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Cooking class dinner parties

Who wouldn't love to have a chef come to their home and prepare dinner for a small group of friends? That's exactly what's happening in one of the latest trends in at-home entertaining. At this cozy get together though, the chef isn't the only one preparing dinner. In fact, he's teaching guests how to create a delicious dinner and learn a few culinary techniques in the process. At the end of the evening, guests sit down to sample their accomplishments.

For Chef Janet Canfield of The Art Institute of Atlanta, cooking class dinner parties are a unique and intimate way to share the fun of cooking, as well as a great way to teach culinary techniques.

"Even though the evening is a lot of fun, most of the guests are really interested in learning how to prepare a dish, or trying out a new cooking method," she says. For Chef Canfield, the optimum party is 8 to 10 people, with a kitchen large enough to accommodate the crowd, as well as the chef.

Participants usually break into groups of two to complete the menu, which can either be designed by the chef, or in consultation with the host. Usually an appetizer, entree and dessert can be prepared in one evening.

"This is a very relaxed environment," says Chef Canfield, "Although I do give the guests a timeline, I don't push them. It's not like a culinary school situation," she says.

Fun food is the goal of Chef Marc Weiss's cooking class dinner party events. "I don't believe in making these evenings too fancy, like incorporating truffles," he says. "It's just not practical for most people."

Instead, Weiss, a graduate of The Art Institute of New York City, likes to encourage menus that incorporate simpler, yet still sophisticated dishes like, Pistachio Crusted Salmon and Orange-Ginger Glazed Shrimp. When Chef Weiss works at a dinner party cooking class event, he either purchases all the ingredients, or gives a complete list to the host, whichever they prefer.

For Chef Weiss, dinner parties that turn into cooking classes are just an outgrowth of how he entertains at home. "Everybody's watching cooking on television, and so the interest is as high as ever. Cooking for me has always been about entertainment," says Weiss.

Costs can vary, depending on the menu. In general, chefs either charge per couple, or individual. Prices usually do not include wine or spirits, unless the host asks the chef to select wines to have with specific dishes. Many chefs do preparation in advance of the party, especially if any items require marinating or, in the case of homemade bread, dough rising.

Chef Cynthia Stowers, a culinary arts instructor at The Art Institute of Washington likes to use fish recipes for small dinner party cooking class events. "The recipes are nice because they are each an entire meal, so they work well if you're trying to 'teach' a group of people how to do something," she says. For dessert, Stowers likes a simple chocolate tart that complements many of her fish dishes. [recipes below].

To find a chef who will conduct cooking classes for a small group of dinner guests, try contacting a culinary school, caterer, party planner or even a food reporter at the local newspaper who usually knows many chefs in the area and can provide contact information.

As Chef Canfield says, "This is a great alternative to the traditional catered dinner party. Everyone is interested in the outcome of the food without having to shop, prepare, or present it alone!"

Chilean Sea Bass with Vegetable Crust
Ingredients:
4 Chilean sea bass fillets, 3 - 4 oz. each
1 onion
1 leek
1 carrot
1 zucchini
1 red pepper
10 - 15 olives, depending on size and desired taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
Fresh thyme, sprig
1 cup white wine (or lemon juice)
1 cup chicken stock
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/4 lb. - 1/2 lb. soft butter, cut into 1" chunks
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh herbs
Fresh parsley, for garnish

Also needed:
1 sheet parchment paper

Directions:
1. Cut a small dice of the onion, leek, carrot, zucchini, and red pepper; combine. Place in shallow pan with a splash of olive oil; add salt and pepper to taste and a sprig of fresh thyme.

2. Place on low heat, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, but still "crunchy;" remove from heat and cool over ice. Add chopped olives.

3. Puree bass trimmings in food processor; mix the cooled vegetables with the pureed bass (2 cups vegetables to 1 tablespoon puree); add a touch of cream if the mixture is too thick; add fresh herbs to taste.

4. Spread the paste on plastic wrap; place piece of fish upside down on the paste; wrap. Keep chilled until service.

5. Place fish in pan, vegetable crust up; add white wine, shallots, and stock, so that it is 1/2" deep; cover with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F, until slightly underdone; remove the fish and place on rack on sheet pan.

6. Reduce the liquid by 2/3. Swirl butter in.

7. Serve fish in soup bowl, with boiled potato and the broth. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 4. -- Recipe courtesy of Chef Cynthia Stowers, The Art Institute of Washington

Warm Chocolate Tart
Ingredients:
1 9" Pate Sucree shell, prebaked
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1 egg

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 320 degrees F

2. Combine cream and milk in a pot; bring to boil. Place chocolate in a bowl; pour the hot liquid over the chocolate and whisk to combine.

3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. When the chocolate mixture has cooled slightly, whisk in the egg. Pour into tart shell and bake in oven for 6 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm.

-- Recipe courtesy of Chef Cynthia Stowers, The Art Institute of Washington

Pate Sucree
Ingredients:
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp.
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon 10X sugar
1-3/4 cup flour
Pinch of salt
1 egg

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 325 F, if the recipe calls for a prebaked pate sucree shell.

2. Place the butter in the food processor and blend until smooth. Sift together the sugar, flour and salt, and add to the butter. Add the egg and process until the mass forms a ball of dough. Do not overmix. Remove dough from machine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

3. Dust a work surface with flour and roll the dough to a thickness of 3 mm in the shape of a rectangle. Roll dough onto the rolling pin and unroll over the buttered tart molds. Shape the dough within the molds and cut off the excess dough. Prick dough with a fork.

4. Chill the shells and reserve until needed or bake the shells in the oven for 10 minutes, or until done. When they are done, they should have little or no color. Cool on a wire rack.

-- Recipe courtesy of Chef Cynthia Stowers, The Art Institute of Washington

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