Honestly, I’ve always been a little intimidated by Southern Season. It’s so beautiful, between the delicious bites and nifty tools. I’ve walked the aisles, back and forth, with out-of-town guests, my husband or friends before lunching at the Weathervane. But I’ve never been able to pull the trigger – to choose from among the host of barbecue sauces, teas, coffees, candies, wines, desserts and cookware available.
Same goes with Southern Season’s cooking class offerings. They’ve been on my radar since I first arrived to the area a little less than two years ago. I’ve picked up the packets, pored over the options: hands-on or demonstration? Italian, Southern, Filipino or Cuban? An entire class dedicated to scones, biscuits, knife skills: I just could not land on a decision.
But when art director Sarah Arneson and I had the opportunity to attend a class taught by Chapel Hill resident and acclaimed cookbook author Sheri Castle, I had no doubt we were in for a treat.
The 46-seat room (upstairs, above the store’s beer department) was inviting and intimate, especially with Sheri behind the counter. She really knew how to work the crowd. As Sheri showed off her culinary skills, the audience attentively listened for her helpful nuggets of wisdom: “Sift the egg yolks to achieve a curdle-free custard.” “If your mixture is less than half liquid, blend it in the food processor.” “If you’re only using half of a 12-muffin tray, fill the empty six cups with water to avoid warping.”
“If they don’t leave having learned something, they might as well have gone out to dinner at a restaurant,” Sheri told me after the class.
We did learn a lot, but even devoid of the tidbits, I’m sure Sarah and I still would have had a blast. Sheri, whose audience we were told primarily consisted of her regulars, had the group in stitches several times during the two-hour demonstration. And her cuisine was spot on.
The theme of the class was Easter dinner, the old-fashioned way. As she welcomed her guests, Sheri said she wasn’t sure how many people actually sit down to Easter dinner anymore, but she was excited to breathe new life into this traditional meal. And, boy, was that meal lively, with the bright, welcoming flavors of lemon and mustard delightfully strung throughout.
By far, my favorite bite of the night was Sheri’s lemony deviled egg. Talk about a punch of flavor! The perfectly seasoned egg invoked memories of church potlucks and August family reunions, but … it was somehow fresh, nuanced and blooming with the bite of freshly grated lemon zest. After finishing hers, Sarah – eyes wide – leaned over and whispered, “I’ll take three of those!”
I agreed, for that and every dish afterward: the blasted asparagus, sweet baked ham, garden-pea-and-Parmesan puree (yeah, really!), vinaigrette potato salad and buttermilk pie. Each was inspiring, readying me to roll up my sleeves and jump into the kitchen. We were served healthy portions of it all – just the right amount of food – and two glasses of wine throughout the course of the class.
TOP OF THE CLASS
As she mixed puree and whisked mustard sauce, Sheri took questions from the audience, many of whom she could call on by name. One woman raised her hand to tell Sheri she and her husband had been to her classes for years, and this was her best plate yet – a sentiment that drew applause from the rest of the group.
After being welcomed to the table by Sheri, I could see myself easily becoming one of her regulars, too. Or maybe just a regular to the cooking school in general, gathering up culinary tips from local all-stars such as Crook’s Corner’s Bill Smith, who taught a Taste of the Triangle demonstration class in April, or Oakleaf’s Brendan Cox, who’s teaming up with Peregrine Farms’ Alex Hitt for Southern Season’s Chef Meets Farmer class series on May 22.