Escoffier’s chef instructors kindle flames of passion on stovetops and in their students' hearts with expert lessons detailing techniques, new recipes, and healthy at-home alternatives for amateur cooks. Groups of 16 students gather in professionally equipped kitchens to acquire new skills they can use at home or in department-store displays under the tutelage of academy staff or guest chefs from local restaurants. Common topics cover regional staples such as Texas barbecue or illuminate artisanal cheese making and other gourmet subjects. Seasonally themed holiday courses, such as gingerbread-house making or gluten-free desserts, share festive alternatives to peppermint forts and tinsel-chip cookies.
Tina and Ed Carle, the husband-and-wife team behind this lively cooking school, grew up cooking beside the apron strings of culinary-minded family members. Before heading to New York City to work in five-star kitchens, Tina studied the techniques of her Italian grandmother as she layered lasagna or stirred bolognese sauce. In Texas, Ed developed a knack for prepping wild game, smoked meats, and comfort fare from his family’s butter-centric cookbook. Though he’s become more health conscious through the years, Ed keeps the focus on flavor, demonstrating his know-how in dinner-party-style classes with menus including items such as barbecue brisket or wild venison braised in a dutch oven until it bugles “Taps” and collapses off the bone.
Though their culinary backgrounds differ, Tina and Ed share a passion for top-notch ingredients that elevate dinner to an art. Before teaching lessons on shrimp, for instance, Ed drives to the gulf to pick up a fresh catch. They also share a zeal for cooking tricks and techniques that make dinner simpler and more delicious. To this pair, working over a cutting board or a stove yields a bumper crop of sharable delight.
Certified live- and raw-food chef Christa Emrick teaches classes of up to 25 people how to craft delicious treats with raw, vegan ingredients and without cumbersome ovens. Guests at the Christmas Cookies class watch and learn as Chef Christa follows recipes taken from her own e-book, Holiday Raw Food Sweets and Treats, to produce cookies free of gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, refined sugar, and coal. Chef Christa also reveals a secret ingredient that can replace eggs, cream, and butter in recipes and out-perform them in food fights. After the class, participants can take home recipes and leftover sample Christmas cookies to enjoy or test them out on the taste buds of a department-store Santa.
From the elegant and elephant-arted confines of their new Southaven restaurant, Bangkok Alley’s Thara and Dottie Burana keep the fresh fish swimming into their lunch and dinner dishes, where they morph into schools of sushi and Thai concoctions both creative and traditional. Starters such as the shrimp hompa—which envelops its shrimp with golden-fried panko and sweet-and-sour sauce ($6)—irrigate parched mouth-deserts to create an inviting climate for the seafood keow han, a mélange of shrimp, scallops, and the fish of the day served in green curry with basil sauce ($20). Otherwise, silence the howls of were-stomachs with heartier fare such as a grilled strip steak and panang sauce served with grilled asparagus and squash ($20), or a panang curry underscored with a coconut base and garnished with chopped Kaffir lime leaf (up to $14 with choice of protein).
Nicole Butler grew up cooking two different kinds of food. Her mother preferred cuisine using French-inspired flavors and techniques, and her father adhered to recipes for down-home comfort foods. Being from southwestern Louisiana, Nicole didn't find these two styles to be that disparate, and she recognized the influences that each had in creating the region's iconic Cajun cuisine.
Nicole brought memories of those flavors to Austin, where she received her formal culinary training from Le Cordon Bleu. This education introduced her to the benefits of cooking with local and sustainable ingredients, which encouraged her to rethink the recipes she'd cooked throughout her childhood. At Beau Cherie Cajun Cooking, she combines homespun cooking tips with those she learned at culinary school, teaching students how to prepare relatively healthy Cajun staples without sacrificing the bold flavors.
Each hands-on lesson addresses a different theme, spending more then three hours on Cajun classics, Louisiana comfort foods, or French dishes. Recipes such as red beans and rice and beef bourguignon represent the cultural extremes, but dishes such as creamy bisque with crawfish tails and brandy demonstrate how the various styles work together in Cajun cuisine. After preparing a four-course meal, students sample the food before taking the leftovers home to practice for any upcoming food fights.