Taste, Look and Feel: Winery Cooking Classes Offer Culinary Adventures and Pairings

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Chateau Chantal
Chateau Chantal Burgundy Wine Dinner 2020. Photo by Dan Stewart

Wine and food go hand in hand, and never is that culinary truism more apparent than in a cooking class at a Michigan winery.

At Chateau Chantal on the Old Mission Peninsula, cooking class participants each get three drink coupons to cash in during the four-hour lesson and corresponding meal at the end. Learning how to pair wine with the food is an important part of the experience.

“The big takeaway is how do we pair this — and what do we pair this with — when we’re at home,” says Chris Mushall, chef de cuisine at Chateau Chantal.

Guests can expect to learn a lot more than pairing, though. The class cuisine is often tied to a specific region (such as Alsace, France, or the fishing villages of Cinque Terre in Italy), so Mushall likes to discuss the history of the area and the food before diving into meal preparation.

“Each class, I want to be able to teach knife skills,” he says. “We add a specific cut or cuts. I want to teach some basic butchery and meat cutting, so how to break down a filet mignon from a side muscle on tenderloin.”

Photo by Dan Stewart

Past classes have showcased Cajun and Creole dishes such as gumbo and jambalaya, Burgundy-inspired beef bourguignon and dauphinoise potatoes, and traditional Mexican mole and salsa. Cooking newbies shouldn’t be intimidated by the fancier-sounding dishes — the classes cater to various skill levels.

“Some (participants) want to learn how to cook,” Mushall says. “Some know how to cook and just want to learn how to pair and what goes well … We’re able to get that experience for all of those individuals into that cooking class.”

Courses led by professional winery chefs offer more than the chance to drink wine and learn how to whip up a killer risotto. The locale itself can be an intriguing part of the experience.

“A lot of people very rarely have an opportunity to step into a commercial kitchen and kind of see how it works, how it looks, how it feels, so it’s a really neat environment for everybody,” says Black Star Farms Director of Culinary Operations Jack Wenz.

Black Star’s classes, held in the Hearth & Vine Café in Suttons Bay, have extended into several culinary territories: baked goods — attendees have even been sent home with sourdough starter kits — dressings and emulsifications, and seafood. Guests also enjoy wine and a charcuterie board as part of the two-and-a-half-hour classes.

“I try to get it as interactive as possible,” Wenz says. “Based on the clientele, some of (the classes) are simply demonstrations, … and then some are set up where everybody’s got a cutting board, a knife and a glass of wine.”

Black Star’s pasta-making class has been a particular favorite.

“(I had) never made fresh pasta from scratch,” says Brenda Geren of Kalamazoo, who attended the class last May. “We got to learn to make the pasta and the correct kind of flour to use, and then we actually got to eat it. … They were teaching you all kinds of stuff.”

Black Star Farms offers cooking classes. Photo courtesy of Black Star Farms

Other wineries around the state offer unique twists on the traditional cooking class setup. Fennville-based Fenn Valley Vineyard’s May 9 grilling class will kick off the summer cookout season and offer attendees a unique way to pair wine and food while brushing up on their grilling skills.

“People don’t often associate grilling with wine, so we thought it would be kind of fun to showcase how different types of grilled food and technique can pair with wine,” says Fenn Valley Vice President Brian Lesperance.

At Round Barn Estate in Baroda, meanwhile, Hospitality Director Jessica Schueneman has gone beyond food entirely with “Shake & Stir Workshops.” During the weekend events, guests create three unique cocktails using Round Barn spirits. The recipes, which in the past have included a honey pear margarita and an apple cider sangria, switch up every three months and incorporate in-season fruits and local ingredients.

“The one thing that guests love is when they’re stirring a cocktail or they’re shaking it because they feel like they’re an actual bartender, or you see people doing that in the movies,” Schueneman says.

Jessica Springer from Southwest Michigan, who attended a workshop this past November, especially appreciated the hands-on approach.

“You weren’t just learning what went into each drink,” she says. “You were getting to mix the materials yourself and learn new mixology techniques which you could use in the future for hosting gatherings or simply enjoying your favorite drink.”

Wenz thinks a hands-on approach and in-person instruction are invaluable to the learning process.

“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable baking bread learning it from YouTube; you need to be able to feel what pliable bread feels like,” he says. “You have to get in a classroom where a chef can really show you what it feels like, looks like, tastes like so that you give them that experience and now they feel a lot more comfortable going home and experimenting more in their homes.”

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