Pounding prepares the salmon with melted butter, the same mix of herbs used in the salad, and chopped shallots. Then he places it on a cedar plank and puts it in a hot oven. The plank, raw untreated cedar, has not previously been soaked in water. The chef says he finds presoaking unnecessary because the salmon is in the oven such a short time.
Then we move into the certified training kitchen, which has four stations. Here we watch as Panzanella, an Italian salad, and a grilled vegetable salad are prepared. The Panzanella is made with roasted red bell peppers, smoked salmon, fresh tomatoes, portabellas sauteed with garlic, and a couple of baguettes of bread. Chef Pounding chops, mixes, and combines everything with lots of olive oil, along with some lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, and pepper. At another station, Chef Anderson slices zucchini and summer squash carefully and marinates each slice briefly in olive oil and balsamic vinegar before grilling. He says the key to successful grilling is to keep the sizes uniform. Then he chops the grilled veggies before mixing with lettuce as a base for the salmon.
Besides recipes, I learn tips on how to use large, sharp knives, chop fresh herbs, and bake planked salmon. By the time everything is ready, the anticipation is palpable. It is no surprise that everyone eats with relish and nobody is disappointed. The dressing is key to the Vietnamese salad, with its many flavors and textures; the bread in the Panzanella softened and absorbed the flavors, which ties everything together wonderfully; and the grilled veggies and greens are the perfect complement to the incredibly moist salmon.
Similar experiences are possible along the coast at four totally different culinary schools. Cooking classes are really hot right now and are usually booked up weeks in advance. So contact ahead for reservations. What a great excuse for a day trip, a weekend getaway, or part of a vacation. Bon appetit!
The Seafood Center
The Seafood Center, established in 1998, is located on the campus of the Oregon State University Seafood Lab and is where the seafood industry, educators, coastal community leaders, and consumers come together to network and learn. An important part of their mission is the teaching being done in the Seafood Cooking Classes and Demonstrations.
"Our goal is not to intimidate people," says Lisa Rahn, program coordinator, "but to create dishes with recipes that they will take home and actually try. In fact, we have a whole wall filled with hundreds of class-tested recipes that are free for the taking."
The chefs who teach the classes are passionate about seafood and try to keep it fun with an informal, relaxed, atmosphere. "Since 1998, I've been showing people how fun and easy it is to cook fabulous seafood dishes," says head chef Eric Jenkins. The classes are hands-on, so expect to receive an apron, as well as recipes. The routine is to roll up your sleeves and help in the preparation, watch the chefs put it all together, and then sit down family-style to enjoy the results along with a glass or two of wine.
The classes are quite popular and need to be reserved well in advance.
Upcoming classes include Spot Prawn Boil (messy but worth it), Fall Festival (lingcod with roasted pumpkin and wild mushroom risotto with mussels), and Willapa Bay Oyster Feast, featuring People's Choice and First Place Hot Dishes winners from Newport's 2006 Oyster Cloyster. Later in the fall are The Flavors of the Middle East and Southern Charm (seafood gumbo and hush puppy encrusted halibut). Call to sign up or to get on a waiting list if class is full. Occasionally, if enough people are on a waiting list, a second session is offered.
Private classes are available for groups of 12 to 16 with the same format, and customized seafood cooking demonstrations are available for groups where the chefs show their stuff and the group feasts on the tasty results. Check online for further information, class schedules, and recipes. (503-338-6523; www.seafoodschool.org)
EVOO Cooking School
EVOO stands for extra virgin olive oil. Chef Robert Neroni's Italian family cooked with it, which helped inspire his love of cooking, and that led to studies at New York's Culinary Institute of America. Lenore Emery taught chefs and that's how they got together. After almost 20 years of marriage and working in the food industry, the couple moved to Cannon Beach and opened their cooking school in 2004. Neroni says that they've learned lessons, too, since then. "We find that most people would rather sit back, enjoy a glass of wine, and watch." They want to be entertained, but Neroni and Emery make sure some teaching goes on with every class. Both feel that teaching the craft of cooking is one of the most satisfying experiences of their careers.
They believe in using what's in season and knowing the source of what they eat. So they grow many herbs and vegetables in their own garden and buy from local farms and fishermen. And they want experiential dining and fun with food to be the primary objectives of EVOO.
Some of their most popular classes are the "Small Plates with Wines," which has new menus every week. Attendees watch the dishes being prepared, taste the food in four small courses with selected wines, and take a souvenir recipe booklet home. Other upcoming fall classes cover brunches, omelets, and pasta. And for those thinking about a culinary career, EVOO offers the One to One Professional Chef Series of organized skill-building on the path to becoming a professional cook.
Besides the classes, they have a small gift shop, a newsletter, Bob's Blog, and they co-author a biweekly column in the Cannon Beach Gazette. And if that isn't enough, they do catering. Check for more information online and for class schedules. (503-436-8555; www.evoo.biz)
Pacific Coast Center for Culinary Arts
Pacific Coast Center for Culinary Arts (PCCCA) is the new kid on the block, opening just this past March. The Center's mission is to serve visitors, local citizens, area entrepreneurs, and the hospitality industry. This partnership between the Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau and Rob Pounding, executive chef and owner of the renowned Blackfish Cafe, has opened to good reviews, mostly due to the expertise of Chef Pounding. Prior to opening his restaurant 10 years ago, he spent 15 years as executive chef at Salishan.
Chef Pounding stresses the use of seasonal products in daily cooking. "Instead of starting with a recipe and then finding the ingredients," he says, "start with what's already available, what's in season, and then choose a recipe." The classes cover the best of the Northwest and Pounding is not the only instructor. Most presentations are by visiting award-winning chefs or masters in their fields.
According to Katera Woodbridge, special events coordinator with LCVCB, "Most participants are local or from Portland. And most classes fill up quickly." Fall classes include seafood soup, cooking with beer, salmon, and cooking with kids. And customized classes for reunions, businesses, or whatever can be arranged. Check online for a brochure and schedule. (541-996-2119; www.oregoncoast.org)
Oregon Coast Culinary Institute
The Oregon Coast Culinary Institute (OCCI), located at Southwestern Oregon Community College, offers two Associate of Applied Science degrees, one in Culinary Arts Management Training and the other in Baking and Pastry Arts. This is of interest to those who want to become professional chefs, but there are also community classes and other benefits from having OCCI in town.
The community classes are workshops that consist of two three-hour sessions of hands-on training. Fall offerings are Thai cooking, Intro to Gourmet Cooking, and Christmas Candy. See schedule online.
All classes take place in the demonstration kitchen within the 17,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility built in 2005. For students, the culinary and academic classwork is completed in 12 months, followed by a three-month externship anywhere in the world they want to go.
OCCI has its own externship programs within the school that benefit the community. Every Friday from noon to 1 p.m., creative and professionally prepared luncheons at The Chef's Table await diners as part of one program. The price is $20 per person and the menu is listed online. La Patisserie is an OCCI bakery that showcases a baking and pastry student each week. Customers select and purchase weekly specials by 5 p.m. every Tuesday and pick up their order between 3:30 and 5 p.m. every Thursday (except in summer). Reservations are required for the luncheon, and call or e-mail to place a bakery order. (541-888-1540; chefstableocci @ occi.edu or lapatisserieocci @ occi.edu)
Shawn Hanlin, OCCI executive director, is pleased with the way the community classes and programs have been received. "Participation seems to be growing every week for the classes, as well as for La Patisserie and The Chef’s Table." (541-888-7328; www.occi.net)
Oregon Coast September/October 2007