Really. Do yourself a favor. Think of it as a splurge or an early birthday or Christmas gift for yourself and a friend. Call and reserve your spot for one of the three remaining cooking classes being offered by Chef James Boyce, owner of Cotton Row, Commerce Kitchen and Pane e Vino in Huntsville and Galley and Garden in Birmingham. The series is called “Eat Simply, Eat Smart, Eat Well” and the dates left this fall are September 13, October 11 and November 8. The classes are held upstairs over Cotton Row Restaurant at 100 Southside Square and last from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. The cost is $110 per person plus gratuity for the wonderful server who works with Chef Boyce.
I was fortunate to attend a class with only 6 other people, so the fact that we had the advantage of Chef Boyce’s expertise and attention for three hours, along with getting to watch him work from only a few feet away, was an amazing privilege. He has such skill, passion and imagination. Seeing him demonstrate his knowledge and skill was similar to me to watching someone perform a piano concerto with a major orchestra. Inspiring.
The evening began with a cheese and charcuterie board filled with specialties recently brought back from France and proceeded immediately to escargots with pesto on large croutons. Several in the group tried escargots for the very first time and really liked them. I can’t believe I didn’t get photos of these first items. I guess I was just too awestruck that I was actually there. We were promised a three-course meal, but by the end of the evening I could count at least SIX!! And there wasn’t a single casserole in sight. Chef Boyce made a point of using ingredients that could be found in places like Whole Foods and Fresh Market, and his utensils were accessible also. Each class is different, but I’m sure you will be more than happy with whatever he prepares if you’re able to attend one.
- Sea scallops topped with Harissa and served over a roasted cauliflower puree came first. Obviously, butter, olive oil and sea salt hold the keys to much success in the kitchen. We learned the best way to sear scallops, how to roast cauliflower and that Harissa is a mixture of blended peppers. It really did make the flavor pop!
- Chef Boyce moved on to large shrimp with heads-on, almost the size of prawns, and we saw him incorporate lobster mushrooms (no, I had never heard of them either) and finely minced fresh chives. I loved those mushrooms. Oh my!
- Next came a cold plate of a lettuce-free salad. Tomatoes, green olives, shallots, anchovies, and an aged balsamic with the surprising addition of Burrata cheese on a flat, wide crouton. Think of Burrata cheese as being a mixture of mascarpone and mozzarella with butter in the middle — soft, white (almost resembling a poached egg) and heavenly. In keeping with the theme of eating simply and healthily, Chef Boyce kept stressing the idea that we should strive for quality in our kitchens and on our plates, rather than quantity.
- The pasta Chef Boyce used was made from chickpea flour and gluten-free. He created a sauce with minced shallots, diced pears, oil, butter, heavy cream, asiago-cheddar cheese, and pizza peppers (like a mild jalapeno). The pears gave a delightful texture and crunch. I bet even the pickiest grandchildren would go for this dish.
- The main entree consisted of slices of New York strip steaks over roasted white asparagus with a sauce of veal stock, Dijon mustard, ginger, shallots, red wine, heavy cream and a lot of pepper. Mercy! It was tempting to just eat that sauce with a spoon. Wow.
- Just when we thought there couldn’t possibly be anything more, we were served a Sicilian Mousse with blackberries and a section of OroGold grapefruit. Beautiful, light and scrumptious. We didn’t get to watch this preparation because I’m sure it was done earlier in the day. The flavor of blood oranges in the middle made this dessert extra-special.
I learned lots of tips and tricks, but I believe I need to practice them on Steve before I advertise them. You just need to go and learn for yourself. Chef Boyce is happy to answer questions, and these classes are a great way to get to know him and his very approachable personality.