In the kitchen with Ginger and Dick
"Ginger's trying on a new hearing aid," Ginger Howell says of herself. "It's been a year-long process," husband Dick rejoins. As RNews cook Dan Eaton says, "Ginger and Dick kind of have a little act."
Ginger started offering cooking classes out of her home 30 years ago. Dick joined her when he retired from Kodak 10 years later. Their act, The Seasonal Kitchen, has been running ever since, currently with four classes a week and frequent guest chefs. Eaton, Mark Cupolo of Max Chophouse, Four City Diner's Jerry Manley, and Ziad Wehbe from Oasis are a few local luminaries who've appeared in their cozy kitchen.
Today, they start with a Meyer lemon, buttermilk pie. "Meyer lemons are seasonal, and they're not in season now," Dick explains, "but to approximate the flavor, you can add a dash of lime juice." Ginger's behind him making the topping, warmed honey and lime juice over mixed berries. It's all smellin' real nice.
Pies in the oven, Dick and Ginger move on to the Cajun maque choux. One student wants to know what it means. "It has nothing to do with cabbage," Ginger answers, "but it always has corn and bacon." Dick, chopping, opines, "These people take me for granted, but this is an art. I practice every day... every day." Then he yells, "OW!". Nobody blinks, proving his point.
Class at The Seasonal Kitchen is a very social affair. Many in my group seem to come together often. Sometimes, Ginger rings a bell to get their attention.
But now she's out of the room and the cacophony swells. "Uh, oh," Dick frets, "she's left me." One of the students says, "Dick, she said to watch the bacon." Ginger returns to add what Dick has chopped: potatoes, onion, sweet red pepper. A few minutes later, she adds chicken broth and sugar, then covers to cook the potatoes through. Ginger thickens with cream, then stirs in corn and seasonings. Them Cajuns do know aroma.
Dick and Ginger raised two boys and a girl. A student asks about Holly, their daughter, a licensed sommelier who writes the wine column for another local paper. The Howells tell of her latest travails in the world of wine aficionados with obvious pride.
Ginger asks the students to tell us about themselves. There are pairs of old friends, a mother and daughter, one man besides myself. Most seem wealthy, but not ostentatiously so. A class costs $40-$45, and besides the instruction and The Act, you get recipes, a meal, and a complimentary drink. I've paid more for considerably less.
The maque choux was the most labor-intensive dish, but while it cooked, Dick prepped for a variety of sides: summer relish, a chopped salad of cherry tomatoes, corn, and red onion; wasabi dip for vegetables; grilled basil-parmesan baguettes; and minty mojitos. It meant piles of chopping, and Dick is accomplished at this undervalued art. The Howells are remarkably efficient when you consider what they can created in 90 minutes while maintaining the snappy banter.
Dick checks the pies and questions their jiggle. But Ginger says they're done, so out they come. She's the boss.
Finally, Dick grills the main course, flatiron (top blade) steaks prepped with a Montreal steak seasoning. To serve, Dick slices them thinly, and has the majority a perfect medium rare (touch of red at the center), with a few overdone for the unwashed. These are excellent steaks, flavorful, tender (if not overcooked), and relatively inexpensive.
"Well, Ginger," Dick blurts out, "we've done it again!" My mind free-associates: Ginger/Howell, Backus, Magoo, "Oh, Magoo! You've done it again!" And they do it four times a week, not counting guests. Coming up? Mark Cupolo, 11/6; Barry Kucher of Fare Game, 11/7; and Ziad Wehbe of Oasis, 11/20. That's a short list.
It was a first rate meal. I'll make that maque choux soon, and the whole meal had balance (I might have left corn out of the relish since it's in the Cajun dish). And Ginger was right: the pie was done to perfection, and with the topping merited seconds. It was a capital way to spend the morning, learning, being entertained, and eating damn well to boot. Yes, Dick and Ginger, you've done it again.
The Seasonal Kitchen, 610 W Bloomfield Road, Pittsford, 624-3242.
Allison DeMarco and chef-husband Andrew Penner recently opened The Rabbit Room in the historic 1827 flour mill in HoneoyeFalls (61 N. Main St., formerly Juniper Beans). Dinner is served to live music only on Thursdays, but lunch is available Tuesday-Saturday. (582-1830, www.TheLowerMill.com.)
Michael Warren Thomas of www.SavorLife.com