Before Saturday night, I didn't know that a lemon zester was a thing. Now, I know that and how to make proper pork chops. You can, too - Assignment #179 in the 365 Things to Do in Memphis is to get kitchen skills at the Viking Cooking School:
Because each class has to have a certain number of participants in order to happen, it took a few tries for me to schedule a session (the first two that I was available for got cancelled). We made it work, though, and on Saturday, I went to Viking's showroom / cooking school in East Memphis for a three hour, Las Vegas-themed cooking class.
Since the "In Vegas" class is part of Viking's popular "Girls' Night" series, all twelve of the participants were women. The instructor, Susan, said that occasionally, guys want to sign up for the ladies night classes (ostensibly to meet the ladies) and that she doesn't turn them down.
At 6 p.m., we all gathered around a big table in Viking's test kitchen and snacked on spinach dip while Susan went over the night's menu packet. Fitting with the theme, each recipe was one that's served in a famous chef's Las Vegas restaurant.
We were divided into teams of four and stationed around a giant stainless steel table. Since I had come alone, I joined a group of three – two super friendly sisters and one daughter.
Susan guided us through Bobby Flay's Grilled Fennel-spiced Pork Chops with Lemon Sage Vinaigrette first, offering suggestions for the proper way to chop an onion (a method not at all like the one used in my own kitchen) and showing us the joys of using a proper lemon zester (instead of, say, the small end of a cheese grater).
At first, I was a little worried about the dyamics of cooking as a team, but as we got deeper into the recipe book, I was glad to have back up. In about two hours, we made Emeril's New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp and Petite Rosemary Biscuits, grilled asparagus, the Commander's Palace Stone Ground Goat Cheese Grits and the aforementioned pork chops.
The class was super laid back and casual. Between dishes, there was a lot of chatting and picture taking and exchanging of techniques. Once we were done with the knives (and they had been safely removed from the scene), the teaching assistant poured glasses of wine.
With about 45 minutes left in the class and all of the food prepared, we sat down to eat. There was some expectation that the food would be good, but I was surprised at exactly how well we had done. The pork chops were perfect (and huge), the cheese grits were almost the texture of super rich mashed potatoes, and if you had offered me a bath in the barbecue shrimp sauce, I would have grabbed a towel and my rubber duckie.
And the best part? We didn't have to cook the dessert. The Viking chefs served us slivers of Charlie Palmer's Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ganache Tart topped with homemade peanut brittle (which I forgot to take a picture of because I was too busy stuffing my face).
We also got to take our recipe packets (which included a few bonus recipes) and new skills home with us.
Viking offeres a variety of themed cooking classes in Memphis, with special sessions for kids, couples and those who want more intensive, in-depth experience with a particular food (barbecue, cake, etc.). The cost of the classes varies, but sessions in the Girls' Night series is about $90 per person.
1215 Ridgeway Road
Memphis, TN 38119
(ed. note - A huge thank you goes to Wendy at Viking for getting me set up with this class. They allowed me to attend the session for free, but did so without condition or expectation. All of the opinions expressed above are my own.)