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February 14, 2014 • 06:14:07 p.m.

Classes teach couples skills, confidence in the kitchen

By JAMI KUNZER - • jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Megan and Scott Hennings of Crystal Lake prepare pork medallions as a part of a dish they were learning to make during a "Date Night" Valentine's Day-themed cooking class at Crystal Lake's Lakeside Legacy Arts Park. The participants learned to cook an entire meal together and later sat down to eat what they made. (Michelle LaVigne – For Shaw Media)

It might not be the first room in the house couples think of when they're looking to bond.

But don't underestimate the kitchen.

Standing side by side, knives in hand, newlyweds Scott and Megan Hennings of Crystal Lake chopped carrots and celery, big grins on their faces as they compared each other's slicing abilities.

The two were among four couples taking part in a recent "Date Night" cooking class offered by Confetti Gourmet Academy, which hosts its classes in a kitchen at Lakeside Legacy Arts Park in Crystal Lake.

The class is one of numerous cooking-related classes offered through McHenry County College's Continuing Education Department.

The classes, including many offered by Andy Andresky of 1776 Restaurant in Crystal Lake, are popular, perhaps inspired by trends and the many reality television shows featuring chefs, bakers and restaurants, organizers say.

"We were looking for things we could do as a couple," Scott Hennings said as the two prepared to create pork medallions with Espagnole sauce.

"And he wants me to cook more," Megan added.

The couple, along with others, created the medallions, a chocolate bread pudding, grilled asparagus, sweet potato mash and a baby greens salad, and then dined on the dishes.

It was a menu designed to inspire passion. Even more so when prepared together, said Chef Pili Rios, who instructs alongside her husband, Chef David Harding, both of Confetti Gourmet Academy.

The two weave through the kitchen, pots and utensils in hand, chatting as they teach.

"This is fantastic, fantastic," Harding said as the couples put the finishing touches on the bread pudding.

The classes are designed to help students quickly acquire skills and confidence, Rios said.

"I think it helps them bond a little bit more," she said of the couple's class. "A lot of times they don't cook together. It's usually one or the other. One of the wives said, 'How am I going to reproduce this meal?' And her husband said, 'I'll help you.' Now he knows how."

Other classes offered through the academy include a class on preparing a Mediterranean Pork Chop and a Crazy for Cobbler course as well as pastry and Fish 101 lessons.

Rios, who works as an adjunct culinary arts instructor at MCC and Harper College in Palatine, said she intends to offer more courses geared toward parents and children ages 4 and older.

The classes will get children in the kitchen early bonding with their parents or loved ones, she said. They'll also be able to experience being in a professional kitchen setting and discover if a future career as a chef is something for them, she said.

She'd also like to focus more on healthy cooking and eating.

"I think that's one of the reasons people don't cook a lot at home. They don't know how to. Our motto is to make cooking simple and fun," she said. "They're always shocked. 'Wow, that was so easy.' "

Classes, such as Knife Skills offered by Andresky, typically fill up as people seek to learn preparation skills, not just cooking skills, said Dori Sullens, director of Continuing Education at MCC. Another called Mushroom Mission, scheduled in May, is popular as well.

Many times, groups of friends take the classes together not only for the education, but as something social to do, she said.

"It's a special occasion for people to get together," she said. "It's fun. You learn a new skill and you get to eat great food, and you can duplicate it at home."


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