Have you ever wanted to take a cooking class? Or are you more of an eater? Well if you can't decide, have I got the place for you! The lovely Southern Season out in Chapel Hill which is renown for its specialty food items and gift baskets has a great catalog of demonstration cooking classes for you! CLASS or Culinary Lessons at Southern Season covers a multitude of ethnic food types, baking and sweets. They also will bring in local chefs from time to time from favorite restaurants. I was scanning the catalog when I spotted a class in August with Chef Jason Cunningham who cooks for the Washington Duke Inn. Hmm, shrimp and grits, ancho rubbed chicken and peach parfait?! Sounds pretty damn good to me!
August 28 rolls around and it's time to head out to Chapel Hill. Registration on the website was pretty painless but just be warned that they do NOT send out email confirmations (4/1/2013, Southern Season NOW sends out email confirmations- RW). So of course I gotta call and make sure I'm on the list, just in case. Upon entering Southern Season you'll be distracted by all the wonderful smells and food but stay the course! Head on to the very back and go up the small staircase next to the ice cream parlor. At the top you'll find a mod looking registration desk where you grab a nametag. Step inside Southern Season's demo kitchen and you'll be impressed! Nice granite counters, overhead mirrors to watch the action along with some LCD panels to show additional details. The space seats 40+ people, you'll find a small table of water and sweet tea to quench your thirst while you salivate over the cooking! A small packet of menu recipes, flyer for the Washington Duke Inn and their menu is available for each diner.
The place smelled great and Chef Cunningham had a team of about six people to help him with prep, presentation and passing out of the dishes. Over the course of the evening, Chef Cunningham told us a bit about his personal background, his perspective on cooking and sustainable farming, along with his dining room at the Washington Duke Inn. A nice glass of white wine was poured to get the meal going, our first appetizer was a shrimp and goat cheese grits with corn salsa. This dish was huge hit with me! Creamy grits with a bit of lumpy texture, plump salted shrimp along with sweet crisp corn and peppers, whoa. A really great mix of textures and flavors, I really need to make this at home.
Our next dish of herb-roast black bass and tomato vinaigrette with blanched string beans was tender and flavorful, another thumbs up. The following ancho chile grilled chicken things was flavorful with a hint of heat, good stuff but LOVED the sweet potato and arugula salad it was plated with. And the piece de resistance, grilled peach parfait! Chunks of warm sauteed peaches serve with a honied mascarpone cheese and topped with crunchy oat streusel. Again, a great mix of subtle flavors and differing textures. I really enjoyed watching him make the streusel because I haven't much luck in my own kitchen.
Stuffed and happy, the walk out of Southern Season was odd because the store was empty. I felt like a kid in a candy store! And a cheese shop. And a deli. And so on because a Southern Season has a bit of everything. And yes, I was impressed with Chef Cunningham and now regret NOT taking advantage of two offers I received from the Washington Duke Inn to preview their menu, my bad! But I gotta say that Southern Season did a great job full of CLASS. While I don't think all their offerings would pull me out to Chapel Hill, they have plenty of interesting options, especially if you live in the area. Add one more fun foodie activity to the list for the Triangle! So if you like cooking and like to eat, what better way to educate yourself than to sit back, enjoy a glass of wine and observe some high end cooking?! Give Southern Season a call right now and schedule your class. Bon appetit and just make sure to mark it in your calendar because you won't be getting an email...
201 S. Estes Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Southern Season Cooking School - Reviewer: Ron Wen - Rating: 4 out of 5 stars