Hands-on food 

Kiss Z Cook classes make students rise to the challenge

Kiss Z Cook owner Tracy Shaw says she had enrolled in cooking classes only to find that instructors were the only ones who got to work with the food. “That’s not how I learn,” says the owner of a staffing company.

Now she has a shop on East 116 Street in Carmel and thrice-weekly classes where about 16 can cook along with her hand-picked chef, Sean Bartosiak, formerly of Bistrot Zinc in Chicago and Five Seasons Country Club in Central Indiana.

The setup is like this: Bartosiak in the front, and two to four people per four pre-prepped cooking stations filling the rest of the room. But, at least with the class I took — “Pasta pasta!” — we were all making different things. Students are literally plunged into the hot cooker, so it’s advantageous to have basic cooking skills going in.

Granted, the class I took was categorized under “specialty.” The company also offers more fundamental cooking classes, which, I assume, may be a bit more hand-held.

Bartosiak was everywhere at once, even in this specialty class where, after a demonstration on cooking pasta from scratch (Olive Garden, he revealed during the post-demo Q&A session, is one of the few restaurants that still take the time to do this), we were turned loose to make pasta with proscuitto and goat cheese, salmon and spinach noodle bake, crispy angel hair cakes with grilled chicken and tomato coulis and chocolate dessert pasta at our different stations.

We were armed with recipe cards, raw food materials and, more or less, all the cooking ware needed: stove-top grill, salad bowl, cutting knives so cool and efficient you might even fork over the steep asking prices to take them home from the adjacent supply store. Perhaps most importantly, if you’re flying solo at one of these classes, you have the prospect of working at a station with the inevitable overachiever or station-hog.

At my station, his name was Paul.

Paul and his wife Lynn took charge. They grabbed the recipe card and started delineating duties — among themselves. Paul hogged the awesome chopper (probably introduced during the earlier “knife skills” class) and cutting board to slice tomatoes and onions for the coulis. I stood behind in the queue, waiting to chop garlic, shallots and escarole.

Still, everything moved along at a reasonable pace, though there were some material shortages, and, at every station, some time-crunch necessitated recipe improvisations. The class was slated for two hours, but by the time we sat down to “taste” (feast on) everyone’s creations, it was closer to three.

I mentioned that Bartosiak was everywhere at once. This is imperative. It’s how one station salvaged the pasta with proscuitto dish — through the chef’s sage wisdom that cream fixes everything (it did). He was also great at magically supplying equipment, helping with one-on-one technique and providing a little confidence to help everyone get through. If the classes grow much more in size, I fear this fundamental feature may be lost.

In truth, there are other hands-on cooking classes in Indianapolis (maybe Shaw meant Carmel doesn’t have any others). The Chef’s Academy on East Washington Street offers hands-on “Community Classes,” some of which have comparable subject matter to Kiss Z Cook’s: knife skills, pasta, couples thematic classes, etc. They’re comparatively priced, too: Many sessions are $75. Kiss Z Cook has more classes during the week, usually during after-work hours; Chef’s Academy classes are on Saturday midmornings.

I rather like Kiss Z Cook’s particular set-up. I like the intimacy between the small classes and the down-to-earth chef. I like that students are sent home with handouts on the culinary terrain covered, cheat sheets for later recreations. But I especially like the “tasting” at the end. Ours was really a feast, and everything tasted pretty good.

“I don’t know how it always comes together, but it does,” Chef Bartosiak said while dishing out the salvaged remains of the chocolate pasta for dessert.

For more information and upcoming classes, visit www.kisszcook.com.

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Jennifer Litz

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