Spice up your life with this lady

Sharon Elston's midtown kitchen offers exotic cooking lessons


The aroma of spices permeates the kitchen — so many different spices.

Four pairs of cooks are tasting their stews, trying to produce an interesting blend of flavours. And flavour is what this evening is all about.

We’re in Sharon Elston’s kitchen. Her business importing exotic organic spices, as well as many other specialty culinary ingredients, earned her the moniker, the Spice Lady. For 30 years she has taught both cooking and food safety mostly to professionals, but this evening she’s teaching eight enthusiastic amateurs, including me, how to create interesting flavours.

“I want you to think outside the box,” she tells the group. “Try blending different spices together. Experiment. It’s how you learn.”

All eight here this evening are foodies and have no qualms about following her injunction. While some have chopping skills and are more experienced cooks, the common thread tonight is simply a passion for food.

This class is apty titled, Flavours, and its aim, she explains, is to enhance and augment the skills they bring to the kitchen. The containers of spices are being well utilized.

As with most of the group here this evening, Richard and Hilary Turnock love to cook and are clearly not afraid to try new things. “We wanted to learn about new seasonings, so we can expand our horizons when we cook,” says Richard. “We were hoping to learn about some new flavours.”

We chop, dice, fry and season. And we taste, taste, taste.

“Using freshly ground spices takes the flavour up a notch,” says Elston, pointing to small containers of cumin and chili she has ground for the class. And there’s a bonus. Elston uses mostly organic or sustainable ingredients, and encourages her students to look at the source of the foods they eat. She’s a mine of information, which she generously shares, with great good humour.

This evening’s class has made savoury vegetable stews, and we sample one another’s concoctions, trying to decide which blend of spices we most prefer. We also prepare a gluten-free dessert of s’mores tart, into which Elston encourages us to toss anything and everything — including potato chips. It’s rich and indescribably decadent.

The Spice Lady’s classes range from entire meals to special skills, like knife handling. Check her website for upcoming classes including Roasted Morsels of Goodness (roasting techniques for fish, nuts, artichokes, etc) on Nov. 6, and regional food classes like Colombian on Nov. 14 or Thai on Nov. 20. Classes are held in her kitchen in the Yonge-Eglinton area and she can accommodate vegetarian and vegan students.

Visit www.thespicelady.ca or call 416-488-1790.

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Posted: Oct 13 2015 9:55 am
Filed in: Food & Dining