Publix operates over 1000 supermarkets in the Southeast, but eight of them are doing something very special. In addition to merely selling food, they show you how to make it. Well, maybe that's an understatement. Pardon the cliché, but it's an all-out experience.
Imagine a taking a hands-on lesson on your favorite cuisine from the friendly chefs at your favorite restaurant, dining upon the delectable results - and upon leaving, getting a discount on the full selection of cooking implements and wine that you may (or may not) have used that evening. 'Why yes, I believe I'll take that Le Creuset to go, with a side of Kyocera knives and a set of Joyce Chen bamboo steamer baskets. Oh, what do I want to drink? Let me ask the chef which wines pair nicely with this flavor profile.'
We had a hard time choosing from courses like 'Herb Appeal', 'Thai for Two', 'World Street Food', 'French Bistro Dinner' and 'Basic Knife Skills' - not to mention celebrity taught classes - but ended up choosing the 'Dim Sum A Yum Yum' course so that we could recreate the meals that made our honeymoon (and many pseudo-honeymoons) so memorable. Not that we went to Asia, mind you. We just happen to spring for the spring rolls and potstickers whenever we embark on our nearsighted travels around our home state of Florida.
Since it needed to be frozen by the time dinner was ready, we started out with the green tea ice cream, which was literally homemade vanilla ice cream that was made with eight tea bags steeped into the cream. It was the best ice cream I had ever tasted.
Next we got to work on the dipping sauce. The chefs made it a point to avoid measuring cups and 'eyeball' everything with loose measurement units such as 'glugs' or 'handfuls', then having us taste the sauce and add more of what it lacked. For many of us, it was empowering to be freed from the measuring cup and our fears of failure.
|Shiitake mushrooms getting sautéed for the filling|
The meat and vegetable filled dumplings were made in a similarly loose manner, but since tasting raw meat was out of the question, one of the chefs would run a test batch over a skillet, which we would then taste before making any necessary adjustments to the mixture. To wrap the dumplings, we broke up into two groups and fell effortlessly into well oiled assembly lines to assemble each dumpling with our bare hands. Wrappers were laid flat and brushed with an egg wash and then stuffed with a dollop of the filling and wrapped flat or in the classic 'beggar's purse' style. We tightly wrapped an assortment of chopped veggies and herbs into the spring rolls, and laid them out on trays to be steamed, pan-fried or fried.
Once the fruits of our labor were spread out before us on a baker's rack, we started to cook the neatly arranged dumplings according to their various methods and savored the savory scents that rose with the steam.
Before I sat down to enjoy some of the best dumplings I've ever eaten, I watched as one of the attendees excitedly shot photos of the cooked potstickers and wontons to send to her mother. But there was something that made this especially moving and underscored the value of cooking lessons like these. Not only was this the first meal she had ever cooked; the young woman was Chinese and the mother that would receive the photos was from Hong Kong. The dumplings, she said, looked just like the ones that her mother would recognize.