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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: January 30, 2015

Kill it in the kitchen: Take a cooking class at Black Tie Company, Portland

Written by: Shannon Bryan
Chef Bill Irish (upper right) guides the class in the fine art of samosa folding during a cooking class at Black Tie. Shannon Bryan photo

Chef Bill Irish (upper right) guides the class in the fine art of samosa folding during a cooking class at Black Tie. Shannon Bryan photo

When you’re bad at something (cooking, installing drywall, speaking publicly without succumbing to a nervous sneezing fit), it makes sense to find someone who’s good at that thing – and then just do what they do.

Masters aren’t made overnight, of course, but taking lessons from someone who knows is a good place to start.

And while chef Bill Irish might not have much advice for installing drywall (actually, he might. He sounds pretty handy around the house), he’s well-educated in the kitchen and can definitely teach you a thing or two about cooking.

Irish leads a series of cooking classes in the commercial kitchen The Black Tie Company in Portland – the classes range from South American cuisine to New Orleans favorites, pasta making and Thai soup, noodles and tea. There’s even a “cooking for couples” class for you lovebirds. The focus of the class I attended last week: Hearty Indian food from the northern part of India.

What experience did I have with Indian cuisine? I’ve eaten it. That’s about it.

So Irish started at the beginning – the way beginning. He explained how food isn’t just what we eat. It’s who we are.

“Food is the first way of saying, ‘This is my culture,'” he said. And when we eat different cuisines, we’re transported – the flavors and aromas set an entire scene, taking us to places we’ve never been or to places we haven’t been in a long time.

Making samosas - the fold is key. Shannon Bryan photos

Making samosas – the fold is key. Shannon Bryan photos

And then we dove in to the recipes before us. We got hands on with our samosas, smelled the aromatic spices of the aloo mutter and found the perfect wine to pair with the butter chicken. We also learned a quick-and-easy way to deal with ginger: smash it. Just like we’re used to do with garlic. (It’s a great stress-relieving task after a tough day at work, chef Irish joked.)

The chef joked about a lot of things, in fact. While he prepared the samosa dough and chopped potatoes, he cracked wise about Scientology, trained chickens and a reclaimed pile of bricks in his yard that he one day hopes to turn into something useful. My point: Bill Irish will show you how to cook – and he’ll be a whole lot of hilarious along the way.

    The chef encouraged us to smell everything - and we were happy to oblige. Shannon Bryan photos

The chef encouraged us to smell everything – and we were happy to oblige. Shannon Bryan photos

We were encouraged to smell the spices in raw form and smell them again while they warmed in a pan. We sniffed each dish as new ingredients were added and talked about the aromatic effect each addition had. We learned how simply samosas can be made at home (once you have the thickness of the dough right and the proper folding technique down).

Irish offered up other tips, too, like how buying spices and other ingredients at local markets will cost you significantly less than at a larger chain grocer, or that bay leaves can cut the lining of your intestines if accidentally eaten (so don’t eat them).

And after all the dishes were made, we brought our plates and cups of wine out to the tables and ate together, remarking on flavors and our preferred level of spice. And then Irish brought out the chai pots de creme, which had been baking during the class, and we all got quiet, only mumbling “ohmygod, so good” between bites.

The meal: butter chicken and aloo mutter. And wine. "to me, wine and food should go together," said Irish.

The meal: butter chicken and aloo mutter. And wine. “to me, wine and food should go together,” said Irish.

We left a little wiser than we had arrived and definitely a lot fuller. And Irish told us not to worry about replicating what he’d made for us. Instead, we should get creative.

“The whole point of a cooking class is that you’ll take this dish and you’ll go home and you’ll make it your own,” he said.

Cooking Classes at The Black Tie Company continue into May and cost $65 per person. They’re filling up fast, too, so sign up soon. Check out the complete schedule at theblacktieco.com.

Upcoming classes:

Feb. 4: French Kiss This
Our most popular class is back! Enjoy learning basic French cooking techniques such as making a roux, the method of julienne and the classic béchamel sauce. French cooking is not just a way to prepare food, it’s a way of life! Register

Feb. 11: Cooking For Couples
Make the most wonderful romantic meal to be shared. Tips on cooking together and enjoying the process. Register

Feb. 25: Casco Bay Catches
Learn to shop, prepare and enjoy local and fresh seafood. Our talented chefs will teach you everything from buying quality fish to preparing and filleting it properly all while teaching versatile techniques that are easy, delicious and healthy. Register

March 4: Pasta! Pasta! Pasta!
De-mystify the fresh pasta making experience and learn how to make tasty sauces to accompany them. Register

March 11: Here Come the Irish
The real modern Irish cuisine (not just boiled dinner and soda bread) using seafood, spices and greens. You’ll want to visit county Cork after this class! Register

March 25: Welcome to South America
The flavors and philosophy of Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and more! This class is always a favorite – so sign up early! Register

April 1: This Ain’t No Fooling – New Orleans Favorites
New Orleans comes to New England. e foods of that region, celebrated in grand style. Register

April 15: Indian Home Cooking
The best of Southern Indian foods and, yes, we will make naan! Register

April 29: Spring in Italia
Spring comes to the land of great foods and culture. Register

May 6: The New Mexican Menu
Modern Mexico meets traditional in this flavor-packed evening. We will finish with flan. Register

May 20: Welcome to Thailand
Thai food basics: soups, salads, noodles and tea. e techniques and the steps to make truly tasty Thai! Register

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