Nameplate: Manhandling Menus at Mirepoix

Stacy Sloan says she has the best job in town. Shes the Director of Culinary Education for Holiday Markets Mirepoix Cooking School, located in the 56-year-old Royal Oak grocery stores spectacular upper level kitchen.

Sloan graduated from Livonias Schoolcraft College Culinary Arts program. After a stint with Brian Polceyns Five Lakes Grill, her first career was as a communications planner for the concrete industry a far cry from whisking aromatics into a bouillabaisse. But when Holidays Tom Violante Jr. approached Sloan about helping him launch the most ambitious cooking school in Metro Detroit, Sloan, as any true Foodie would have done, responded without any hesitation whatsoever Im not interested.

Tommy called me and e-mailed me persistently for weeks, says Sloan.

The Violantes have staying power, though. Witness their transition from 1954s 2,500-square-foot neighborhood Spartan store to what it is today 60,000 square feet of what is arguably the leading gourmet and basic foodstuffs purveyor in Oakland County.

It took Violante four tries to get Sloan to meet with him and to get her to go along with his idea of an upscale cooking school in a yet-to-be-constructed upper floor expansion of the market. But, she did. And, she and Violante have created something special at Mirepoix. This is no ordinary cooking school nor ordinary kitchen.

Entering Mirepoix is akin to walking onto the set of the Food Networks most upscale cooking show. The gleam of stainless steel is almost sunglasses-worthy, as its everywhere from the substantial Viking ranges and gas cook tops, to Viking pots, pans, knives, sinks and a grouping of refrigerators, freezers and coolers. With the polished wood floors and black granite countertops, this is perhaps the premier cooking facility in Metro Detroit.

And, this is what Sloan has as her workspace now a great kitchen, a great calendar of professionally taught cooking lessons, and a great grocery market to supply the very best ingredients just down a flight of stairs. Best of all, class attendees, and the Mirepoix staff, can, after each session, eat whatevers on the class menu.

Im surrounded by really wonderful food, she says.

To investigate this gastronomic addition to the cultural milieu of Metro Detroit, I contacted Violantes sister, Gina Mangold, who along with her husband Craig and brother Jr., now run the day-to-day operations of Holiday Market. She generously gave me permission to attend three different classes.

First Course: The Art Of Sushi

Greeted by the gracious Sloan, I ascended the stairs to the Mirepoix kitchen to join a line of students eager to explore the heady combination of sticky rice, seaweed and ocean-fresh fish.

This session of cuisine was led by Matt McGrail, a chef for the Pei Wei restaurants, part of the P.F. Changs chain. He made the cloudy mystique of sushi-making clear as a sunny day. Pretty simple, really. The key being the rice, which is actually the sushi, with the fish used being called sashimi.

With just a few seaweed wrappers, a dollop of still-warm rice, some thinly sliced cuts of tuna, yellow-tail, salmon, Krab sticks, avocado, a scallion or two, some thin cucumber lengths and a turn of the wrist, voila or, in Japanese, soreyue! I made a small yacht-load of sushi. And, believe me, a little rice and some fish goes a long, long way. Slathering on some nose-melting wasabi (a devilishly hot green horseradish condiment) and some soy sauce, and I was in sushi seventh heaven.

Second Course: Knife Skills 1.0

Sloan conducted this 3-1/2-hour session on the use of fine kitchen blades. After she detailed the kinds of knives one should have in their countertop knife block, such as Chefs, paring, boning, etc., we preceded to cut, cube, dice, slice and julienne a variety of vegetables and herbs.

After some simple lessons on how to handle a wickedly sharp knife without amputating any vital appendages, we broke into three smaller groups and prepared the class menu for the day: grilled vegetable paninis, chicken tacos with freshly made pico de gallo, a robust roasted potato salad with blue cheese, bacon bits and a subtle vinaigrette, and a whopping rich lemon custard bar.

One of my classmates in the Knife wielding session is an attorney for Kemp Klein, Faith Guadaen. The classes at Mirepoix draw their fair share of legal professionals. In fact, the PR Director of Dickinson Wright, Vanessa Birch, was one of the first adopters of the cooking school and as such, has a large portrait dressed in a chefs apron, hanging in the hall leading to the upper floor kitchen.

I can now say without any reservations (thats a bad restaurant pun), that after Sloans knife skills class, I can now cut a variety of things quite well.

Third Course: Taste of France.

My third class dealt with French cuisine. Seeing that the school is named Mirepoix, it seemed fitting enough.

My French cooking class fried-up, broiled, braised, baked, sauted, and mixed a menu of beef, lamb, chicken, bacon, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, heavy whipping cream, pounds of butter, refined and powdered sugar, salt, and white flour. Vegetarian fare, this was not.

Not to go on at length about the richness and almost decadent nature of the French cooking done at Mirepoix, Ill just say that yes, each animal on the menu was absolutely scrumptious. There was also a Napa cabbage dish that was just spectacular, cooked in cream and butter with crumbled bacon.

Knowing your way around a recipe and acquiring a sense of belonging in ones kitchen is a strong addition to anyones overall mental and physical health. The Mirepoix cooking school is top-level instruction, imparting confidence to both novice and experienced cooks. And how good it feels to boldly pivot about the various positions of your own kitchen without fear!

The cooking classes at Mirepoix are also great entertainment. Mirepoix holds date nights, group and private events, wine tastings, and a fabulous calendar of classes with its scope of cuisine covering the planet.

The Mirepoix Cooking School is located in the upper level of Holiday Market, 1203 S. Main Street, in Royal Oak. Stacy Sloan can be contacted at (248) 541-1414 for information and reservations.

By Paul Arlon.

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