Stephan Pyles Thanksgiving Cooking Class: You'll Never Want Another Butterball

Among other things, the Thanksgiving cooking class at Stephan Pyles taught me that the main things I know about journalism are wrong.

I had a journalism professor open his class with, "You think you're going to be happy? You're not. You think this career is going to be easy? It's a struggle."

But I believe that Stephan Pyles' cooking class, the grand finale of my journey through some of Dallas' cooking classes, is a contender for the top three happiest times in my life. The main thing I struggled with was putting my fork down long enough to take thorough notes. I was wracked with guilt thinking about the unlucky journalists, struggling with their beats to deliver hard-hitting news. My guilt dissipated somewhere around my second glass of 2009 Nyers Carneros Chardonnay paired with a savory, velvety-rich curried butternut squash soup with apple-bacon chutney.

Saturday's cooking class at Stephan Pyles Restaurant was a $125, three-hour demonstration of scrumptious alternatives to tired holiday staples. Nestled elbow-to-elbow at long tables with my 40 or so classmates, chef Pyles demonstrated the butternut squash soup, platanos rellenos with venison picadillo and avocado-jicama-watercress salad (paired with Rahr & Sons Brewing Company's "Buffalo Butt" amber lager), molasses grilled quail with Port-poached pear tamales and candied walnuts (paired with 2009 Chateua Sant Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone), honey-fried chicken with cranberry sauce, maple grits with Parmesan wild mushrooms and country ham, pumpkin-white bean chile rellenos with pomegranate cream (all paired with 2009 Garnacha de Fuego) and for dessert, caramelized apple upside-down cake with candied ginger-mascarpone ice cream and chocolate-bourbon pecan pie with whipped crème fraiche.

Whew. Pyles certainly stayed busy during class. After completing each dish, the staff would stream out of the kitchen to serve plates and refill glasses. My classmates and I maintained a cheerful, satisfied (if wine-soaked) hum. You might think three hours and $125 is an unreasonable chunk of time and money for a cooking class, but you're wrong. The food was unparalleled, and...what's a word that means delicious to the hundredth power? That's what it was. The atmosphere was intimate and cozy. And they kept the wine flowing. Believe me, it's a generous deal.

Pyle's warmth and charm drove the class. He answered questions patiently. He was available after class for autographs and pictures. (He signed my recipe book!) Considering his level of talent and fame, I wouldn't have blamed the chef if he was fussy and pretentious, but he wasn't. Not even a little bit. He led the class with practiced ease. (He should have: Pyles told us he'd been teaching the class for 15 years, or "what feels like forever.") He interacted openly with his students and knew them by name. And it felt personal and genuine. The term "schmoozing" just feels dirty and insulting.

For a while, he had me believing that I could prepare each dish to his exact quality. And maybe some of my classmates who paid more careful attention could. Halfway through the second dish the wine began to seep in, and I relaxed. For me, scrutinizing Pyles' technique was like watching a magician to try to figure out his tricks. The magic was restored when I treated it as entertainment.

I know it seems like a high price to learn some cooking. I know three hours is a significant slice of Saturday. And I know your journalism professors told you that you're never going to enjoy covering anything. But Stephan Pyles' Thanksgiving cooking class is pretty much the antidote for any negative feelings, as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't matter if you have the time or the money -- cancel your plans. Smash your childhood piggy bank. If you have an opportunity to attend a cooking class with Stephan Pyles, make it work. And go.

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