Luckily, there’s plenty to do around here that involves taking off one’s raincoat and settling into a comfy chair. Last Wednesday, that involved a cooking class with a friend.
Debbie and Marv Leach own McGrills, Etc. on Third Street in McMinnville, a small but well-stocked kitchen supply store. A few years back the Leaches, with a little prompting from friends, started demonstrating cooking techniques in the store. The quick, informal sessions were popular, and when some space opened up in the back of the store, they started doing more elaborate events. They’re in their fifth year of teaching classes about twice a month. Typically there are 7 or 8 students; more in the summer sessions held in their back yard.
On the menu recently: Hearty one-pot meals. Bouillabaisse, Mediterranean zuppa, a quick soup-like chili served with cornbread, and a spicy pork stew. Four meals, plus a couple of glasses of wine, all for $40.
The class is perfect for beginners — the students aren’t called upon to so much as pick up a knife or wash a dish. The vibe is more along the lines of keeping a friend company in the kitchen and picking up a few tips as the conversation meanders. The recipes, like the class are informal. “All the soups we’re making tonight are designed to be made from leftovers,” so lots of substitutions will work, Marv tells us. Bouillabaisse is miles away from chili, but the principle is the same. Take fresh, local ingredients, throw in a little of this and that from the pantry, simmer, wait and eat.
For some, the waiting is the best part. When Marv warns that the bouillabaisse is going to take a while, one woman cheerily raises her glass of pinot noir: “I guess we’ll just have to sit and drink!”
Marv starts the bouillabaisse first because it needs about an hour to cook. He starts by explaining what he’s doing. When he runs out of words and has nothing to do but chop, his wife starts the zuppa. That’s the first thing we eat, too.
Oh, and we eat. Four dinners each. Second helpings of everything if we want it. Each bowl is different from the last, but they’re all delicious, rolling out like clockwork. There’s just enough time between rounds to eat, take notes and talk. While pots simmer, so does the conversation. We’re here to learn to cook, but food and kitchens bring out the social side of people, and it feels more like a party than a classroom.
The vibe is fed by Marv and Debbie’s gentle humor.
While preparing the cornbread, Marv recommends a mix. “I used to buy Jiffy in high school for a nickel a box,” he says.
Debbie comes back with, “that was a LONG time ago.”
And Marv grumbles, “About 2 or three years ago.”
Box or no, it’s a fine dish. It was the “best cornbread I’ve ever eaten — like a custard cornbread,” one woman declared.
By the time we reach the bottoms of our bowls of picante pork stew, we’re stuffed and content. The class is over, but it’s a while before McGrills empties out. Classmates linger and chat.
A few of them are regulars, fond of the food, the education and the friendly atmosphere.
Marv tells me about a man who came in regularly a couple of years back who “almost didn’t know how to turn on a stove. He came in for a few months then disappeared.”
I suspect he learned how to cook.