Stratford: From Kitchen Creations to Curtain Calls

Chicken Sandwiches

Stratford is renowned for theatre and dining. It’s where thespians and culinarians converge for the best of both worlds.

Outside of the Stratford Theatre Festival, the quintessential visitor experience is a cooking class at the Stratford Chefs School. It’s the pride of Stratford right in the heart of the downtown shopping district.

Culinary journeys through intensive hands-on workshops in the kitchen demystify Thai, Chinese, Indian, Greek and Italian. There are also classes for knife sharpening skills, bread baking, budget friendly meals, trade secrets, and even “Kids Can Cook” classes.

Frying Oil
Frying Oil
What catches my attention? How to make the crunchiest fried chicken ever. With direct instruction from Chef Eli Silverthorne, I can see myself making this at home to the delight of my family, leaving the Colonel in my wake.

While lacing up my apron for Trade Secrets: Fried Chicken, I’m mesmerized by Chef Silverthorne’s knife skills as he breaks down a chicken. He shares with our small class the fundamentals of salt curing, safe and proper frying, and the science of bubbling and buoyancy. It all makes sense as we begin applying it.

Fried Chicken Wings
Fried Chicken Wings
Among the home-cooking enthusiasts in attendance are couples on a date, a family, and a few adventurous individuals (like me) aiming to refine skills. We’re partnered off with unique brines: Chipotle brine, “Thomas Keller” style brine, Dill Pickle brine and Red Curry brine. Along with our smorgasbord of fried chicken we’re also preparing Chive and Cheddar Biscuits, Potato Salad, and a “House Burger Bun.” I’m Team Chipotle Chicken Wing Rub. In the end, we all present our dishes to share with the group.

Let the dredging begin! The oil is pre-heating. We apportion bowls with a spice-blend, flour and butter milk, and then pass each wing from one bowl to the next—dredge to buttermilk to dredge. Our wings are ready for flight. As soon as the oil is at temperature, 340F, we plunk in the first batch of wings until they reach an internal temperature of 165F. Our first batch is naked. No rub. “Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers,” so we snack on these delectables while setting our second two batches, coated in the good stuff, into the fryer.

Fried Chicken Drum Sticks
Fried Chicken Drum Sticks
Each dynamic duo attends their own station, but we all admire each other’s work, and ask questions along the way. Chef Silverthorne makes his rounds to guide us to completion. He has demonstrated each component of the cheddar/chive biscuit and the potato salad, including the zesty mayo, and we’ve all had a chance to participate in every aspect. At last, with plates and utensils in hand, we sit around a table in the dining room and sample each other’s creations.

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The vibrant flavour-forward red curry brine chicken drumsticks whip my taste buds into a musical theatre number. What surprises me most is how much I love the pickle brine chicken thighs. They’re delicious. I cannot stop popping these golden crisp nubbins, accented with a perfect balance of acidity, into my mouth. I ask the group, rhetorically, “Who was the chef who made those wonderfully crisp, sweet and smoky chipotle wings? Oh wait, I remember: it was me!”

Cheese + Chive Scone, Potato Salad, Fried Chicken Sandwich
Cheese + Chive Scone, Potato Salad, Fried Chicken Sandwich
This is so fun and easy, but it’s not something that one can simply recreate by watching a YouTube video. There is no substitute for being taught in a group dynamic, live, in this kitchen, by a professional instructor, who walks us through each step. There are fundamentals that, unbeknownst to me, I had been doing wrong at home. Now I know better. Armed with this new found knowledge, my dinner guests are sure to agree that my fried chicken is clucking awesome, and that makes me happy.

Cooking classes in the kitchen of the Stratford Chefs School are open and accessible to everyone. They sell out fast by the foodie-curious and by repeaters. I certainly have my eye on a few more. It’s a unique Stratford experience that, unlike being seated in the audience of a theatre, keeps us centre stage in an ensemble cast of aspiring home-cooks who, together, eat their performance. It’s the hottest ticket in town.

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