Friday, June 8, 2012

Behind the Scenes in our Cooking School - designing our classes

It is a warm, drizzly spring day. The cold weather greens in my garden are finally mature enough to harvest: arugula, spinach and mesclun. Pea tendrils curl up from the darkened earth, reaching up to grab their wire trellis and I’ve finally taken the cold frame off the tomatoes, exposing them to the warmer nights and sunshine-filled days. Birds sing hopefully, looking for mates while my family plans the chicken coop for the new spring flock. And what am I thinking of? Snow.
Or at least, barren trees accompanied by a late Fall harvest: acorn squash, cranberries, apples, turkey…It’s true – while the rest of the northern hemisphere is having thoughts of warm weeks to come, I’m planning for Autumn and the holiday season. It is menu-writing time for Third Quarter at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School.

The Cooking School was started by Jim and Jonathan because they wanted to create a place where people could come, enjoy a meal and want to come back again. So far, their idea is working. Since the school was started four years ago, we have had thousands of classes and taught tens of thousands of people. I am lucky to have been involved in the school for the past year. Cooking for and feeding people comes from deep inside me and sometimes I cannot believe that I actually get paid to do it!

Course catalogs are published on a quarterly basis. Started months in advance, in-house instructors and visiting chefs alike prepare their menus and turn them in for scheduling and several rounds of review within the company. Keeping this information in mind, this means that I am currently teaching classes with menus I dreamt up in February. While snow was flying, I was thinking of coleslaw,tomatoes and grilled everything.

So now the converse is happening. I am tasked with creating 2 menus per week for 4 months. Even my faulty math knows this means a daunting 32 complete menus. First step is to remember what Fall and Winter feel like. I go through my iPhoto library and look at pictures I’ve taken over the years of wintery New England landscapes, holidays spent with my family, images of food that I’ve cooked. I then go to my cookbook shelves and start to pull some down, stacking them next to my computer. I pore over them, dog-earing
pages that give me ideas, making notes in my notebook, revising recipes in my head. What would people like to eat? What types of classes have we had requests for? What can I prepare that would make a good class: something delicious and soul satisfying, a menu that inspires people to cook at home, perfect for entertaining.
All of these thoughts are in my head as I write down possibilities, scratch them out, start all over. I know my deadline is Friday - and so far I’ve only created 12.
And I realize I’ve got a class coming up that I need to prepare for - but that is another blog entry all together.

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