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For anyone who doesn’t know, this time last year I was working as a sous chef and event planner for Publix Aprons Cooking School. There are locations all over Florida, and Boca Raton is lucky enough to be one of them. Publix Aprons gives hands-on cooking classes in all kinds of food and technique — everything from a class solely focused on grilling or baking, to specific theme-based classes for holidays or using one particular ingredient. I learned a lot of great cooking lessons from my time at the school, things I still use on an everyday basis. The chefs I worked with are extremely talented and knowledgable people and they do an awesome job teaching the classes.
I recently had the opportunity to take the “Veggie Lover’s” hands-on class and get a taste of what it’s like to be on the “other side of the table” during one of these classes. The class was small — only four others joined me for what would turn out to be a super fun night leaving us all stuffed and already making plans for the next time we’d all reconvene for another class. Chefs Darrin and Vince taught the class and I had so much fun catching up with them. These hands-on classes are a lot of fun for anyone who loves to cook, whether a novice or someone who cooks regularly. You’re given a packet complete with every recipe you’ll be having that night, and everyone has a chance to participate in the cooking from start to finish.
This vegetarian-themed class had a great menu — Roasted Red Pepper Gazpacho with Crunchy Spinach Strips; Fresh Corn Cakes with Chive Crème Fraiche; Squash Casserole with Caramelized Garlic and Crunchy Panko Crust; and a Strawberry Shortcake Icebox Cake for dessert. The best part about these recipes is that they were not difficult at all and very easily customizable to whatever suits your preferences. I can’t wait to recreate the soup and corn cakes at home, and that icebox cake was just too easy not to make again.
We had a lot of fun with the soup, adding more and more spice as we tasted until it had just the right amount of heat. We added a whole jalapeño (seeds and membrane removed so our heads didn’t explode from spiciness), sriracha, a pinch of cayenne, and a little more garlic before declaring perfection. Good thing we all were okay with spice! The spinach strips were pretty interesting. We sliced up spinach tortillas and sprinkled with spices before throwing into the oven to crisp up. They added the perfect amount of crunch to the soup. We all agreed that we normally like our gazpachos a little more on the chunky side rather than pureed smooth like this one, but adding the crispy strips helped with that.
The corn cakes and squash casserole were super easy to make and everyone was able to get pretty involved in each of the dishes. Slicing corn kernels off the cob, chopping veggies, caramelizing garlic, grating parmesan cheese (and of course sneaking a taste here and there), shaping the corn cakes and whatever else was needed for these two dishes, we had it covered! We worked on these two dishes simultaneously at each end of the counter which helps speed things along.
Dessert was everyone’s favorite. We doctored up the whipped cream a little by adding in some almond extract and…Amaretto! YUM. Layers of sugar cookie, a sweet strawberry syrup made with fresh strawberries, homemade whipped cream, and sliced strawberries on top — I’m drooling just remembering how amazing it was. It goes into the refrigerator to set (hence the name “icebox” cake) and by the time we had finished our soup, corn cakes, and casserole, dessert was ready!
Though it was a small class (class size for hands-on goes up to 12 people), we all had such a great time. The intimacy of a smaller class is sometimes preferred since it allows for everyone to really get their hands dirty, and of course it means there are less people to share the food with! 😉
I almost found myself grabbing dishes at one point to bring to the back and clean, but then I remembered: I’m a student! I had a blast learning from the guys and discovering some new recipes to try at home. I plan on making the soup sometime in the coming month, so stay tuned for my own version of the recipe!
Thank you so much to Chefs Darrin and Vince for a great night at Publix Aprons and Resident Chef Rey for inviting me to come and join the fun. Can’t wait to come back again soon!
In addition to hands-on classes, there are also demonstration-style classes where you basically sit back and relax while the chefs demonstrate each recipe before serving you the dish, along with a paired wine. Demonstrations make for a really nice night. I actually have gone to one as a guest once before and brought my Bubby who really enjoyed it. The prices are reasonable for what you’re getting and you get more out of it than just dinner — it’s an experience worth checking out. The cooking school is located at the Publix in the Polo Shops. View the calendar of classes (both hands-on and demonstration).
Disclaimer: I was provided with free admission to this class at Publix Aprons Cooking School.