When the gals behind Aphrodite Cooks put on a cooking class, it’s more like a relaxed party where the guests are like old friends and the food is bound to be just wonderful as the company. Chef Vanessa Yeung and her business partner Stephenie Summerhill are the masterminds behind the classes, catering and event planning outfit they aptly call Aphrodite Cooks.
Vanessa was the personal chef to NHL goalie Ed Belfour when she met Stephenie, his personal assistant. When Ed got traded to the Florida Panthers, the two enterprising women decided it was time to take their careers and life’s work into their own hands.
A Stratford Chefs School trained chef who worked in the venerable Scaramouche kitchen in Toronto, Vanessa has a serious love of food and passion for uniting people by way of preparing a meal together. This past February 13th, I was lucky enough to partake in one of the Couples Cooking Classes, enticingly titled “Tantalizing Treats and Naughty Nibbles.” My husband and I arrived at Nella Cucina on 876 Bathurst Street in Toronto, where our hosts awaited with a wonderful mocktail (knives and alcohol don’t mix), some preliminary information and our recipe packet.
Bring on the Lollipops
Once upstairs in the kitchen, you pick a work station that you’ll be sharing with another couple – in our case Pablo from Argentina and June from Zimbabwe (we are in Toronto after all!). The various groups get assigned a dish- ours turned out to be the show-stopping Thai Chicken Lollipops. Sounded like a breeze- until we got to the pseudo-butchering part of the job. This wasn’t at all difficult (especially after a little tutorial from Vanessa) – just a bit labour-intensive. We had two trays of chicken drumettes to get through, loosening the meat at the joint and pushing it down to the end of the bone. Hence, the bone turns into your stick, while the marinated meat at the end, your lollipop. Very visual and lots of fun to eat. We were one of the last groups finished- we had to get through prepping and marinating 80 or so chicken wing drumettes.
At the time, we all laughed about it- Mario, my husband, somehow swiftly getting through 50 plus drumettes on his own was jokingly called “El Carnicero”, or the butcher in Spanish. Pablo, June and I were truly amused. Even Mario couldn’t stifle back a laugh or two at the meaty scenario.
A Dash of Mix and Mingle
Other groups made a terrific peppered goat cheese with prosciutto on crostini drizzled with truffle honey (Mario’s favourite), potato nests with smoked salmon and chive crème faiche (my fave), and dessert options such as “tuxedo” strawberries dipped in white and dark chocolate. Working in tandem with others, and alongside various groups gives you an easy-open to talk to new people if you’re shy and the chance to mix and mingle if you’re not. If you’re single (gay or straight- the gals offer different nights for everyone), this is the perfect way in my humble estimation to meet new people without the artifice of a bar or dance club. By virtue of cooking with new people and preparing a dish, you have to chat, and that opens the door for some quality “get to know you” time. And if you don’t like what you get to know, you can always talk to other folks as you work your way through making your dish- it’s part of the routine of working in a kitchen which greatly reduces any possible awkward factor.
After our drumettes baked to their golden glory, each team of four plated and presented their dish on a tidied work station, while good wine was served and plates were offered. I went around and tried everything (eight naughty nibbles in all- sometimes twice I admit!) and enjoyed the look on my fellow cooks’ faces when they tried our lollipops. One happy chap ate through about a dozen and exclaimed “these are the best wings I’ve ever had!” Music to “El Carnicero’s” ears! After a shot of Ancho Chili Spiced Hot Chocolate and a sinful Espresso Mousse with Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans with a side of biscotti, I was a happy camper. Good food, good company, and a roster of new, user-friendly recipes I’ll be making at home- what else could a food enthusiast like myself ask for? Best of all, my partner in crime now knows how make a mean chicken lollipop or 50 for any upcoming party. Now that really cooks!
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