First Course: BCAE Cooking Class

Students work side by side with Chef Wilkinson in one of the BCAE's kitchens.

Let me preface my post by saying this: Yes, I cook quite a bit at home, and yes, I consider myself fairly well versed in chopping, searing, frying, and other basic kitchen techniques. But I’m a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to preparing shellfish — specifically lobster, which is actually one of my favorite things to eat. There’s just something so…barbarian about cracking the claws and twisting apart the body and the tail to reap the reward of sweet, delicious meat. (As you might have guessed, I’ve never fully embraced the whole snout-to-tail trend.)

But as I step into the Boston Center for Adult Education’s crusteacean-themed cooking class, dubbed (what else?) “Lobsters on Parade,” I’m hoping to change that mindset. As part of the school’s celebrity-chef series, “Lobsters on Parade” features chef Andrew Wilkinson of Skipjack’s restaurant as the arbiter of all things shellfish and bonus!Skipjack’s mixologist Colin Kiley.

The course begins seminar-style in one of the BCAE’s well-equipped kitchen classrooms, but it quickly becomes apparent that my experience here will be less dinner lesson and more dinner theater (in a good way, that is). As chef Wilkinson begins steaming the day’s victims with his team of sous chefs, Kiley entertains the crowd of 14 by demonstrating his recipe for a potent Sons of Liberty punch. After a few minutes of lobster trivia with chef Wilkinson — did you know they can drop off a claw when threatened? — we break into groups and begin a mass prep for the meal ahead. While some students take to chopping vegetables or slicing ginger, I tackle my demons head-on…by learning to dismantle a lobster. Messy? Yes. (Luckily, a fellow student’s recipe packet is the only casualty of my lesson.) Difficult? Certainly. (Thank goodness for the good-natured sous chef.) But nothing felt better than pulling that perfectly in-tact claw meat out from the shell after successfully cracking it with a chef’s knife.

Once we finish prepping the vegetables and the pounds upon pounds of lobster meat, things become decidedly more relaxed. Students hang around the main cooking area as chef Wilkinson starts a lobster broth — lobster bodies, a mirepoix, lobster powder, et cetera — and a beurre fondue, or butter emulsion, which will be used in a number of the evening’s dishes. Select classmates volunteer to help with these more-specific prep tasks, though at this point my stomach is growling so loudly that I think it best to sit back and enjoy the show.

Chef Wilkinson finishes the first course, JFK lobster stew, and the sous chefs quickly distribute it to the students, who happily sit back down to slurp up the creamy, buttery, lobster-y mixture. Then it’s back up to the prep station for the lobster, shrimp, and crab salad, an elegant composition layered with tangy guacamole inside a circular mold. While we munch, Kiley shows off his considerable skills with a refreshing “Grovestand Fizz,” made with Old Tom gin, fresh orange juice, grenadine (the real stuff), lemon, and orange bitters. By this point most of the class has become more interested in eating than participating in any hands-on sort of way, but it doesn’t matter: Everyone is engaged, asking questions and conversing with the instructors, as course after course after course (lobster mac and cheese; lobster tail with ginger, lime, and Sauterne sauce; chocolate bread pudding) are prepared and served.

As parting gifts, chef Wilkinson offers leftovers and his personal contact info, should anyone ever need supplies for a special meal. Fears conquered, I leave full, happy, and — here’s the best part — armed with plenty of knowledge on how best to tackle that ornery, hard-shelled creature known as the lobster.

For more on the BCAE’s celebrity-chef course series, click here.

Follow managing editor Brittany Jasnoff’s escapades in the kitchen as she tests out cooking classes around the city.