I checked one off the bucket list!

by | Jun 23, 2012 | Fun Events, Restaurant Overviews, Travel

Cathy, Kyan, Sheri, and Merry with Chef John Ash

I have a bucket list that’s about a mile long and it’s not often that I get to check something off the list. OK, maybe I should shorten the list and make it a bit realistic, but it’s good to have unobtainable dreams. Gives you character.

A couple of weekends ago I actually got to check “Learn to cook with a chef from the Food Network” off my bucket list. This adventure started when my friend Sheri asked me if I was interested in taking a cooking class at River Myst Haven in the Healdsburg area. At the time my mother was not well and my sisters and I were spending a lot of time either at the hospital or at our parent’s house helping out on the weekends. When I found out that Chef John Ash was teaching the class, I made it clear to my sisters that I would not be available on that Saturday to help out.  So, I guiltily told Sheri, Yes! (Unfortunately, our mother passed away shortly before the class.)

Chef John Ash was a host of two TV shows on the Food Network. He now travels the world teaching cooking classes and is an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley. He is known as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine.” In 1980 he opened a restaurant John Ash & Company in Santa Rosa, which was the first restaurant in the Northern California wine country to make dishes from the local, seasonal ingredients that complemented the wines made in the region. He has published three cookbooks and his fourth, Culinary Birds, will be released in the fall of 2013. 

Chef John Ash’s “Culinary Birds” cookbook to be released in the fall of 2013

River Myst Haven is a small event facility in the hills of the Russian River Valley outside of Healdsburg, which is in the Sonoma County wine region. It’s about a two and a half hour drive from Pleasanton, where my friend Cathy and I picked up Sheri and her next door neighbor Kyan.  We were a bit early when we arrived at River Myst so we did a bit of exploring outside where we ran into Percy the peacock and some wild turkeys that just happened to be cruising by.

River Myst Haven

The view from River Myst Haven

Percy the Peacock

One of several wild turkeys cruising by

The day of our class there were thirteen students and five dishes to cook. All of the dishes were made with chicken and the recipes were from the Culinary Birds cookbook. The chicken that we used in our dishes was produced at Pepper Ranch Poultry in Petaluma. The chickens raised at Pepper Ranch are heritage meat chickens that are smaller and slower growing than the chicken we buy in the grocery store. The Pepper Ranch follows humane practices where the chickens are on pasture and are free to go in and out of chicken houses.

Pepper Ranch Poultry in Petaluma (photo borrowed from PRP’s Facebook site)

In addition to Chef John Ash, there were a couple of other culinary experts on hand that day to help answer questions and teach cooking methods. Mei Ibach a chef and culinary instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College was one of the helpers. Another creative women, whose name I did not catch, beautifully arranged the veggies that we would be using that day.

The fresh veggies, herbs, and spices we used in our dishes

When it was time to start preparing the food, the chef split us into groups with people we did not know. My group was responsible for making grilled chicken kebabs with tzatziki sauce and flatbread. The chicken kebabs were seasoned with a marinade made with olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, rosemary, kosher salt, and pepper.  The chef made the dough earlier for the grilled flatbread and it was my group’s responsibility to roll out the dough and grill it. These kebabs were the best kebabs I have eaten. I have since made them at home and my family loved them as well.

Grilling tip from the chef:  Before placing food on the grill, the grill should be oiled. The chef said that he uses a rolled up towel to evenly oil the grill and to prevent the grill from becoming over oiled. When a grill is over oiled it can cause fire flare-ups that will burn the food.

The chicken kabobs ready for grilling

The flatbread on the grill

The plated kabobs being prepped for serving

The finished chicken kebabs with tzatziki and grilled pita bread

When we were done prepping our dishes, we got to enjoy a glass of wine. Once everyone was done prepping, we all sat at a nicely set table and one by one each group got up to finish cooking their dish and serve it to the class. All of the food was incredible and it was almost thrilling to know that I have the ability to make all of these dishes myself.

Sheri’s group made a chicken and shrimp meatball soup with cellophane noodles.  Just before serving, fresh lime juice and chopped fresh cilantro was added, which really finished off the soup with a fresh flavor.

Chicken and shrimp meatballs

The chicken and shrimp meatball soup

Kyan’s group made 5 spice chicken in rice paper and with a dipping sauce. Her group actually made the 5 spice powder themselves by using a coffee grinder to grind the spices. Kyan passed around the freshly prepared 5 spice powder along with an older bottled version of five spice powder so that we could smell the difference. The freshly prepared five spice was much more fragrant than the older bottled powder, which makes me more inclined to want to grind my own 5 spice just prior to using it.

FRYING TIPs:  A couple of good tips we learned from the chef when he talked about making this dish was that the range for frying foods is 350 – 375 degrees F.  If food is fried below 350 F, the food will absorb the oil and become oily or mushy.  Also, food should be cold before put into the hot oil. The cold will help create a barrier that will prevent the food from absorbing the oil.  You should however, monitor the temperature of the oil when adding the cold food to the hot oil to ensure that it does not drop below 350 F.

Chef John Ash demonstrating how to roll the chicken filling in rice paper

The prepared chicken rolls prior to frying

5 spice chicken in rice paper

Cathy’s group made Vietnamese salad with grilled chicken. This salad was great. It was especially nice eating this salad freshly made. In the past when I have ordered this salad in restaurants the salads were not freshly made, so the vegetables were not crisp and the flavors had fused in an undesirable way.

After Cathy’s group softened the rice noodles the noodles sat for some time before the salad was served. We expected the noodles to be stuck together and served in clumps, but they were all easily separated.

Cathy chopping the ingredients for the Vietnamese salad with chicken

The freshly sliced and julienned veggies

The grilled chicken thighs used in the salad

The Vietnamese salad with chicken

The last dish that was served was a chicken slider with watercress and caramelized onion jam. This too was very good. Ginger poached chicken was used to make the sandwich.

Chicken slider made with ginger poached chicken and dressed with watercress and caramelized onion jam

The class participants enjoying the dishes made during the class.

River Myst will be hosting a cooking class with Chef John Ash in September and October (go here to see the schedule: http://www.rivermysthaven.com/food_wine_education.html). I highly recommend signing up for one of the classes. Opportunities for a hands-on cooking class with a chef of his caliber don’t come often!


A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness. ~Elsa Schiaparelli