At the Belfair community in Bluffton, S.C., members are learning how to enrich their lives outside of the property, through a new cooking school being held for the first time this year from September 28 through November 20.
Learning new skills keeps minds of all ages active and engaged. At the Belfair community in Bluffton, S.C., members are learning how to enrich their lives outside of the property, through a new cooking school being held for the first time this year from September 28 through November 20.
Belfair has had success in the past with one-day cooking classes, so Executive Chef Bruce Christensen, CEC, CCA, put together the eight-week school, for which students gather in the club’s banquet kitchen every Monday. “We decided to do it on Monday mornings because we only serve lunch [on that day] and are closed for dinner service,” Christensen explains.
After a 30-minute lecture by Christensen, the class divides into four groups of two, to work on culinary skills over the course of six hours at individual stations. At the end of each class, students gather with a bottle of wine to eat what they created that day, ask questions, and talk about the upcoming week.
“We wanted the syllabus to be complete—not just Italian dishes or making pasta. The [participating] members requested an overall education,” Christensen says.
The class builds on the skills learned each week, starting at first with the basics: identifying and learning to use kitchen tools, such as knife technique. The following classes move on to hands-on work with soups and sauces, hors d’oeuvres and appetizers, salads, various cooking methods, and desserts.
One of Christensen’s biggest challenges has been keeping up with every student, bouncing from table to table to make sure everything is coming together with proper timing. Plus, some old habits—like how to properly hold a knife—can be tough to break.
“I tried to gear the topics around things members can still do at home, so a lot of our conversation is about how to get ready for a dinner party, like what mise en place you can prep in advance before guests arrive,” Christensen adds.
For the final week, the students will test their mettle by preparing a grand banquet for 75 members, creating three-course plated dinners plus hors d’oeuvres. The meal will be followed by an awards ceremony for participants.
The class is capped at eight students, and the first group has proven to be an enthusiastic bunch, he reports, often showing up early and willingly shortening 15-minute breaks to five minutes.
Belfair’s first class sold out in three days, with a waiting list of five more. Before registration opened, Christensen spread the word through table visits in Belfair’s dining rooms. But going forward, it looks like marketing by word-of-mouth will suffice. “The members are hearing that the classes are great and they’re excited about next time,” Christensen says. “In fact, the current group got together and decided we should offer an advanced class.”
And the benefits of the program extend beyond the members, who paid $975 each for the experience. Two dishwashers assist Christensen in the kitchen during each class, volunteering their time setting up, cleaning and helping when needed. “The deal is that the dishwashers will get the same education that the members get, but without having to pay the fee,” Christensen notes. In fact, when one of the dishwashers inquired about purchasing knives from the club, the chef sweetened the deal. “I said, if you finish eight weeks, I’ll buy each of you a set of knives and a case,” he reports.