Amanda's Cookbook - Simple, Real Food      Cooking Classes In North Carolina
Connecticut Cooking Classes
Follow Amanda On
Facebook AmandaFacebook AmandaFacebook Amanda
April 2003

March 1997

April 1996

March 2002

September 1992


Miami Herald: Tropical Life
March 2002

Entertaining with class
In a lively new twist to home entertaining, dinner parties double as cooking classes


A dinner party is a dinner party, right? Guests arrive, graze on appetizers, sip wine, then sit down to dinner and, if you're lucky, intelligent conversation.

But in the liveliest twist to home entertaining since Americans discovered fondue 40 years ago, hosts are throwing dinner parties that double as cooking classes. It's a little like bringing the Food Network into your home.

Food & Wine magazine recently dubbed the small but growing number of chef-led parties a hot new trend, part of the nesting and stay-at-home movement that has only grown stronger since Sept. 11. A professional chef leads the evening, and the hosts and guests get up close and personal with the cuisine, prepping and cooking it themselves.

"People are tired of going out to restaurants," says Amanda Cushman , a chef who recently began teaching in-home classes in South Florida . "You can't linger and enjoy yourself. Most places are concerned about turnover -- they want your table right away. And, if you're watching what you eat, you have no control over the butter or fat that they put into a dish."

Cushman has done her share of restaurant work. She lived in Miami in the early '90s and taught classes while cooking at the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach, among other places. Then she spent eight years in New York, catering and teaching at places like Peter Kump's School of Culinary Arts (recently renamed the Institute of Culinary Education).

It was in New York that Cushman began teaching in people's homes, helping students turn out dishes like steamed sea bass, seared tuna burgers with wasabi mayonnaise, grilled pork chops with cognac-mustard sauce and flourless chocolate tortes.

"I'd rather be at home making dinner than anywhere else," says Cushman, who returned to South Florida in September to cater , teach (at Real Life Basic and Arianna's) and launch her one-woman traveling cooking show.

During an in-home class, she serves as teacher, entertainer, motivator and taskmaster. She provides shopping and cooking tips as she moves about the kitchen, overseeing the student/guests and offering advice on everything from how to peel garlic (smash it with the flat part of a large knife) to how to tell if pork is cooked medium-well (it springs back to the touch).

She urges her students to taste everything as they go along. She typically leaves the house as everyone sits down to eat, her mission complete.

"People get really impressed when it comes all together," Cushman says. 'They say, `Oh my God, I did that?' "

Cushman led an in-home class earlier this year in the Northeast Dade neighborhood of Aqua Vista for friends Lynne and Bill Hyde and their six guests.

"We just got this gas grill and we don't know how to use it," said Lynne. "This is more fun than reading it out of a recipe book."

The only prerequisite for an in-home cooking class is a kitchen with plenty of counter space and room to move about. Cushman charges $400 per class for up to 12 people. She provides a detailed grocery list or will do the shopping for $75 plus the cost of the food. The hosts are responsible for cleanup.
For the grill party, Cushman arrived not long before the guests at 6 p.m., bags of groceries in hand. There was a festive, easygoing atmosphere from the start as she explained the menu and divided the group into pairs, teaming novice cooks with those who seemed to know what they were doing.

The partygoers' first assignment: Prepare the appetizers -- spicy crab cakes with avocado cream and grilled Tuscan bread with rosemary-white bean puree -- so they could uncork the wine and nibble while the entrées grilled. One group picked through the crab meat, looking for shells. Another minced garlic and pulled rosemary needles from stems.

Other guests prepped the two entrées, sprinkling salmon fillets with minced ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar and dousing thick slices of pork tenderloin with balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, rosemary, garlic and Dijon mustard.

Everyone spent the first hour gathered around the large island that dominates the Hydes' kitchen. The patio doors were thrown open to a brisk bay breeze and the guests -- wearing everything from shorts and flip-flops to dresses and sandals -- talked and laughed while they worked.

The night moved swiftly. By 7:30, the spinach had been steamed and tossed with a gingery dressing. The Italian bread had been sliced, brushed with olive oil and grilled while its white bean topping was being heated in a skillet.

The bread and spread were served later with olive oil, garlic and bright red chunks of fresh tomato. The crab cakes, topped with vivid green dollops of avocado puree, practically vibrated with color, too.

Cushman dished out grilling advice all night. She even demonstrated how to recover when strong winds kept blowing out the fire, forcing the class to finish the salmon in a 475-degree oven and the pork in a skillet.

The chardonnay was uncorked by 7:45 as the entrées cooked. The usual drudgery of preparing dinner? Nowhere to be found.

By 8:15, the salmon was garnished with black and white sesame seeds and the friends sat down to eat, pleased with their creations.

"It sure helps if eight people are doing the work and you don't have to do it all yourself," said one of the guests, Joyce Firestone. "It's fun."

Amanda Cushman's website is at


Spicy Crab Cakes with Avocado Cream
Grilled Bread with White Bean Puree
Grilled Salmon with Soy-Sesame Sauce
Pork Tuscan Style

This article appeared in the March 7, 2002 issue of the Miami Herald . Photo: Chef Amanda Cushman with Mimi Pink, Joyce Firestone, Lynne Hyde.  Please contact Chef Amanda Cushman to arrange your own private cooking class party.



Simple, Real Food Book Simple, Real Food: Delicious clean food prepared simply

My cookbook Simple Real Food can be purchased online.

The price is $24.95 and the book can be sent to your home or office. It can be included with a gift certificate for a cooking class as the perfect present.

Book Details

Cooking classes Raleigh, Cooking classes Durham, Cooking classes Chapel Hill, Cooking classes Cary, Cooking classes Morrisville, Cooking classes Carrboro