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CULINARY CLASSES AT CAFÉ LULU

Pots and pans and parchment, oh my! There's a lot more than pan rattling going on at Café Lulu on Blackbeard's Hill these days as St. Thomas's first professional culinary lessons are underway.
Patricia LaCorte, proprietor of the popular dining spot, has started "opening new doors."
"I am taking the opportunity to relax and share my skills – to really get to enjoy myself," she said. This is as opposed to working the busy schedule she has maintained for years on the St. Thomas restaurant scene. She said, "Friends have been urging me for a long time to do something like this, and now I finally have the time."
The classes are strictly "hands-on." "We have just ten students in each class, so we really get to know each other," LaCorte said. "I sketch out an idea for each class, and the students take it from there. That is, if they want to know about, say, spice rubs or salsas, I will try to incorporate it into the current session or schedule it for the next one."
The classes are held in Café Lulu's kitchen. In one recent class they did fish, all sorts of fish. Short of going out to catch them, they learned how to saute, steam, grill and even wrap them in parchment. "I have no time when I'm in the kitchen at work, supervising my staff. Everything has to be perfect," she said. "With the class, it's wonderful – you can make a mistake, and that's OK. That's how we learn."
The classes are made up of all sorts of St. Thomians – attorneys, salespersons, men and women, anybody with a yen to create (and impress). And they all have fun. The sessions, which start Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and last for about three hours, are not rigidly structured. "The other day we were here all afternoon laughing and talking, and, most importantly, eating." The students get to dine on their creations, a fact which probably inspires a lot of attention to detail. Herb infused oils, fresh fruit salsas, apple tarts, roasted red pepper soup, schools of fish and, perhaps, chicken in an Ethiopian spice rub, are but a few of the culinary treats they first manufacture and then devour.
Along with all the exotic and very gourmet cuisine, basic kitchen fundamentals are stressed. Knowing one's way around a knife, kitchen sanitation, and familiarity with the shelf life of products are all looked at.
LaCorte was born into the restaurant business in France where both parents were restauranteurs. The family moved to the United States when LaCorte was a child, but she returned to France as a young adult to study at the famed Cordon Bleu, the creme de la creme of culinary institutes.
Moving to St. Thomas in the seventies, LaCorte first worked at the hotel on Water Island. From there she moved into the friendly confines of the Safari Club in downtown St. Thomas, starting her first venture on her own, the Fiddle Leaf, which subsequently moved to Watergate Villas and became one of the island's culinary landmarks. Hurricane Hugo stepped in and sent the Fiddle Leaf wafting off in the wind. This she replaced with Provence in Frenchtown before moving to her present location three years ago.
At the request of her students, many of whom will be coming back for more, LaCorte is taking some classes to another level, complying with their interests in more specialized cuisines. Many of the students are quite accomplished cooks to begin with, but that is not to deter the culinary novice.
And speaking of the novice, here is one of LaCorte's recipes that even the most culinarily challenged should be able to whip up.
Tropical Fresh Fruit Salsa
1 cup mango
1 cup papaya
1 cup pineapple
Chop all above to desired size
½ cup each Red and yellow peppers chopped
1 cup Red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper seeded and chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Combine in large bowl and let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes.
Try this with some grilled chicken or fish. Then pretend it's "just a little something you whipped up."
The next class starts at 10:30 a.m. June 12, and LaCorte is adding an evening class beginning at 5:30 p.m. June 14. The courses are all in four sessions costing a total of $200, including food and equipment. For further information, and to sign up for a course phone (340) 714-1641.

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