Locale Profile: My Big Fat Greek Dinner — An Evening With Professor Chef

img_2075It is often assumed that as a food lover I must also be a good cook. This is where my parents would interrupt with laughter and tell the story about the time I had an episodic breakdown at 17 years old trying to make stove-top mac-and-cheese (from a box) and got stuck on “Step 1: boil water.”

It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true.

Even now, I use anecdotes such as, “This week I used my oven TWICE to make dinner,” as a way of impressing my friends. But I have slowly begun to transition from sandwiches to sautéing vegetables after being inspired by my culinary adventures in Greece. Baking fresh bread in a wood oven and making cheese and yogurt from the sheep we milked greatly enhanced my appreciation for the food I eat. It’s only appropriate, therefore, that my first lesson with Professor Chef was themed, “My Big Fat Greek Dinner.”

Professor Chef is run by Malinda Coletta and Phillip Griffin, two instructors and award-winning chefs who invite small groups of people into their home to teach them how to cook. (They also provide private lessons and bring “everything but the kitchen sink” into the homes of their guests.) Each lesson has a theme, ranging from the traditional, such as “Cooking with Julia Child,” to the more eccentric, such as “Game of Thrones.” I nearly went for their most popular event, “Dinner in Tuscany,” but I could not pass up anything that mentioned Greece. Two of my friends joined me on a Tuesday evening, and we journeyed to North Providence to meet Malinda and Phil and settle into their kitchen.

img_2088The moment we entered the house, I knew we were in for a treat: It smelled divine. “That’s just some stock we’re making from scratch,” Malinda explained, taking our coats. I saw a large pot bubbling on the stove, and eyed jars of honey on their counter. “We’re also beekeepers, so that’s some of the honey from our hives.” The honey ranged in color from a dark molasses to a light yellow. Malinda explained how the dark one, pollinated from buckwheat, was great for savory dishes, while the lighter one was used for baking. “We have seven hives — and we named all of the queens after famous women chefs!” Rachael Ray, the bee, sent Rachael Ray, the chef, a jar of honey, and is hoping to hear the verdict soon.

Phil then joined us, and while we waited for a few others to arrive, he offered us some homemade wine. “We usually have homemade beer, too, but we ran out last week,” he apologized. I had the red; my friends had the white. Both were so pure, I could have drunk a whole bottle without inducing a hangover from hell. It became clear that Phil and Malinda are both “from the ground up” kind of people, and they earned my immediate trust.

All of us were given a copy of the recipes we’d be using: the appetizer, main dish, side dish and dessert. As soon as everyone arrived, we got to work. There was some multitasking involved to get the chicken into the oven with enough time for it to cook, but the timing worked out flawlessly. We began at the end and worked our way forward. First: the honey cake.

img_2055My friend Jeremy volunteered to blend the butter and sugar. Throughout the evening, Phil and Malinda offered us opportunities for hands-on participation, but there was never any pressure — nor were we stationed off and given tasks. We worked collectively, learning proper cutting techniques and baking tips (such as lining the cake pan with both butter and sugar, or cocoa in the case of a chocolate cake). Malinda made honey syrup—from her own honey—on the stove, while we started the main dish: Kotopoulo Skordato (literally, “Garlic Chicken,” but it was a Lemon Garlic Chicken with Potatoes).

Phil did an expert job of splitting open a whole chicken and making it look easy. I was happy enough to slice potatoes. Once the chicken was in the oven, we could relax and work more casually through the Spanikorizo, spinach and rice, while Malinda and Phil answered all of my pressing questions, like, “How did you two meet?” (I won’t ruin the story, but it’s worth asking! It made our small state seem even smaller.) We learned the reason behind all of their stainless steel pans, as opposed to non-stick, which is another story worth asking about. Basically, we just had a great time getting to know Phil and Malinda and seeing the banter between them.

The last dish we made was the first dish we consumed, Caramelized Onion Filo Tarts. For the first time all evening, it was quiet: heads down, mouths full. Everything was delicious, and it was just the right amount of food to leave us feeling satiated and satisfied.

From the moment we stepped into the house until the moment we left, we all felt like friends of old. Malinda and Phil are welcoming and knowledgeable about food, and they obviously love what they do. They’ve made complex cooking into accessible tasks, even for an “I can barely boil water,” kind of person like myself.

Anyone can be inspired to cook if he or she has the right teacher, and for this reason, these two make the best Professor Chef.

For class schedules, rates, and more information, visit professorchef.com

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