Culinary fun: Competition is key ingredient of cooking class

News-DemocratJanuary 5, 2014 

— Winnie and Carl Rehmer may have come in the door together, but the relationship was on hold once the cooking competition started.

"Joyce put us so everyone is opposite," said Winnie, of splitting up six couples into two teams. "It's going to get nasty later!"

Joyce Carnahan, who retired in 2013 as Red Bud High School's culinary instructor, now has a business, Class on Main, teaching adults to cook.

"Twelve is about my max in here because of the kitchen," she said of the 1890s storefront she and husband Bob bought, renovated, decorated and equipped. The long, narrow building has multiple ovens and creative prep space. They live upstairs.

The six couples instigated the friendly culinary contest, but relied on Joyce to make it happen without total chaos.

"I taught many of these people's children," Joyce said.

Andrea and Tom Jenkins nodded.

"We had experience with Joyce," said Andrea. "So, I know how creative she is. We wanted to be the first to do this!"

The couples get together weekly to socialize and have dinner, sometimes cooking at each other's homes. All are from Red Bud, though Pam and Charlie Wineinger moved to Swansea a year ago.

The goal that evening for the teams was to (loosely) create French dishes, including appetizer, vegetables, entree and dessert. Ingredients included chicken breasts, assorted vegetables, fruit, cheese, crepes and puff pastry, spices and herbs.

Joyce started with a demonstration of how to work with puff pastry and crepes.

"Crepes are very thin French pancakes that can be filled or covered with a sauce," she said as she slipped one into her hands. "You won't have to make the crepes. That's already done for you."

Either the crepes or the puff pastry could be used to make appetizers and/or dessert, by using a sweet or savory filling, she said.

Everyone got a detailed three-page handout on menu ideas and in what order to prepare dishes so everything would end up in front of the judges -- University of Illinois Extension culinary educator Carol Schlitt and News-Democrat Food Editor Suzanne Boyle -- at the right time.

Then, Joyce handed out the bad news: "You have to come up with your own recipes."

A collective gasp rose and wine-sipping stopped. Everyone had heard of Chicken Cordon Bleu, the entree, but they'd expected to be handed a recipe.

Smartphones came out and searches were on.

Team coordinators were chosen for their cooking experience.

Team Debbie (Gielow) included Carl Rehmer, Charlie Wineinger, Andrea Jenkins, Pam Ehlers and Greg Keil.

Team Winnie (Rehmer) was made up of Tom Jenkins, Dian Albert, Pam Wineinger, Larry Ehlers and Glenn Gielow.

Everybody had a job: coordinator, chicken-filling creator, chicken cook, sauce maker, vegetable preparer and dessert creator.

Everybody had a hand in creating flavored butter, whipped cream and plating food.

Chop, chop

"Just call us team get lucky," joked Tom, who chopped carrots the French way: julienne. He's a precise kind of guy.

"I took my tape measure out and measured them," he said of the perfect matchstick-size pieces.

Across the counter, teammate Dian trimmed asparagus spears.

Around the corner, opposing team members Andrea and Charlie made dessert.

"These are going to be caramel apple crepes," she said, spreading caramel sauce and then nuts.

Charlie carefully chopped Granny Smith apples.

"I cook a little bit, grilling and the assistance thing," he said. "How to handle this knife is new to me. I guess with the guidance here, it can't be bad!"

Kitchen frenzy

In the kitchen, Pam Ehlers and Carl flattened boneless chicken breasts.

"Is this right?" Carl asked as he used a rolling pin. Pam nodded.

Winnie set about making a filling for the chicken, adding cheese to a bowl on the antique sideboard.

"Everybody's got something to do, so this should all work out," she said.

Sami Lucht, 11, Joyce's granddaughter, helped the group locate supplies and cooking utensils. She regularly cooks with Grandma Joyce. Peanut butter coffeecake is her favorite. Sami's mom, Cari Lucht, and cousin, Miki Friess also pitched in.

Joyce had a somewhat hands-off role with the cooks.

"I tried to coach them at the beginning and then throughout the night," she said.

The kitchen started to fill with people. Some sauteed asparagus and carrots. Others put dishes, such as stuffed chicken, into the oven.

"There's a lot of cooks in that kitchen," Andrea said, retreating to the front counter, where electric frying pans were set up to hold more chicken.

Tom, Pam Wineinger and Glenn worked at an old farm table, creating strawberry cream-cheese filled crepes.

Charlie attacked a bowl of heavy cream with a whisk.

"I can make whipped cream doing this?" he asked the room. Maybe not, someone suggested. He went in search of a mixer, returning 10 minutes later with a fluffy bowl of whipped cream.

"That did the trick! Now, what's a dollop?"

Let's eat!

Dinner was late, but no one seemed to mind.

"It took a little longer than expected, but that's OK," said Joyce as her 12 students gathered around the counter to present dishes to the judges.

Team Winnie had best entree, a breaded rolled chicken breast stuffed with a spinach, marscapone, bleu cheese and sour cream filling, topped with a white wine sauce.

Team Debbie got kudos for its Strawberry Cream Cheese Crepes and a puff-pastry appetizer made with chopped pistachios, sun-dried tomato pesto and goat cheese.

"Without recipes, you guys did good!" said judge Carol.

The teams sat down to dinner.

"I felt so important: Take this! Get rid of this!" said Carl. He turned to his friend Larry. "I didn't know I could make chicken cordon bleu!"

Want to take a class with Joyce? She works with all ages and groups, though size is limited to a dozen. Past classes have included Girl Scouts, Red Hat Ladies, birthday parties and more. Class on Main is at 204 S. Main St., Red Bud. Call 559-9560 for more information. This team-cooking class cost $35 per person.

Meet the cooks

The Wineingers, of Swansea: Pam, 55, and Charlie, 56, are Realtors with Re/Max Preferred in Swansea.

The Elhers, of Red Bud: Pam, 67, is a pharmacist and an owner of Keil Pharmacy. Larry, 67, is a retired school teacher.

Greg Keil and Dian Albert, of Red Bud: Greg, 62, is one of the owners of Keil Pharmacy in Red Bud. Dian, 61, is the director of the Okaw Regional Vocational System and is the retired director of Beck Area Vocational Center.

The Rehmers, of Red Bud: Winnie, 62, is a retired jewelry-store owner. She owned Hobbs-Rehmer Jewelry in Red Bud.Carl, 62, is president of Williams Patent Crusher and Pulverizer Co., St. Louis.

The Jenkinses, of Red Bud: Tom, 58, and Andrea, 56. both retired after working in the family business, Horrell Distributors, an Anheuser-Busch distributorship. They manage farm and real estate property.

The Gielows, of Red Bud: Debbie, 60, is a surgical nurse and vice president of Eagle Stone & Brick Inc. Glen, 62, president of Eagle Stone & Brick.

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