One of the things I love about Chattanooga is the way people, places and events are constantly connecting to create opportunities for us all. I got to attend a really cool pop-up event this past week called Brunch Class, and the chance basically came about because I attended a workshop in September led by fermentation guru Sandor Katz. That seminar was held at Chattanooga State Community College‘s new Michael P. Hennen Hospitality and Culinary Center, as part of a speaker series of the same name, and was sponsored by Harvested Here.
It was a great tutorial (it’s always a treat to see Katz in action), and while I was there, I had a chat with local chef Blackwell Smith, who has recently been working in private dining for parties and events. We got to talking about sharing skills that might assist people who are trying to figure out how to get out of the drive-thru and into the kitchen more often, and that conversation has been pretty much ongoing ever since. That’s why, when Smith recently had the brilliant idea to hold an informal cooking class that was all about making brunch, I got an invite to attend a proto-gathering.
The basic idea is to take the intimidation factor out of making brunch by demonstrating how easy it can be to prepare. Along with that, attendees get to share the delicious meal, all while socializing together. This was the first in a possible series of brunches-one where Smith got to try out the concept with a small group, and we all agreed it was great fun and delicious. Since the dishes found in a brunch are adaptable to breakfasts, lunches or dinners, the skills taught in the class are applicable way beyond Sunday mornings. This event lasted about two hours, and in that time, we enjoyed four meal courses, each of which was created from scratch while we watched.
As he cooked, Smith explained the reasoning behind the cooking techniques he used and also answered a lot of questions. He wasn’t working from strict recipes, but rather from adaptable formulas, so he was able to point out possible alternative options and substitutions along the way. The dishes demonstrated (and eaten!) were ricotta corn cakes with ginger-lemon honey, shrimp and grits with a special sauce, poached eggs with bacon and hollandaise, and a potato hashbrown with homemade spiced ketchup.
Smith worked with mostly locally sourced ingredients, including Riverview Farms grits, Sequatchie Cove Creamery cheese, Alchemy spices and some herbs from his own garden. He showed us a shortcut for peeling shrimp and then cooked them right in the sauce, demonstrated how both that sauce and the ketchup could be dialed up or down in spiciness and shared his technique for giving the flavor extra depth by combining varieties of peppers. He talked us through basics such as foolproof ways to poach eggs and make grits, and more nuanced skills such as how to tell if your skillet is at the proper temperature for frying corn cakes by looking at the color of the sizzling butter.
Given the fact that many people would like to spend more time making their own meals but are at a loss about where to begin or intimidated by complicated cookbooks or the dramas and production histrionics of cooking shows, this is just the kind of skills sharing that has the potential to genuinely help people get their bearings in the kitchen. It’s incredibly helpful to get to ask questions while following along with the cooking process-with all our technology, there still really isn’t a substitute for a live teacher and hands-on experience.
If you want to get in on the next brunch, call or text Smith at 423-355-1195. Classes can take place anywhere there is a kitchen. A workshop could make a wonderful holiday gift for people who are interested in cooking-whether they’re novices or advanced-and would also make a great corporate event for any office with a kitchen. Class sizes are, of course, limited by the capacity of the kitchen-you not only want everyone to be comfortable, but also able to see the action. Have some fun. And it’s brunch!
Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.