Thirty apron-clad guests stare at six mystery bags that each contain two ingredients, resting on the shiny counters of the 700 Kitchen Cooking School inside the Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah. In the next 1-1/2 hours of the Culinary Challenge Teambuilding Experience, the randomly divided six teams of five will have conceived and fixed a salad, three entrees and desserts… without recipes.
“The challenge is not for Team A to beat Team B; it’s to produce a flavorful, creative buffet meal with limited resources and limited time,” says Chef Darin Sehnert, director of 700 Kitchen. “They have to learn to work with what they have and find a solution.” The teambuilding challenge is one of several cooking class possibilities offered inside the 800-sf modern kitchen equipped with high-end appliances and decorated in dark woods, frog green walls, and silver and black accents.
Last year, the AAA 4-Diamond 125-year old Victorian Romanesque mansion’s 700 Kitchen was identified by ABC-TV News as one of the top cooking class experiences around the world. Sehnert thinks the recognition reflects his light-hearted, interactive approach. There’s a 3-1/2 hour Hands-On Class (12 max) in which the participants completely prepare the meal under his direction. An Interactive Demo Class (24 max) begins with a lesson in knife useage.
While all the classes have a wide spectrum of international menus from which to choose, the favorite is the Lowcountry Cooking Experience. Teams of three are first instructed in cooking techniques, from how to properly whisk vinaigrette, peel shrimp or trim pork. At that time they’re unaware which dish their team will prepare from southern classics such as black eyed pea salad, shrimp in red eye gravy over creamy grits, spice-rubbed pork with peach and onion jam, or a chocolate Coca Cola cake.
“They have to pay close attention to all the instructions and work together,” says Sehnert. Following the class, he emails them 25 pages that include the recipes and the historical and cultural background of why those foods characterize the region.
Meals are eaten in the wine cellar. Alcohol is not permitted during food preparation, but a wine pairing led by a sommelier during the meal can be arranged.
Sehnert advises meeting planners, “Feed them snacks and start the class early. It’s hours before they sit down to eat.”