Chocolate makes people happy. Some even claim it's better than sex. So it should come as no surprise that the chocolate workshop at the Viking Culinary Institute in Peabody Place sells out nearly every time it's offered.
On Saturday, April 16th, the workshop is being held again, but home-chefs-to-be should hurry because only a few spots are left. In fact, Viking cooking-school coordinator Karen Noriega says many of their classes fill up quickly. On the institute's Web-site calendars for April and May, several classes are marked "Sold Out" or "Almost Sold Out."
"We have some classes that always sell out, especially when they're offered on Saturdays," says Noriega, who teaches the majority of the classes at Viking. "Being Memphis, we have a hard time with vegetarian classes and some of the ethnic classes, though."
In the popular chocolate workshop, students get hands-on training in how to make chocolate-dipped strawberries, three varieties of truffles, "molten" chocolate cake, and a chocolate paté. The workshop lasts three hours and includes a 30-minute demonstration on the science of chocolate.
"We talk about the differences in chocolate and why it pays to spend a little more versus going to the grocery store and buying Hershey's," says Noriega. "Students learn to appreciate why some chocolate costs $15 a pound instead of $2 a pound." Higher-quality chocolate contains an elevated percentage of cocoa and less fat.
Students work with semi-sweet, bittersweet, and white chocolate. But as Noriega points out, certain cooking rules apply to all chocolates. "A lot of people don't have much luck with it at home," she says. "You have to measure properly and respect all the rules. That's why many people don't mind going to Godiva and paying $20 a pound for truffles."
Students are divided into teams of three or four and spend at least two hours cooking. At the end, participants sit down together to enjoy their efforts.
This is the format of all the hands-on workshops Viking offers. Workshops are usually limited to 12 people to prevent the kitchen from becoming too crowded. Other classes include "Foods of Italy," "Meat Cookery," "Tapas and Sangria," "Tuscan Dinner," a sushi course taught by Sekisui's Jimmy Ishii, "Thai Dinner Party," "Bakeshop Basics," backyard entertaining, and knife skills. Noriega's favorite class to teach is "Girls Night Out," a class with a menu where women learn how to make indulgences such as strawberry soufflés with chocolate sauce. Viking offers a three-day course in culinary basics as well.
The school also hosts cooking demonstrations in a room with tiered seating so that up to 40 students can view Noriega or a visiting chef. Earlier this month, Tim Creehan, author of Simple Cuisine and former chef for Cybill Shepherd, Amy Grant, and Vince Gill, taught a class at Viking. Next month, North Carolina's Sara Foster, a former student of Martha Stewart's, will stop in.
"Our classes are for the home chef," Noriega says. "We don't offer any kind of degree or certification. The classes are open to everyone. As long as you're over 16, you can take a class."
Many of the same classes are also offered at Viking Culinary Institute locations in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, and St. Louis, as well as several cities in California. Some classes vary by region.
Classes are repeated according to popularity. Some occur once a month, such as the chocolate workshop. (The next one after Saturday is May 23rd.) If a hands-on class doesn't attract at least four people, it's generally canceled. Demonstrations are canceled when fewer than 12 people register. For instance, the center tried offering a vegetarian course recently, but when only one person signed up, the class was not offered.
Viking doesn't advertise. Noriega says most people hear about the classes when they visit the Viking retail store at Main and Peabody Place.
"Lots of people just trip over it," says Noriega. "And many of our clients are repeat clientele, so once they come, they tell their friends. We rely on word-of-mouth rather than big-time advertising." n
Viking Culinary Institute's chocolate workshop will be held Saturday, April 16th, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 125 South Main. Cost is $79 per person. For more information, visit VikingHomeChef.com.