a series of “Chop Shop” courses.  In North Raleigh’s Lafayette Village, you and your friends can meet for a chocolate making “party” at The Chocolate Boutique.  The historic bed and breakfast, Fuquay Mineral Spring Inn, offers hands-on classes led by Chef Sharon Morf, and students enjoy dining on the fruits of their labors.  Check with your favorite local restaurant or specialty food retail shop for available cooking courses.

An Abundance of DIY

The Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro offers valuable resources for those interested in sustainable practices and how to “do it yourself” covering a wide range of topics.  The beginning cheese making class I took earlier this year was very popular and a Seed Saving course is set for this Saturday.  Through The Abundance Foundation one has the opportunity to learn more about the full spectrum of food, from seed, through cultivation, harvest and preparation.  Having that breadth of understanding of the food “process” enables a greater appreciation for the efforts of farmers, without whom we wouldn’t have the ingredients needed to nourish ourselves and our families.  And make sure you mark this date on your calendar – the Fifth Annual Pittsboro Pepper Festival will be October 7th!

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