Small Bites: Mountain Cooking Club

Written by: Mountain XPress

With fewer than 1,500 residents, Clyde may not appear at first glance to be a culinary mecca. But Chef Ricardo Fernandez and his Mountain Cooking Club cooking classes provide at least one reason for foodies and home cooks to venture to the Haywood County hamlet.

Fernandez, originally from Argentina, owned the Lomo Grill in Waynesville — one of the pioneers of Western North Carolina’s farm-to-table restaurant movement – for 16 years with his wife, Suzanne, until they closed it in 2010. The couple also ran a successful business marketing Fernandez’s gourmet tomato sauces under the brand Chef Ricardo’s, until they opted out in 2013 in favor of a quiet life of raising peonies and gourmet fig trees at Wildcat Ridge Farm, their home in Clyde.

However, fans of Fernandez’s cooking were not happy that their favorite chef had abandoned the kitchen. “People kept asking me, ‘When are you going to open another restaurant?’ … So I started doing some cooking classes, doing some catering and private parties and special events. … It was because of the customers that we started doing Mountain Cooking Club. We are doing what we love to do. I cannot get away from food,” says Fernandez, who goes by the moniker Chef Ricardo.

Fernandez says the cooking classes, which he and his wife started offering occasionally at the Fines Creek Community Kitchen in Clyde more than a year ago, have been a smashing success. With topics ranging from how to cook with figs to risotto-making techniques to braising, Fernandez says the aim of his workshops is to provide useful information in an entertaining and accessible way.

“I try to make cooking classes that are fun and not intimidating for anybody who wants to come and participate. I want [each class] to be a social event,” he says. “There is always a lot of energy there. I give [the students] a lot of feedback and ideas, like what they can do with the leftovers. … I try to promote using local ingredients and seasonal stuff. I try to use only what is available locally, and I tell people what stores have those things.”

The next class, scheduled for Saturday, March 14, will be a hands-on, eat-what-you-make tutorial on breads, featuring prosciutto and Parmesan cheese straws, cheddar and scallion biscuits, paesano boule and walnut banana bread. Fernandez says the roster of future workshops will depend on what the growing season brings and what people request, but having recently built a new brick pizza oven at his farm, he is considering doing a session that shows step by step how to make a perfect pizza in a home kitchen.

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