After the jump: learning how to slice, dice and to not be afraid of the fire.
Brad Spates stands before a cutting board, his chef’s knife at the ready. “We have a lot to do in a short amount of time so stay with me,” says the executive chef at Cookology. Just after 7 p.m. on a Saturday, the bearded 33-year-old is teaching a date-night class at the cooking school in Dulles Town Center.
Seven couples — from their 20s to their 50s — stop taking pictures of one another in chef’s hats and stand at the ready around a large stainless steel prep table. It’s time to get down to business . . . delicious business.
After rattling off the night’s menu — grilled lamp chops, potato and parsnip puree, arugula salad with a coconut Thai dressing and baked pears — Spates dives into instruction. He wasn’t kidding. The next hour and a half goes fast.
Spates gestures to one of many bowls heaping with tonight’s ingredients in the middle of the table. “There’s a bowl of basil over there,” he says. “Can you pass that in this direction? I do everything family style, so that means I’ll demonstrate first and then everyone will follow after me.”
He teaches proper slicing technique, then passes the basil-filled bowl to the couple to his left. They take two leaves needed for their lamb-chop marinade before passing it to the next pair, and so on.
The class continues in this refreshingly informal fashion. When Spates chops what look like white carrots, Will Kinton, 21, turns to girlfriend Katie Hazelton, also 21, and says, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a parsnip in my life.”
When Spates mixes his salad with his bare hands, 45-year-old Rick Lonto of Leesburg gets wide-eyed when the chef adds a large finger-full of Parmesan cheese. “That’s a pinch?” he asks, incredulous. Spates looks at Lonto, smirks and tosses in more.
The highlight of the class comes when Spates instructs his pupils to wrap around the kitchen’s large gas grill. The objective is to char the lamb chops — purchased from a nearby farm — on high heat for two minutes per side. (“What you call burnt,” he says, “I call delicious.”) One-half of each cooking pair, which happens to be all of the guys, step up to place their two pieces of meat on the sweltering surface. Moments later, foot-high flames shoot up from the grill. It’s thrilling and exciting, the stuff of “Top Chef” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” Visions of singed hair also come to mind, but Spates says not to fret. “It’s going to flare,” he says, pouring red wine over the grill surface, making the flames rise even higher. “Don’t panic. It’s only fire. It will be fine. Go for it.”
Then just as quickly as it began, the cooking component of the evening has concluded. At 8:30 p.m., it’s time to dig in.
A table with wooden benches is set in an adjacent room, a glass of red wine is poured for each student. It’s only after taking a seat that one remembers Cookology is inside a shopping center: Two glass walls enable the indoor foot traffic to sneak a peek at the dining scene. “It’s interesting eating in a mall,” Carol Chaikin says to Mark, her husband of 35 years. “You feel really exposed.”
The spectators are quickly forgotten, however, once everyone looks at the plate set before them. The lamb is beautifully placed atop the potato and parsnip puree, next to a salad speckled with beets and the surprisingly sweet and savory pear dessert that has been baked with brown sugar, Gorgonzola and a dash of heavy cream.
Across the table, Bardia Khoshnoodi, 33, and his wife, Sara Hashemi, 32, are calling each other “chef” and “sous chef.” Both are in awe of what they’ve just accomplished. “We make good food, but it doesn’t look good,” Hashemi says. “This is looking very good.”
Where: 21100 Dulles Town Cir., Sterling
How to do it: Date-night classes run weekly. Register for upcoming classes at www.cookologyonline.com, 703-433-1909.
Cost: $59-$75 per person.