Friday, August 5, 2011

Durham Spirits Company – Top of the Class

Katie Coleman whet her culinary interest cooking for her parents during a period when she was living at home looking for new direction. She found her place in the kitchen and hasn’t looked back, honing her skills at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Now in Durham, she is helping others try on the chef hat through a variety of classes offered through her business, The Durham Spirits Company. Several courses stood out to us, but we thought “All About Tomatoes” was fitting for the summer and perfectly scheduled in the peak of tomato season.
Also an instructor at The Art Institute in Durham, Katie’s personal venture takes people away from a classroom setting and into her historic home near downtown. Equipped with a modern, pimped-out chef’s kitchen, the space has all the bells and whistles needed for effective instruction and demos while keeping a southern charm that makes it all seem doable in your own home. The house is enormous, gorgeous and filled with antique furniture and décor, which excited us almost as much as the food.

Katie keeps her classes intimate—no more than ten students—and ours ended up being a group of three allowing us to be very hands on with each recipe. She welcomed us right in as if we were old friends offering refreshing, homemade (basil?) lemonade—the only recipe she would not share! Even after the class ended she continued the personal touch, emailing a recipe for her homemade pie crust that was used in one of our dishes.
We got right into cooking with Katie getting each recipe started, but quickly turning it over to the students to finish the chopping, dipping, frying, pouring, stirring, etc…Her instruction included a lot of insider tips about shopping, ingredients, substitutions, technique and beyond—and her ease in the kitchen created a great environment to observe, participate and ask questions without disruption.

The menu for the class included chilled heirloom tomato soup with crab and goat cheese, fried green tomatoes, tomato pie, shrimp and BLT salad, and tomato sorbet for dessert. Our favorites were the fried green tomatoes and tomato pie—not that the other things weren’t great, these were just outstanding and hit the southern spot.
The fried green tomatoes (FGT) require several steps, but were easier to make than we expected—we learned you can even bread them and freeze them for later use! For dipping, we prepared a creamy sauce (made with fresh corn and more tomato)  that complimented the FGT with a nice touch of cool and spice, giving this dish even more personality.
The tomato pie—popular in South Carolina—was a less familiar favorite. Layers of tomato, onion and seasoning were piled into a homemade crust and covered with a cheese and sour cream mixture. When heated, the flavors and textures combine for a delightful treat. The leftovers were just as good when reheated.

We were both surprised by the subtly sweet and refreshing flavor of the tomato sorbet. Mixed with a simple syrup and spices, the pureed tomatoes are then strained and placed in an ice cream maker. Simple, different and delightful; who knew tomato could make a dessert?
The chilled yellow and red tomato soup makes a beautiful, colorful display and the improvised addition of crab meat and goat cheese added a bit of culinary flare. Finally, the shrimp and BLT salad with bacon vinaigrette was fresh and tasty but less noticeable when served next to the other dishes in this meal.
Both of us loved the class and found ourselves enthused to spend more time in the kitchen. The courses cover everything from basic skills to international cuisine as well as the mixology series—while we’d love to try them all, we will probably space it out due to cost (although we definitely got our money’s worth with 2.5 hours of personal instruction, a feast of a meal for 3 students + teacher, and even some leftovers). Recently the Recipes with Refugees program held its first course on Iraqi cooking in the Durham Spirits Company space—keep an eye out for additional courses from this group that is working to introduce ethnic recipes into the local scene.

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