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February 5, 2009 / Bo Mackison

Comfort Foods Presented by Vom Fass

A Row of Gourmet Oils

A Row of Gourmet Oils

Everyone needs a little bit of comfort, especially in snowy, frozen Wisconsin in early February. Sure, the groundhog saw his shadow, but that doesn’t make me believe Spring will arrive in six weeks. I know from decades of experience, Spring will show up in 10, maybe 12 weeks. May Day almost always is my guarantee of Spring. So I look for mood-boosters about now.

And I found one. A really great one.

My husband and I put down the photo equipment (though I got permission to take a few photos) and we went to a cooking class, a class where three culinary maestros demonstrated how to make their own personal comfort foods. Yow-za! Yum-my!

They didn’t cook my old favorites – Cream of Wheat or lumpy mashed potatoes and gravy. But they did cook an amazing array of comfort foods found in places world-wide. And then came the real highlight. After watching these three young guys scamper around the kitchen, get in each others way–think Three Stooges–and generally have a rollicking good time, the cooks served up their foods– salad, soups, entrees. The class assembled and we happily filled our china plates and bowls. We also happily cleaned our plates and bowls with barely a sound. Maybe a few sighs of pleasure, but it was a quiet group once the food was in our hands–and mouths.

The class was held at the local Whole Foods Store in their teaching kitchen, and presented by three chefs from the Vom Fass store just down the street. David Eisner-Kleyle, the operations manager at Vom Fass, prepared his dynamic and authentic version of Southwest Louisiana Seafood Gumbo. Since he grew up near the Louisiana bayou, he lent a flavor of the real thing to everything he cooked. I now know how to make a brown roux, a real brown roux–the one, when done properly, that takes a good 30 minutes and smells of funnel cakes. (I kid you not!) I also learned how important the perfect roux is to the perfect gumbo.

Jacob Schenk, left, and David Eisner-Kleyle, maetsros in the kitchen

Jacob Schenk, left, and David Eisner-Kleyle, maestros in the kitchen. Paul Tseng not shown.

Paul Tseng, a native of Taiwan and a graduate of the Cooking and Hospitality School in Chicago, amazed us all by concurrently making pork or chicken pot-stickers, and sweet and sour soup. He even had the participants each take an opportunity to roll out potsticker dough “the right way.” No easy task, but I think I got the hang of it.

The third chef, Jacob Schenk, who trained at the Scottsdale Culinary School, stayed a little closer to familiar Midwest favorites, and did a smashing macaroni and cheese –not at all comparable to my memories of mac and cheese. Filled with fennel and mushrooms, and concocted with at least four kinds of cheese and heavy cream, this dish bubbled and baked in the oven for 40 minutes while tempting us with “can’t wait” smells. It was a mac and cheese well worth the work, and the wait.

I could go on and on about the two hour cooking extravanga, but if you are in the Madison area, I highly recommend you see for yourself. Paul, Jake and David present their special style of cooking every month. They offer a different class, holding the same class on two different evenings. I know the classes fill fast. We couldn’t get into the February class, but we signed up for the March class on the spot. The Vom Fass store in on University Avenue. In addition to the monthly foray into cooking class, the store carries an amazing array of oils, vinegars, and other food and drink items. Definitely worth a stop.


  1. Robin / Feb 5 2009 4:30 pm

    That sounds like great fun, Bo. 🙂

    Yes, learning to make a real roux is crucial to good Cajun cooking. I never thought about it, but you’re right… it does smell like funnel cakes. Interesting.

  2. Marcie / Feb 5 2009 5:47 pm

    Sounds like fun. They offer cooking classes at our local Whole Foods. Maybe I’ll check them out???

  3. Amelia / Feb 5 2009 7:03 pm

    This is so cool. I never tasted fennel. I don’t even know what it looks like.

  4. Gandalf / Feb 6 2009 11:51 am

    I read this at the wrong time. I need some lunch now. 🙂

  5. ybonesy / Feb 7 2009 8:58 am

    I want the mac-and-cheese recipe if you have it. Also, I love the oils in what look like generic bottles. Do they buy in bulk and therefore put in their own bottles? I always wonder that about chefs. Mine are stored in the branded bottles.

    I love Cream of Wheat, too. And Malt o Meal. Sometimes I like one better than the other. I make my Cream o Wheat with half milk to make it extra creamy. 🙂

  6. Xtine / Feb 7 2009 7:12 pm

    How about a picture of the mac and cheese. It’s not something that is good for me to eat right now, but I’d sure like to look at it.

  7. quinncreative / Feb 9 2009 5:32 pm

    Mouthwatering! But pot stickers and soup at the same time? Amazing!

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