Located on the corner of Cumberland and East Bay Streets in downtown Charleston, Charleston Cooks is a superlative kitchen store stocked with every gadget, gizmo, gourmet cookbook and gleaming pot or pan the expert or amateur cook could ever want. Considering its connection with Maverick Southern Kitchens, the folks responsible for some of the area’s best places to eat (The Old Village Post House, Slightly North of Broad and High Cotton), it should come at no surprise that Charleston Cooks churns out some great food itself. Of course, you have to make it yourself.
It’s 6:27 p.m. on Sunday, February 13, eight couples sit side by side at eight stadium-style tables in front of the demonstration kitchen. Charleston Cooks’ demonstration kitchen is enviable. The double Thermidor ranges, ample counterspace, quadruple sinks and four ovens send one message clearly home; you will be cooking in here.
“In honor of Valentine’s Day the menu you will be preparing tonight will be centered around flame and fire,” explains Danielle Wecksler, general manager and one of two instructors we’ll be helped by tonight. “Be prepared to grill, flambé, broil, and blowtorch your food tonight.” I look over at my boyfriend, now smiling at the word ‘blowtorch.’
We collectively don our white aprons and step into the kitchen for a step-by-step explanation of the dishes we are to cook tonight: honey and thyme roasted figs stuffed with goat cheese and pecans atop mixed greens and a balsamic reduction vinaigrette, roasted tomato and fennel soup with Sambucca flambéed oysters, Steak Diane with herbed twice baked potatoes and a Stilton, spinach and leek crème brulée. To round out the calorie-free evening, we will end with a molten chocolate cake with white chocolate raspberry lava sauce. There are four courses to prepare and eight couples; the odds are in our favor.
Like a football team breaking after the huddle every couple separates to their respective cooking stations. My boyfriend and I elect to make dessert, which involves whipping eggs until they are thick and hard. By the end of the whipping process my arm is beyond tired. Pastry chefs must be killer arm wrestlers.
All around us things are heating up. Knives methodically rock back and forth chop-chopping, the grill sizzles as it chars a tomato’s flesh and the mustard mushroom cream sauce for the Steak Diane momentarily catches fire as Emily, another Charleston Cooks instructor, dips the brandied sauce towards the open flame of the Thermidoor range. I use the blowtorch later to delicately singe the parmesan and sugar crust on my Stilton, spinach and leek crème brulée.
Two hours later every one of the eight couples is slouched back against the back of their respective chairs, positively plump after their four course feast. Content cat-like grins spread across faces as everyone slips into food coma bliss. Our combined culinary efforts made for a fantastic meal, kitchen powertools included.
Before we leave, the boyfriend and I pick out the next class we’ll be attending together: Cooking with Beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.