It’s no secret that I love to cook. Taking raw ingredients and applying the kitchen alchemy that transforms them into a delicious, healthful family meal is a task I relish.
Like many of us, I tend to have my “go to” recipes that have become regular fare on our family menu. Some would say too regular. OK, I’ll admit it–I get in a culinary rut from time to time. That’s when I look for fresh inspiration.
Taking a cooking class is great for several reasons: the shared camaraderie of preparing a meal; the chance to learn new techniques that can enhance your kitchen savvy; the discovery of new recipes and ingredients that can inspire.
Late last summer, a friend forwarded me a link to Cooking By The Bay, a San Rafael based business offering cooking classes by certified Natural Chef Suzanne Griffin. Perusing her schedule of themed hands-on seasonal menus promised a solution to the dilemma of my redundant repertoire.
For the past year, Griffin has been hosting cooks of all skill levels at her home in Marinwood where they learn to prepare simple, delicious, menus with a decidedly healthy focus. Classes are limited to eight students and cost $50 per person including all recipes. I signed up to take a two and a half hour class on a Sunday afternoon with a “Farm To Table” inspired menu.
I arrive early and am greeted warmly at the door by chef Griffin, who leads me into her well-stocked kitchen. A large butcher block table set with individual stations and pre-measured ingredients awaits. On the adjacent tile counter, a tray of ripe yellow and ruby-red heirloom tomatoes sits ready for transformation.
We talk casually as we wait for others to arrive. Right away I feel at home with this woman who is clearly as passionate about food as I am.
Griffin is a strong proponent for eating organic whole foods. A graduate of the rigorous Natural Chef program at Bauman College, she began successfully marketing herself as a personal chef just over two years ago, drawing clients with busy lifestyles who wanted to improve their diets.
One day, she received a call from a friend who asked if she would donate a “Cooking for Couples” class as a school auction item. The success of that class created a demand that morphed into the birth of her business, Cooking by the Bay.
Cooking By The Bay offers a selection of themed cooking classes centered around fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients procured from local farmers. Popular themes include Thai, Indian, and French Bistro. Chef Griffin’s “hands on” teaching approach allows her students to feel intimately connected to the process of preparing each dish. All sessions conclude with a meal based on the shared efforts of the class.
Soon the other students arrive. After initial introductions we tie on the striped aprons provided for us and gather around the prepared butcher block table. Chef Griffin begins class with a review of basic knife skills, proper tools, and cookware (she prefers cast iron.) With the foundation laid, we dive into the menu for the day: Corn Cakes with Herb Sauce, Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad, Summer Vegetable Gratin, and for dessert, Baked Cinnamon Peaches.
We chop, grate, slice, sauté, and assemble as each dish takes shape. The atmosphere is light, relaxed, and fun. Like a conductor, chef directs us step by step, offering encouragement and bits of kitchen wisdom along the way.
We finish the caprese salad, layering slices of vine ripened heirloom tomatoes with creamy mozzarella, fresh basil, and a generous drizzle of virgin olive oil-balsamic vinaigrette. The room fills with the aroma of our vegetable gratin as it bubbles and browns in the oven. Our hot sautéed corn cakes are transferred to a serving platter with the fresh herb sauce we’ve prepared. In no time at all we are ready for lunch!
We adjourn to the dining room, platters in hand, to enjoy the fruits of our time together. Settling in around the table, we raise our glasses and toast our efforts as we taste each fabulous dish. The conversation centers on our lives, our kids, and what a treat it is to learn new ways to nourish our family and friends.
We are having so much fun that we hate to see the afternoon come to an end. Our solace comes in knowing it has been a day well spent.
If you’d enjoy learning to prepare delicious, healthy meals featuring farm fresh local produce and meats, check out Cooking By The Bay in San Rafael. To register for classes and see the monthly menu calendar, visit chef Griffin’s website at www.CookingbytheBay.com, or email her directly at Suzanne@CookingbytheBay.com for more information.
HOT TIP OF THE WEEK: During April & May, bring a friend with you to any Cooking By The Bay class and you each receive a 10% discount! Take a peek at her class offerings for April at http://www.cookingbythebay.com/uploads/April_Calendar_2012D.pdf and May http://www.cookingbythebay.com/uploads/May_Calendar_2012.pdf
Just mention you saw this offer on Karen Pavone’s Food For Thought when you call to register. I’m thinking a great gift for Mother’s Day . . .
Thanks, Karen, for another great article. I just attended one of Suzanne’s classes last Saturday night and had a wonderful time peeling, slicing, dicing, seasoning, and shelling. We made the most delicious crab cakes (baked in the oven instead of deep fried), sweet potatoes, and corn chowder. Dessert was an ice cream sandwich made from scratch! i highly recommend taking a class from Suzanne. They are so reasonably priced and you get to immediately taste the fruits of your labor.
Karen…your stories are delicious as always!
Thanks for following Gina :>)
It sounds like such a wonderful time, and the food looks amazing!!
It is TJ–be sure to take a peek at her offerings for April and May then jump on in. It’s fun!
Suzanne’s classes are a true gift to myself. I have taken several classes and each one was fabulous, exactly as you describe, Karen. I’m looking forward to taking more soon. I would love to learn more about healthy ethnic cooking.
Thanks so much for reading Gabriela! Chef Griffin’s classes are fabulous and I love that she sources her ingredients from local, sustainable sources. I’ll be in her kitchen again soon.