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Monday, December 17, 2018

One Perfect Gift: A Cooking Class

Chef Stephanie at Chatham Bars Inn

Last night I talked with one of my girlfriends who was agonizing over what to get her parents for Christmas. They don't really need anything personally or for their home and she didn't want to wander around the mall aimlessly. After throwing some ideas back and forth we talked about some of the best gifts we've ever given or received.  

One of my favorites is an experience like tickets to an event or a class. On L's birthday one year I surprised him a private cooking class with Chef Joel Gamoran when Joel was still here in Seattle at Sur La Table. It was just us and Joel in the kitchen as he taught us how to perfect one of our favorite meals to cook at home, pizza. We had so much fun getting our hands into dough together and learning something new. It was infinitely better than dinner at a fancy restaurant. I vowed that future gifts would be just as creative. (My friend was excited when she landed on the idea of a wine tasting for her parents who love wine.)

A few weeks ago it was my birthday and L asked for some gift guidance. I said I would love to spend some time back home in New England. And so, that is how I ended up at the Chatham Bars Inn on the beach in Chatham, Massachusetts on a winter's weekend. I invited one of my best friends, Gina, to join me. She's about to have her first baby in February and it would be a chance for us to spend a cozy weekend at the beach relaxing (I left the baby for the first time in fifteen months with L!)
On our first night, instead of dinner in the restaurant, we registered for  Chatham Bars Inn Cooking School with Chef Stephanie. The menu was The Guide to the Perfect Holiday Cocktail Party. There were twelve guests, and as we arrived in the kitchen, we donned aprons, washed hands and sipped on a Seasonal Cranberry-Rosemary Mule (thoughtfully Chef had prepared Gina a non-alcoholic drink).

There are some cooking classes where guests sit and watch the chef but in this case, we would be preparing the five appetizers at different stations., with guidance from Chef. This was the menu:

Flatbread, Fig Preserves, Farm Arugula, Shaved parmesan, Crispy Prosciutto and Aged Balsamic

Bacon Wrapped Scallop, Orange-Cranberry Mostarda

Baked Brie with Spiced Apple, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnuts

Baked Chatham Oysters, Farm Kale, Linguica and Fennel

Jumbo Lumo Crab Cake with Cajun Remoulade

Cocktail: Seasonal Cranberry-Rosemary Mule

Each station was set up  with a recipe and the ingredients pre-measured. Gina and I had a great time making the Baked Brie (recipe here). The scent of the apples, pears and spices sautéing on the stove, brought over some of the other guests and tasting of the warm fruit simmering was encouraged. The kitchen environment was comfortable, like family cooking together except with someone much smarter than us who had prepared the stations so that we couldn't fail. Even specific kitchen techniques were explained. Here's Chef Stephanie teaching us how to chiffonade (finely shredding greens):

In less than an hour, we were adding finishing touches onto our dishes, drizzling balsamic reductions, sprinkling dried Pomegranate seeds and topping with fig preserves. And as we sat down together family style at the table, we toasted and enjoyed the feast that we had made. It was the perfect way to spend a birthday.

As Gina and I were tucking into our beds later that night we wished we both lived closer to the Inn. During dinner Chef Stephanie told us about some of their upcoming cooking classes. I would love to take one of the classes in the summer when Chef and the cooking class participants head out into the eight acre farm that the Chatham Bars Inn owns, to select fruits and vegetables for dinner and then gathers to prepare them later that evening. To learn more about The Chatham Bars Inn Cooking School visit their website to learn more about upcoming classes.

If you're stuck on what to get the person who is difficult to buy for, consider an event like tickets to a favorite comedian or artist on tour or a class tailored to their interests or something they have always to learn (sailing, knitting, pottery, golf). It's something that you know they don't already have and even better it says that you put thought into the gift.

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