"Kim Mahan Keeps Things Cookin’ at Class Cooking in Vancouver" By Monica Spykerman
Kim Mahan, owner of Class Cooking in downtown Vancouver doesn’t have a lot of time these days to try new things, but that’s only because she’s so busy teaching other people to whip up dishes like paella, baked apple French toast, hazelnut caramel chocolate tart, kebabs with roasted cauliflower, coconut shrimp with pineapple-chili sauce, or mussels marinara with chorizo. Are you hungry yet? Good, because Mahan’s apron is on, her oven is hot, and she’s ready for you at her friendly cooking school.
“I wanted it to be like you’re going to Grandma’s,” explains Mahan, describing her cheerful, retro-modern teaching kitchen. “I have always collected vintage stuff, so putting all the things that I had collected over the years in this space – and having people come in and they’re like, ‘Oh, my mom had that!’ or ‘My grandma had that!’ or “I had that!’ – it just brings back all these warm, fuzzy memories.”
It might feel like a home kitchen, but the space is definitely designed to teach culinary skills. In the center is a large island with room for 12 work stations, so each student has his or her own cutting board, utensils and recipe booklet. The focal point is a professional, six-burner stovetop, where Mahan demonstrates different techniques and sets food to fry, steam or simmer. There are benches and hooks for stowing your stuff, shelves to display Mahan’s vintage kitchen goodies, cabinets for cookware, a deep pantry for spices and dry goods, a commercial-grade sink for food prep and dishwashing and a fancy coffeemaker for daytime students. Those who take evening classes get to sip and sample wines from Burnt Bridge Cellars, located right next door and co-owned by Mahan’s husband, Mark.
“People ask me what my favorite thing to cook is,” says Mahan, “and I always tell them, ‘It’s the thing I’ve never cooked before,’ because I love experimenting.” Class Cooking is a natural outgrowth of Mahan’s passion for cooking, although she also has degrees in painting and early childhood education.
She was teaching at Clark College when her daughter was born and she became a stay-at-home mother. The family moved to England for a year, then back to Vancouver. When her daughter turned four, Mahan considered new career possibilities, asking herself—as she jokingly recalls—“What do I want to be when I grow up?” She decided on culinary school at Clark College. Next, she interned at The Grant House, Portland’s Bread and Ink Cafe, and Vancouver Pizza Company before starting her own catering company.
Then the Mahans moved to Spain, where Mahan undertook another internship at a high-end restaurant in Barcelona. She was approached by several ex-pats who said, as Mahan puts it, “Okay, you cook, we don’t. You’re gonna teach us how to cook!” Mahan taught classes in people’s homes, and kept teaching when the family eventually returned to Vancouver. The Mahans bought a home with a large kitchen and it served as Mahan’s cooking school for the next eight years.
Meanwhile, Mark and his business partner had opened their winery and tasting room in downtown Vancouver. In a delicious bit of luck, the space right next door came open. The Mahans remodeled and customized it, making it bright, open, and food-friendly. The two establishments were then connected via a wide doorway, so that students can share family-style meals around the winery’s massive wooden table.
Classes at Class Cooking
Classes are two hours, plus time to eat all the delicious things prepared during class.
Students learn how to make a complete meal or variations on specific dishes, like appetizers or salads.
Mahan teaches four or five recipes per class, as well as cooking techniques and shortcuts, knife skills, and food safety.
Mahan’s classes usually center around a particular cuisine, including Moroccan, Spanish, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican and Turkish food, among many others. Her most popular class is paella—a specialty of Mahan’s, perfected during her years in Spain—followed by tapas, tamales, and her legendary holiday classes, which include a formal holiday dinner and a “morning after” holiday brunch. Classes are often booked months in advance, with spots filling up as soon as her newsletter hits inboxes. There’s a mix of women and men, a blend of serious cooks, friends enjoying an activity together, and couples looking for a memorable date night. The age range is wide in every class. “I had people that were 70 and I had one kid that was 15 who was taking a class with her mom, so it’s all over the map,” she notes.
Mahan is patient and personable with everyone, from beginners to experts. Mahan structures her classes so that every person gets a chance to try every part of the recipe, with plenty of participation. “I like to show people shortcuts,” she explains “I want people to take the recipes home and actually make them. All my classes are hands-on, which I believe in strongly, because if I’m doing a demonstration, you’re going to see me cook, but you’re not going to cook. You may go home and go, ‘Oh well, I don’t know how to do this.’ But if you do it yourself, and you try it, you’ll know you can do it.”
Mahan loves it when she gets calls and emails from her students. “The best thing that happens is people will send me emails saying, ‘I made this and my friends were thrilled and it turned out great!’ or they’ll send me photos,” she enthuses. She also enjoys helping people out of culinary jams. “They’ll call me and say, ‘Okay, I’m doing this and I’m not sure I’m doing it right.’ I can talk them through it, and tell them that they are doing it right, and it’s okay! Breathe! It’ll be great!”
For more information, visit the Class Cooking website or call 360-600-8006.
Food & Drink: Dim sum class has tasty homework
By Rachel Pinsky
Published: April 20, 2018, The Columbian
• Class Cooking, 110 E. 15th St., Vancouver, 360-600-8006, Class-Cooking.com
Kim Mahan wants every student who finishes her classes to immediately go to the grocery store; then, go home and use the skills they learned at her cooking school, Class Cooking.
I recently met with her to talk about the dim sum class that I planned to attend. During the conversation, I sheepishly had to confess that I hadn’t made the tamales she taught me to make a year ago.
Undeterred, she explained, “The thing I find the most satisfying is when I get emails from people saying, ‘I did this,’ or they send me photos or they say, ‘I made this for the family, I made this for my friends and everybody was really impressed and it was really exciting.’ ”
Classes at Mahan’s cooking school include, “everything from Thai to Turkish.” She attended Clark College Culinary school; but, has learned how to prepare global cuisine by traveling around the world. She also has an extensive cookbook collection and likes to experiment with recipes.
Classes are small (12 people), and there are currently only six classes per month. Mahan is hoping to expand to eight a month in the fall. She runs her classes with a mix of authority and a good sense of humor gained by teaching cooking classes for the last 20 years. Her favorite students are people that don’t think they can cook anything. The people that think they can cook sometimes give her trouble; but, they come around. Mahan told me about a student that announced at the beginning of class that he made paella all the time at home and didn’t need to modify his dump-and-run paella cooking method. After trying Mahan’s carefully prepared paella, he asked, “Will you come to our house and do this?”
I registered immediately when I saw a dim sum class on the Class Cooking website. Mahan started the class by going through the rules. “The No. 1 kitchen rule is no blood,” she told us. Then, she demonstrated how to properly use the knives. Our knives were taken away about ten minutes into class because dim sum doesn’t require much chopping. Dim sum is all about folding. In two hours, we made five types of dim sum — steamed pork buns, spinach garlic dumplings, vegetable spring rolls, pot stickers and crispy wonton-wrapped shrimp. Mahan showed us how to make each type and made sure everyone tried to make several of each.
My favorite folds
My favorite dishes were the steamed pork buns, the spring rolls and the potstickers. The steamed pork buns had chewy, fluffy bao dough with a savory pork filling seasoned with five spice powder and hoisin sauce. To make them, we rolled out fresh dough, added a generous amount of pork filling, then tucked the dough at the top and spun it around to create a small, swirled cap. Finally, we placed them into a multi-tiered steamer.
The spring rolls had a fresh vegetarian filling of napa cabbage, water chestnuts, mung bean sprouts and tofu. We rolled the filling into lumpia wrappers and then deep fried them (rule two of the kitchen should be watch out for boiling oil).
We made the potstickers by placing wonton wrappers and a bit of the filling (Chinese sausage, chicken, shiitake mushrooms and napa cabbage) into a small plastic dumpling press that reminded me of a toy from a Play-Doh play set. Peggy Oliver (a regular at Class Cooking who drives from Portland for Mahan’s classes) shared my giddiness for this new toy. She giggled like a schoolgirl as she pressed her potstickers. After they were pressed, the potstickers were pan fried and then steamed with a bit of chicken broth.
When everything was ready, all of the students sat down to a dim sum feast (accompanied with sweet chili sauce, spring roll sauce and soy sauce) with Mahan and her dishwasher for the last six years, Maggie Williams. When I got home, I looked into getting a dumpling press ($5.99 on Amazon.com) and making a trip to Sorya market (Mahan has a stack of their businesses cards at the front of the school), which carries everything I need to re-create this feast. Afterward, I plan on sending my dim sum photos to Mahan to let her know that I’m not a lost cause.