Wichita’s top chefs showcase their skills while teaching classes

06/27/2012 5:00 AM

06/27/2012 3:44 PM

Imagine the inside of your steak as a mosh pit, chef Aaron Whitcomb instructs his students.

The juices inside the steak are the moshers, jumping around, banging their heads and feeling the rock. His hands flailing in the air, Whitcomb demonstrates the mosh.

The moshers are all fired up from the heat of the grill, and if you slice the steak before it’s had time to rest, they’ll rush the exits, spill all over the plate, and your steak will be dry and ruined.

Welcome to cooking classes taught by chefs.

At Cooking at Bonnie’s Place, a cooking school at 9747 E. 21st St. N. run by local culinarian Bonnie Aeschliman, cooking classes led by local chefs have been growing in popularity and frequency.

She’s been offering them intermittently for the past few years, relying on a stable of well-known restaurant names to draw in crowds — Bocconcini Italian Eatery’s Nathan Toubia, Tallgrass Country Club’s Ben George, Peter Moretti of the Corporate Hills Marriott.

Now, the classes are in such demand that she’s been able to arrange a “chefs’ showcase” that will fill her calendar through August.

“People love meeting the chefs. It’s very personal,” Aeschliman said. “They bring a different perspective and different kinds of recipes. They’ve all trained in different areas.”

On Tuesday, Whitcomb started the showcase with a demonstration that drew a packed house of 40 people.

Whitcomb, the executive corporate chef for Wichita’s Newport Grill, lives in Denver and also oversees Ya Ya’s Eurobistro restaurants in Kansas City and Little Rock.

During his colorful two-and-a-half-hour class, he showed the students how to make several of his favorite dishes — a bibb lettuce salad with pickled red onions, blue cheese and spiced walnuts followed by scallops with vanilla corn sauce and charred corn relish then a dessert of Frangelico budino, an Italian pudding.

The classes aren’t hands-on, but students, seated around tall dining tables, can watch each step by looking at angled mirrors placed above a long bar fitted with two cook tops. The mirrors afford them a clear view of the chef’s chopping skills and what’s inside each bubbling pot.

As each course is completed, a team of helpers deliver finished plates to the group of students, which includes older couples, younger couples and a collection of Cooking at Bonnie’s Place regulars. By the end of the class, the students have had a full meal and walk away with detailed recipes to recreate what they’ve learned.

They also walk away with several useful kitchen pro tips. Whitcomb advised his students on which Japanese knives to buy, how to soak onions in ice water to reduce their pungency and how dry-pack scallops yield the best results. As he talked, the students scribbled notes on their recipe sheets.

Peter Brown of Andover had a front row seat at Whitcomb’s Tuesday night class.

His wife, Theresa, gave him a Cooking at Bonnie’s Place gift certificate for Christmas, and when he perused the list of classes, Whitcomb and his scallops caught Brown’s eye.

Although he’d assumed the class would be hands-on, he said, he enjoyed Whitcomb’s stories from the restaurant frontlines — and the food was excellent.

Brown, an avid home cook, said he planned to prepare the scallop dish for his wife soon.

“For someone who likes to play around in the kitchen, these are meals you could actually prepare,” he said. “It’s not so intimidating that you couldn’t go home and make it.”

Getting local chefs to commit to teaching at her school is a bit of a challenge, said Aeschliman, mainly because their schedules often are so unpredictable.

But those who have returned over and over again tell her that the classes are a great marketing tool.

“I have worked hard getting chefs to come here,” she said. “So many of the restaurants are short on help, and they work all day, so this is hard to do. But it’s a good way to promote their restaurants and meet new people.”

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