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Firing Up Your Grill Skills at Sur La Table

Students learn the art of the grill though Bobby Flay's curriculum during a three-class course offered at the Kirkland kitchen supply store.

CELEBRITY CHEFS on the Food Network make cooking look so easy with their catch phrases like “BAM!” and their skillet flips. Hungry and inspired, we rush out to purchase their cookbook or download a recipe, hoping to transform our own regular meals into impressive masterpieces. But sometimes, proper technique can get lost in translation from page to eye to brain to hand.

That’s when some actual instruction comes to the rescue. When chef Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s “ No Reservations,” approached kitchen supply retailer Sur La Table about developing courses to teach the basics like roasting a chicken or stewing beef, a great partnership was born. Soon, America’s “ Boy Meets GrillBobby Flay joined the mix. Following the successful Bourdain model, Flay fashioned a three-course grill skills curriculum for Sur La Table.

Instructor chef Joel Gamoran uses his booming voice to welcome everyone at Kirkland's . First up for the ten eager students was the meat course featuring pork, chicken thighs and even a filet mignon, all cooked with the exact same technique, but more on that in a minute. Time for students to get to work.

Repeat students Sarah and Bob keep coming back for this very reason, noting the predominantly hands-on approach to learning at Sur La Table.

“Other programs focus on instructor demos,” says Gamoran. “Or, if students are cooking, they often only get to cook one part of the recipe.”

Sur La Table’s approach is to divide ingredients homogeneously among students so everyone gets to participate in each step. Everyone gets to chop, slice, season, grill and flip -- with a spatula, of course.

“I’m not a big tong lover. One poke with the tongs and your meat is done -- all the juice will leak out,” says Gamoran, who also adds, “When in doubt, use a spatula. I’ll eat my cereal with a spatula if I need to.”

After students sliced shallots and dried figs, sliding fresh thyme leaves from the twigs with pinched fingers, teaching assistant Liz Hartman took over. A recent graduate of Seattle Art Institute’s culinary program, Hartman works as a chef for Microsoft’s Cafe 34. As the shallots sweat in a saucepan, she warns against adding garlic too early due to its propensity to burn.

“And if you add fresh herbs to anything too early, they just die,” Gamoran chimes in. “Wait until the end of cooking.”

ABOUT AN HOUR into the class, students took a break to eat the corn they roasted, sprinkling it with smoked salt. This turned out to be just the opportunity Gamoran needed to launch into a “how to make your own flavored salt” tangent -- an off-curriculum freebie that one would likely not get from a cookbook.

Basically, check your fridge or the garden for any sort of appealing flavor like thyme or lavender. Using one tablespoon of flavor for every cup of large grain salt (e.g. Maldon’s), bash the salt and flavoring together with a mortal and pestle. Let it sit for a day or so, then strain it through a fine mesh strainer. The flavoring should remain potent for around two months. Gamoran recommends checking out the flavored salts by Salt Works.

One fashionable couple had arrived a few minutes late and looked a bit unfamiliar with the kitchen. When asked why he was taking the class, the male half shrugged.

“The class was gifted to me by my parents. They’re hoping I learn how to cook,” said Shawn, a computer science student at U.W.’s Bothell campus.

He wouldn’t be the first to think of cooking classes as a fun night out. Gamoran claims the knife skills and date night classes are always the most popular.

The “basil-kissed” pork chops were ready for the grill pan. Seasoned with salt and pepper, the students were instructed to drizzle the chop with a 50/50 olive and vegetable oil mix.

“Never, ever oil the grill,” Gamoran emphasizes. “Always oil the thing going on the grill.”

Though Bobby Flay’s recipes were used for the class, Gamoran isn’t afraid to share from his own experience, perhaps adding a pat of butter where Flay leaves an item dry. And while Flay grills everything from start to finish, Gamoran teaches students to grill only for color and finish meat on a wire rack in a 400 degree oven. Meat that has been grilled to colorful, though raw, perfection can be kept in the fridge overnight. Finishing the meat before a party becomes a snap leaving more time for socializing with guests.

These kinds of tips are what keep Bellevue resident Delores coming back for more classes. She definitely uses the techniques learned in Sur La Table classes and loves new recipes. Friends and family often ask for her recipes.

“Sometimes I share and sometimes I don’t,” Delores chuckles.

KIRKLAND RESIDENT Sarah could almost be mistaken for a teaching assistant, so comfortable was she with her post near the grill checking sauces and grill marks while Gamoran talks. A psychologist with both a private practice and a position with  The Little School, Sarah  claims she is “obsessed with cooking" and praises Gamoran’s teaching skills.

Gamoran says that Sur La Table is eager to add new classes to the roster and is always open to good suggestions. He thinks it would be fun to put together a sort of VIP class for the more avid students, letting them pick and choose what they want to learn that session.

While the three cuts of meat finished in the oven, students grilled off some nectarines destined for a blue cheese and basil salad, and orange halves because, as Gamoran says, “There’s nothing sexier than grilled citrus” -- you won’t find these gems in any old cookbook!

The pork chop was sliced on the bias and plated rustically with the nectarine salad perched on top. The fig and red wine reduction was blended into a tangy jammy spread, smeared by Hartman onto a platter and topped with slices of perfectly pink filet mignon. Crispy chicken thighs were adorned with green olive quarters and surrounded by a delicious orange zest and sherry vinegar syrup.

As students feasted on the bounty prepared by their own hands, they no doubt felt a bit more confident both in the kitchen and at the grill. You’d be hard pressed not to soak up some of Gamoran’s enthusiasm for food. His passion for teaching is obvious.

“I don’t like teaching. I love it!” Gamoran says, claiming he’s landed his dream job as Sur La Table’s chef instructor. Filing out the door with their new Flay cookbooks, students shake his hand and tell him they are looking forward to the next lesson: grilling seafood.

To learn more about “Grill It” or other classes offered at Kirkland’s Sur La Table, please visit its website.

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