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Cracking the Kitchen:

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CHEF’S PREP: Chef Kirsten Mitchell of Cameo 1900 shared her recipe for a hearty summer salad, made with heart of palm, avocado, bacon, kidney beans and blue cheese dressing. Photo by Fiona O’Sullivan

CHEF’S PREP: Chef Kirsten Mitchell of Cameo 1900 shared her recipe for a hearty summer salad, made with heart of palm, avocado, bacon, kidney beans and blue cheese dressing. Photo by Fiona O’Sullivan

Cape Fear Food and Wine Club
June 26th, 6:30 p.m.
The Seasoned Gourmet
$30 • www.theseasonedgourmet.com

When I arrived at The Seasoned Gourmet for an interview with the general manager, Susan Boyles, I noticed the store resembles a very large, impressive pantry. They have an array of products for sale, from wines and beers, to ingredients and seasonings, along with various kitchen tools. Making my way to the back of the store, I instantly felt like I was being greeted into someone’s home—just in time for dinner, with a fridge full of food. The oven was warming in their demo kitchen. The countertop was set for six people, utensils neatly arranged. And at the table, a warm greeting by Boyles made me feel right at home.

With Chef Kirsten Mitchell of Cameo 1900 ready to lead the nightly cooking class, as part of The Seasoned Gourmet’s Cape Fear Food and Wine Club, I watched in awe of Mitchell’s adept preparation, handling the ingredients delicately, chopping colorful vegetables and fiercely concentrating on making the best meal for her nightly guests.

Having opened in 1994 by Diane Williams, the original owner, The Seasoned Gourmet has hosted cooking classes for 15 years. Randy Newton, the current owner, and Boyles bought the shop in April 2006 and due to the continuous growth in interest with food and wine, Boyles founded The Cape Fear Food and Wine Club in 2011. A non-profit, private (non-charitable) club, they hold cooking classes in the store’s demo kitchen and host various members-only events throughout the year. Their aim is to create an educationally delicious experience for their customers. “I have always been teaching cooking classes here, with the exception of one year,” Boyles remarks, referring to her one-year hiatus.

Though not a trained chef, Boyles’ love for cooking guides her creativity. Her background in human resources (and a former military service member) certainly makes her relatable—in no way is she shy. “I’m a home cook who has gotten pretty darn good at it,” she quips, “and dares to attempt to teach others. But I’m a passionate cook, and learned to cook raising my daughter as a single parent and trying to figure out how we were going to make something out of nothing.”

After listening to her friends’ suggestions of pursuing cooking on a more professional level, Boyles began preparing meals for people in their homes in 2005. She also taught classes at The Seasoned Gourmet and even wrote a lot of her own recipes. “I’ve accomplished enough to know what works and what doesn’t,” Boyles maintains.

Today, the club has over 500 members, some of which are only seasonal. Still, Boyles sees the numbers continue to grow. “New people learn of us and we love that,” she notes, “but we figure there are plenty of people in the area that still don’t know of us despite our best efforts with social media and advertising.”

All classes are decided by the time of year and season. During my visit, Mitchell prepared to make gazpacho, ceviche and parfait for dessert. “She is using fresh berries that are in season!” Boyles says.

Being a member of the Cape Fear Food and Wine Club offers rewards, such as store discounts, members-only parties and much more. “We do private events for people, such as wine-pairing classes,” Boyles notes. “We select a theme of some sort, five or six wines in fitting with the theme. We prepare hors d’oeuvres, one with each of the wines, and we have a wine educator come in to explain the wine. Our aim is to help people make good decisions to know what wine goes well with different meals. For example, Sauvignon Blanc goes well with shellfish.”

Another perk customers receive is cut-rate lessons from some of the most talented people in Wilmington. At an average of $45 for a cooking class, folks receive a tutorial full of knowledge to take back to their own kitchens—and a full meal. Members also get to meet new people, take home recipes and interact with chefs and instructors, not to mention learn new techniques and become exposed to new flavor profiles and ingredients.

One by one, customers started coming in for the class. After casual introductions, the demo kitchen began to feel like a dinner table of five friends instead of strangers. We shared amusing anecdotes about cooking as Chef Mitchell talked us through her dishes with ease. Aside from indulging on a delicious gazpacho and summer salad, the ceviche caused everyone at the table to ooh and ahh. Light and refreshing, the acid of the lemon and lime made the fish burst in flavor.

Before we knew it, we reached the end. But only for one evening. There is no end in sight as to how far Boyles will go in continuing to evolve the food and wine club. “We’ve been trying to talk with some local businesses about doing food field trips, like inside a professional bakery or coffee roasteries,” she informs. “We have not yet been successful in setting any of those things up, but that is our goal. We are also offering class-y events this year, which are basically dinner parties where you get to take the recipes home.”

There is a $15 member fee for the calendar year or a $5 option for a 30-day membership, all of which alleviates the club’s operational costs. The next class, dubbed Class-y Shimperoo, will be held on Wed., June 26th at 6:30 p.m. for $30.

“Also, on June 27th at 6:30 p.m., we will be co-hosting a benefit for the non-profit Ability Garden,” Boyles notes of the philanthropic reach she’s making with the club. “[It] aims to enrich the lives of disabled members within the community through nature.” This event will take place at the New Hanover County Arboretum, and will be $50 per person for an evening of gourmet food and wine.

To follow Boyles’ blog for The Seasoned Gourmet, head over to www.theseasonedgourmet.com/blogsuper. Users can also access the store’s homepage and see upcoming events for the club.

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