Executive Chef Colin Bedford wastes no time putting us and our knife skills to work on a pile of shallots. Wearing keepsake chefs’ jackets so clean they must be straight from the store, we’re working in the kitchen of five-star Fearrington House Restaurant (pronounced FAIR-ring-ton) amid rolling countryside a few miles outside Chapel Hill, NC.
The subject for today’s cooking class is seafood, and a few of our five fellow students admit they’re too intimidated to thrust a knife into a whole, fresh fish from their local market. Pulling three lovely striped bass from a plastic tub, Chef Bedford not only shows us how, but gives each who wants it a turn snipping off fins and carving out two matching filets per fish, or as close to matching as possible. His tips: cut just below the head making sure not to cut it all the way through; then angle the knife below the head to get a clean cut down the body for a uniform filet. Flip the fish over and let the head hang over the edge of the cutting board to filet the second side (watch him demonstrate in this short video).
Between showing us how to smoke scallops and pickle fresh beets, Bedford and equally easy-going Sous Chef Tom Whitaker share some tales of kitchen pranks, like the time Bedford told a new staffer to take the lobsters for a walk before cooking them. The newbie obliged by tying strings onto the crustaceans.
Bedford’s goal today is to teach us how to reduce the stress of prepping and preparing a complete dinner party so that we can not only show off our new-found skills but also enjoy the event ourselves.
However, the best reason for taking the Fearrington House Cooking Class is to sample your culinary creations. In the upscale dining room at this Relais & Chateaux property, we’re served the five different dishes we’ve learned to make.
Course by course, we pat ourselves on the back over the delicious results: local corn soup with apple and bacon remoulade and smoked scallop; steamed striped bass with Israeli couscous, escabeche of vegetable and oven-dried tomato dressing; seared halibut with potato gnocchi, clams, pickled baby beets and dill fish cream; plus a dessert of yoghurt and lemon thyme panna cotta with berry soup.
This cooking class is a package retreat that includes an overnight stay at award-winning Fearrington House Inn, afternoon tea, a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception attended by Chef Bedford, dinner, full breakfast and then the extensive hands-on instruction. All skill levels are welcome.
Other cooking school themes have included The Herb Kitchen, Grilling, and Fall Harvest. Incidentally, Chef Bedford, who’s a leader in the regional farm-to-fork movement, just unveiled his new fall menu that includes, for example, Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sweet Onion Puree and Smoked Farmers Cheese, as well as Spiced Pumpkin with Brown Bread Ice Cream and Chai Tea Espuma.
Starting at $920 per couple, Culinary Retreat Packages scheduled so far for 2013 are Farmer’s Market July 7-8, and Seafood August 11-12. Call (919) 542-2121 to find out more, or visit their website.