Cooking Class Act
Laurel Run Cooking School in Vermilion makes the business of cooking a pleasure.
The picture-perfect countryside and fresh air dispel any weariness as students approach Laurel Run Cooking School just west of the picturesque little hamlet of Brownhelm Township in northwest Ohio. Located in a 1,500-square-foot carriage house, Laurel Run is set on 11 scenic acres that include an aromatic herb garden and tranquil lake.
At the nine-year-old cooking school, located near the Lake Erie islands, owner Marcia DePalma and guest chefs offer classes weekday evenings and Saturday mornings, including some specially designed for children.
DePalma, a graduate of the Western Reserve School of Cooking and a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, has a humorous, patient teaching style and has gained a devoted following. "I want to put towns and experiences to recipes' names, seek out new food items and gain new food knowledge to pass on to the classes," says DePalma, who has traveled overseas to expand her repertoire.
Laurel Run's guest chefs add a variety of food passions to the ever-changing classes. Guests have included 20-year restaurant veteran Jonathan Kish, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, who offers creative and practical applications for the home cook, and Parker Bosley, chef and owner of Parker's New American Bistro in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood, who trained and lived in France, and has more than 25 years of restaurant experience.
Named for the peaceful mountain town in West Virginia where DePalma's grandmother was born, Laurel Run originally opened to teach growing and cooking with herbs. DePalma told her husband she would teach only three or four classes a month; today, she teaches 125 sessions a year. The classes have expanded and diversified to meet a variety of needs and interests, as has the physical size of the school (DePalma eventually took over her husband's workshop).
Striving to offer something new and original while also teaching technique and family-friendly recipes, classes often focus on French, Italian, Spanish, or German cuisine. "Our classes attract home cooks wanting to become more skilled, novice cooks needing more information and technique, and even older cooks who want inspiration to keep cooking," says DePalma. "We have cooks who enjoy entertaining and want to add restaurant-quality recipes to their repertoire."
During demonstration classes, cooking tips, techniques and recipes are provided, and a timetable is presented to enable the students to re-create the meal with confidence at home. Finally, the meal is served to the students on tables in the demonstration kitchen/classroom, set with tablecloths, brightly colored napkins, glassware and silverware. For special-event classes, the classroom imparts a dinner party atmosphere with cloth napkins and elegant centerpieces.
The instructor teaches from a cooking island easily viewed by all students with the aid of the counter-length overhead mirror that reflects the entire demonstration. Behind the scenes, in the back kitchen, a busy staff duplicates the recipes being taught in the classroom and serves the students the beautifully garnished finished products. It's not a class experience from which you will walk away hungry, and regulars know to come with an appetite.
With the hands-on classes, students roll up their sleeves and prepare a recipe with the instructor's supervision.
Participants might make apple strudel, chocolate truffles or a country dinner from the Burgundy region of France.
Children's classes are geared to kid-friendly food with an emphasis on cooking techniques, safety and cleanliness.
"Children start cooking in Europe when they are very young. We are finding with so many working parents here, not many kids are gaining skills, knowledge and confidence to feel comfortable in the kitchen," says DePalma. "We want them to have fun and be inspired to do more."
The most popular class, offered monthly and selling out virtually immediately, is the themed tea. Recent tea themes have included Nutcracker Suite, a Mother's Day Tea and an April Showers Tea. A recent Garden Party Tea featured a collection of palate-pleasing selections, including Laurel Run scones with Devonshire cream and jam, Monet-inspired tarragon chicken salad with edible flowers in phyllo cups, cucumber cream cheese tea sandwiches, ham and pineapple diamonds, chocolate dipped strawberries, lemon curd tartlets and Sunset Rose tea.
For the tea classes, each table is set with a different floral tea service and color-coordinated tablecloth and napkins. The first 45 minutes to hour of the class consists of recipe discussion and baking techniques, as well as a lecture on the history of the tea.
The last hour, the students take tea and enjoy the culinary delights. The staff presents the treats on tiered trays while students relax and chat with new classroom acquaintances or their own group of friends. It's a popular class for mothers and daughters who enroll together.
Recently DePalma offered An American Girl Tea and etiquette class for girls ages 7 to 11. Eighteen girls made their own scones and learned tea etiquette as well as how to set a table. The last 45 minutes of the class, mothers and grandmothers joined them for tea.
"We frequently host private classes for clubs or church groups, or for offices wanting to do team building," says DePalma. "We are hosting an annual Christmas party for an attorney's office. The employees choose the menu for what they want to learn and we do the rest. They love receiving new recipes to use for the holidays."
An added attraction at Laurel Run is the retail shop. Located on the first and second floors of the school, it offers items used in the classes, from 99-cent egg separators to $120 Wusthov chef's knives.
"We try to sell quality tools, not gimmicks or gadgets, to help develop a more professional kitchen that the student can feel good about," says DePalma. "I do not allow my guest chefs to bring in any equipment that my students cannot purchase anywhere."
Fall classes include offerings such as Tiny Bubbles/Little Bites, a champagne and appetizer class, and Grandma's Kitchen, focusing on Hungarian foods. And of course, there are the teas. One thing is a certain: The day the quarterly schedule is published, the classes will fill quickly. Repeat students make up a significant portion of each class, which testifies to the school's popularity.
At the conclusion of a cooking session, students walk out of the carriage house, holding recipe booklets from class and culinary accessories from the Laurel Run shop, their conversations buzzing about plans for another visit.
Laurel Run Cooking School, Ltd., 2600 North Ridge Rd., Vermilion, 400/984-LRCS. www.laurelruncookingschool.com . Class fees range from $35 to $55.
Laurel Run Chocolate Truffle Cake
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 pound dark chocolate chips
5 eggs at room temperature
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate chips and stir until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Separate egg yolks and whites. Mix yolks into chocolate mixture and blend well. Beat egg whites until stiff. Gently fold into chocolate mixture. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan that has been greased and floured, or use parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes. The cake will still look moist, but take it out at 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool completely before cutting. Cake is best made a day ahead.
Garnish with crystallized edible flowers. (Note: Be sure to use organically grown flowers, free of pesticides and non-organic fertilizer. Not all flowers are edible. Roses, violets and pansies are often used for desserts, as they have a sweet taste.)
Crystallized Edible Flowers
About 12 pansies (or flower of choice)
3â€“4 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder
4 teaspoons water
Rinse blossoms with cool water. Pat dry with facial tissues and remove stems. Place sugar in a small bowl (you can also place sugar in a clean salt shaker). Fill a separate small bowl with approximately 4 teaspoons of water. Sprinkle the meringue powder over the water and let it sit for 3-4 minutes. Gently stir. Hold the blossoms one at a time with tweezers and paint both sides of each petal with the meringue-water mixture using a tiny paintbrush. Make sure all petals are coated, otherwise they will turn brown. Hold each blossom over a sugar bowl and sprinkle superfine sugar over it with a spoon or from the sugar shaker. Place sugared blossoms on a wire rack and let stand until the sugar hardens and dries (at least an hour). When the flowers are stiff and brittle to the touch, they are dry. Flowers can be stored in an airtight container with waxed paper between layers for up to six months or in a freezer for a year.