Mastering the Grill

Few things are as pathetic as a weeklong menu of ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While the typical freshman finds pride in first-semester water boiling skills, more than a year of the meager cuisine is cause enough to either move home or even learn to cook.

Mastering the culinary basics of the kitchen may seem as difficult to some as advanced calculus.

“(Cooking) is all about the excitement of taking fine ingredients and being able to assist in them reaching their ultimate potential,” said Jay Minzer, resident chef for the new Publix Apron’s Cooking School at the Shoppes of Citrus Park store, located at 7835 Gunn Hwy. across the street from Sickles High School.

Apron’s Cooking School is the first of its kind in the state, and introduced in the hope that the classes would attract enough attention to demand additional openings at other locations.

Classes are held on the second floor of the 61,000 square foot store. The state-of-the-art kitchen features two Thermidor gas cooktops (one has a grill), three electric convection ovens, a Sub Zero refrigerator and at least 20 feet of marble-like work surface. Four television monitors zoom in on the instructor.

While the room is set to accommodate as many as 35 students, hands-on classes are generally limited to 12 students.

Adding a cooking school to the grocery store is a new concept for Publix, but one that has been proving to be worth the effort. Most students say it’s assuring to learn how to make exotic dishes, then gather the ingredients needed to prepare them on their way out.

“I cannot believe that I just cooked like that,” said Deborah Salgado, walking out of an evening class where she had just learned to prepare a veal dish served at Tampa’s Armani’s Restaurant.

The hands-on course was led by Chef Massimo Patano, the sous chef for Armani’s.

“I was actually doing the fancy stuff, you know, the drizzling sauce and tomato flower decorations, like you see on TV cooking programs,” Salgado said.

While the hands-on classes are offered at least once a week, a majority of the classes consist of a two to 2 1/2 hour demonstration. These standard classes feature an instructor preparing all the dishes while guests sit back and watch. Children’s classes are also offered a few times a month.Samples, of course, are abundant in all cases.

According to Shelly Carrol, director for Apron’s, the classes generally fill quickly. And with the holidays arriving, class seats are expected to go even faster.

“We have a great lineup scheduled for the next several months,” said Carrol.

Among the upcoming selections are several holiday-themed classes, focusing individually on everything from appetizers to desserts.

Chef Minzer heads up most of the upcoming classes, often joined by a guest chef from a local eatery.

In his “Turkey, Turkey and More Turkey,” at 4 p.m. this Saturday, he gives tips on preparing – what else – turkey, plus gives hints on what to do with the leftovers. “Appetizer Buffet for the Holidays,” scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, teaches guests how to dazzle without frazzle by focusing on preparing the recipes ahead of time.

Frequent guest chefs – including some regulars from cable’s Food TV – are also featured in the cooking school’s lineup. Laura York, former television meteorologist for WFLA and WTSP, visits Thursday for a holiday brunch class.

Later in the month, Phil McGauly, corporate chef with Korbel Wineries, joins the ranks for a wine-pairing discussion.

Other special topic classes include “Making Fondue,” “Children’s Pizza Class” and “Exploring Mexican Cuisine.” There’s even a sushi-making class with a Japanese sushi chef.

In addition to adding to culinary repertoire, the classes teach guests how to economize their grocery experience and stretch their budget to accommodate more gourmet cuisines.

The cost for an evening cooking class is about $30.

Not quite the six-for-a-dollar ramen cuisine, but certainly worth the money if there are any plans beyond a lifetime of watery noodles.

A valid credit card or a $20 cash deposit is required to register for each class. Reservations are on a first-come, first-served basis. For information, call (813) 926-4465.

  • Contact Danielle Ritchieat