A spiffy contemporary kitchen with several work stations. Tables set with linens and sparkling wine glasses. Chefs in crisp whites offering warm welcomes. You'd expect this kind of polish at a professional cooking school, maybe, or a high-end restaurant's wine-pairing repast. But this is an educational four-course dinner at Publix.
This kitchen has a contemporary design. The TVs above allow participants to see the chef's knife actions in a magnified format.
This photo does it no justice, but the dining room is bright and modern. My friend Yael Miller is in the forefront. She makes custom cakes at Ooga Ooga Cake Design.
In Orlando, the new Publix on Dr. Phillips Boulevard has an entire private area called the Aprons Cooking School. It's an enticingly chic space, and the store's chefs regularly hold a variety of types of cooking classes there, from celebrity-chef demonstrations to hands-on sessions where each student gets experience with every technique taught. Topics include knife skills and culinary basics, dim sum desserts and couples cooking chocolate.
Resident Chef Anthony LoGerfo invited me to experience Aprons with three friends, and we spent an evening learning, gorging and giggling during Layers of Flavor with Layer Cake Wines.
Here are the plates for the pork, ready for scooping and serving.
While I absorb knowledge best from hands-on courses, I have to say that we all picked up new kitchen tips, including a nifty, productive way to de-vein and de-seed a bell pepper. As it turns out, we learned, too, that those colorful ceramic knives we see all over are popular because they're super-sharp and they don't darken foods such as avocados the way metal knives do. My friends were so excited that they bought some on the way out.
One brand of knives looks like this. I found this image online.
As a bonus, we all received take-home print-outs of the recipes featured.
Here's a chef holding up miso. I'd never actually seen a package of it before.
Our teachers were a rotation of five Publix chefs, each personable and funny. A hipster Layer Cake representative presented each wine with interesting information about its origin and production. He also explained how and why Layer Cake wines are from grapes grown around the world. I'd always avoided Layer Cake wines because, from the name, I thought the wines would be too sweet. Not so, it turns out. I was especially enamored with the sparkling Poema Cava, which is a steal at about $12.49 retail. Students received discounts on wines at the end of class.
Here are photos of what we ate between lessons.
Wild fennel salad
Pan-seared sea bass
Heritage pork a la parrilla
The recipes were provided by the winery, not the Aprons chefs. All were good, yet I would be interested to try a dinner with the Publix chefs' recipes.
But, I've got to tell you, this entire experience was only $45. That includes five wines, four generously portioned courses, and lessons from a crew of culinary professions plus a wine expert, all in an enjoyable space. I would definitely try out more classes here.
These chefs will be your hosts. Boy do they have a good time while they teach.
Eat enthusiastically, my friends,