If I had blinked, I may have missed this culinary gem in the midst of my neighborhood. I had only known Viking to be the makers of ovens, not the creators of culinary schools and I certainly didn’t expect there to be one so close to home, never mind in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
Being the curious person I am about all things related to food, cooking and professional culinary know-how, I had to stop in and find out everything being offered at the Viking Cooking School.
The first thing that met me was a small store filled with tools, gadgets & kitchen appliances all seeming to greet me with silvery smiles, begging me to take them home. I resisted, however, knowing my kitchen is well-supplied and not in need of additional items. Wanting them is a whole other problem…
I went straight up to the counter whose backdrop is a super-sized television attached to the wall and permanently fixated on the Food Network Channel, although no sound can be heard and no captions provided. When I inquired as to why we couldn’t hear Rachel Ray spewing out how much “EVOO” to drizzle over her 30-minute marvel, the saleswoman politely informed me that ‘it wouldn’t be in the best interest of Viking to hear celebrity chefs tout pots and pans other than the Viking brand’.
“So what kind of classes do you have?”, I asked. She opened up the brochure, which was surprisingly full of gorgeous food photos and very interesting types of two to five-hour classes & workshops such as Parisian Patisserie, Cheese 101, and Sustainable Seafood Workshop. They even offer cooking camps for kids and teens where kids will learn hands-on how to decorate cakes or the basics of culinary instruction. What a great idea for kids, especially in the summer when parents are looking for some activity to either enhance their child’s skills and interests or introduce them to something totally new and different. I just love the idea- wish they had something like this when I was growing up!
Another perk of the Viking Cooking School (but not readily advertised) is that they have several free classes each month called “Lunch and Learn”, a two-hour course where you will watch the chef cook, learn the basics of a simple dish and be able to ask as many questions as you like. You’ll even be served the dishes that are made in class, if you so choose. I signed up, naturally.
The kitchen where the classes are served up is just like a completely remodeled, modern home kitchen all equipped with beautiful, silvery Viking appliances. The chef that taught our class of five was a graduate of both the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and the French Pastry School. On the menu for the class was a soup called Tomato Pomodoro (Minestra di Pomodoro), Pecorino Cheese Crisps (Frico) and Homemade Butter Pecan Ice Cream.
At the end of this post, I’ve included the recipe for the Tomato Pomodoro but if you’d like recipes for the others, please let me know and I will be happy to post those, too.
I’d like to share some of the tips I gathered from the class, which I hope will be as useful to you as they are to me. They may seem basic, but sometimes we just need reminders:
In cooking, you can manipulate flavors; pastry-making is more of a science which must be followed exact
Don’t brown garlic because it will become bitter
Extra virgin olive oil means the oil from the first pressing of olives
Oil that comes after the first pressing can be used, but has lost a lot of its flavor and is best used just to brown foods
The life-span of olive oil is about 12-18 months
When seasoning with salt and pepper, add them to your dish last (towards the end of cooking)
You can add the rind of fresh Parmesan to soups for flavor- don’t throw it out!
- A mirepoix is the base for cooking or making a stock and consists of 1/2 onions, 1/4 celery and 1/4 carrots
A homemade stock should be clear when finished. To achieve this, cook to lightly bubbling- no rolling boils. The scum that simmers to the top should be skimmed off. Never add salt or seasonings to stocks.
A demi-stock means the stock has been reduced by half
Store fresh herbs in a damp paper towel. The stems of parsley can’t be used because they are bitter, but cilantro’s stems can be used.
When cooking steaks, cooking time should be about 8 minutes per inch of meat; for fish, it’s about 3-4 minutes per inch.
Most ice creams have a creme anglaise (vanilla-flavored) base
When making your own ice cream, you will strain the mixture because you won’t want little bits and pieces of egg in your finished ice cream product
Tempering ice cream means to remove it from the freezer to the fridge so that it’s not hard and not soft, but just the right temperature to eat with a spoon. This is important when you’re planning to serve to guests. Not to be confused with the tempering of chocolate, which actually involves heat.
Gelato has no eggs in it, it’s not churned, and it’s less fattening than ice cream (but more fattening than sorbet)
I learned some pretty interesting facts here- did you?
Just to mention a few, there are Viking Cooking Schools located in Alaska, California, Illinois, Ohio and Texas. To find a Viking Cooking School or store near you, visit the site here and click on “The Viking Life”.
3 TB. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 -1/4 pounds ripe red tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 cups beef or veal stock
1 -1/2 tsp. fine salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 -1/2 tsp. granulated sugar, or to taste
1 -1/2 tsp. vinegar, or to taste (you can also substitute lemon juice)
1 -1/2 TB. chopped fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
1 -1/2 TB. chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
1. Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat; add the olive oil and heat through. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes adn cook for about 20 seconds, then add the tomatoes. Bring the tomato mixture to the boil, then immediately reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Add th stock, salt, pepper and sugar; bring to the boil once again, then reduce the heat and simmer 20-30 minutes more.
3. Remove the soup from the heat, then stir in the vinegar, basil and parsley. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in an upright blender) until smooth in texture. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Garnish the soup with additional fresh basil and parsley.
4. Serve hot or cold along with fresh bread, bread sticks or Pecorino Cheese Crisps.