Minneapolis cooking classes teach how to field-dress a deer

A review of this and other gems from Community Education

You have to wonder what that teacher thought, the one who was heading out to his car, cell phone pressed to his ear, when he encountered our little group crouched around a dead deer in the Washburn High School staff parking lot.

A floodlight cast its yellow glare on the animal's carcass, which our instructor had slit down the belly and split wide. After scooping out a pile of wet, crimson-glossed entrails, he slid a hacksaw across the beast's neck and, with a few quick strokes, removed its head.

The teacher must have looked at the gray-haired and blaze-orange jacketed among us and decided that we were too old and too fluorescently dressed to be students engaged in the sort of sacrificial ritual that precedes firing off a round of ammo in math class. There was no need to report us to the principal's office, so the teacher shuffled on past.

Ulana Zahajkewycz

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Minneapolis Community Education

2225 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55440

Category: Community Venues

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

Minneapolis Community Education
www.mplscommunityed.com

Of all the ways to learn where food comes from and how to prepare it—at the French Culinary Institute, on an organic farm, or attached to grandmother's apron strings—Community Education is not the first that springs to mind. But Minneapolis's adult enrichment classes offer learning opportunities on an endless variety of topics, food-related or otherwise, from understanding the Middle East conflict to speaking Polish, and from preparing your own will to playing the didgeridoo.

Though I was most intrigued by the class titles listed under Personal Growth—including "Wake Up Excited About Work," "Look at the Funnier Side of Life," and "Living Under One Roof While Contemplating Divorce"—I felt blessed not to need their guidance. Instead, I focused on the catalog page devoted to all things culinary, from "Vegetarian Barbecue" to "Sourdough Sorcery."

Sure, similar courses might be offered at local cooking schools, which tend to be as time-honored as a Le Crueset pot, with their gleaming facilities and restaurant-owning, cookbook-authoring instructors. But the typical three-hour class at Kitchen Window or Cooks of Crocus Hill costs $65 to $75, whereas an equivalent Community Education course might be had for half as much. So I signed up for "Deer Processing" and a few other classes to see if they were a reasonable, low-cost alternative.

I SELECTED "THAI COOKING with Pat Sukhtipyaroge" by virtue of the instructor's Thai surname and the fact that he is the chef-owner of the Royal Orchid restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. And I hoped that my $24 investment would mean an end to home-cooked curries that tasted like they came from a white person's kitchen.

The perpetually smiling Sukhtipyaroge arrived at Anwatin Middle School wearing a black back brace and a puffy white cap shaped like a fried wonton, which made him look rather like an older, Asian version of the Happy Chef. Sukhtipyaroge kicked off his lesson with a discussion of fish sauce. Though he buys the Southeast Asian staple by the 50-ounce bottle, he insists it's better if you make it yourself. But as soon as he named some of the product's key ingredients—something about fermented anchovies and maggots—everyone seemed relieved that producing a batch of fish sauce was not on the evening's agenda.

Sukhtipyaroge slammed his cleaver into a cutting board with a whack so loud that several of us jumped. He then started to separate chicken flesh from bone, which he crushed with a few cleaver whacks and tossed into a boiling stockpot. "I forgot to prepare the bubbles for the bath," he deadpanned, but the joke fell flat on the solemn crowd. Sukhtipyaroge's earnest students—most of whom looked younger than the typical Community Ed pupil, with a few sporting the hipster's close-cropped beard or 89.3 the Current T-shirt—didn't seem to know how seriously they should take him.

Whack! The cleaver hit the board again. "It's good therapy," Sukhtipyaroge said, "especially if you're mad at your boss." He handed another machete-like knife to a student, who went on to nick his hand and subsequently be relieved of his duty. As he cooked, Sukhtipyaroge touted the virtues of the chicken's homeliest parts, including the butt and the tip of the drumstick, or knuckle. "Can't you just buy cut-up chicken?" a student asked. Sukhtipyaroge shook his head: too easy.

Without looking down at his hands, Sukhtipyaroge sliced cucumbers into paper-thin discs, his knife tapping with the quick strokes of an expert typist. (By contrast, a student volunteer's slow, laborious chop sounded more like a keyboardist hunting and pecking.) Sukhtipyaroge demonstrated techniques for dicing onions, slicing ginger, and cooking rice—add the grain to a pot and cover it with enough water to reach your finger's first knuckle. "Are you going to show us how to cut a flower out of a vegetable?" one student inquired, in reference to the Royal Orchid's famous garnishes. This from the man who had cut himself, so Sukhtipyaroge wisely demurred.

By the end of the class, we all lined up at the counter and prepared to tuck into a feast of fried wontons, cucumber salad, and a chicken curry that we'd carefully seasoned to possess the dish's characteristic sweet-hot punch and funky jungle sweat. A student expressed interest in a class on making pad Thai, but Sukhtipyaroge said Royal Orchid's business relies on his secret recipe. "No class on that until I retire," he remarked before grabbing a plate and sneaking to the front of the queue. "I'm just trying to get ahead so I can pick out the knuckle," he said with a mischievous grin.

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