Dish

She told me to wok this way!

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There are those of us who eat to live and those of us who live to eat.
I’m one of the latter.

I think about food all the time, in quite the same way men reportedly think
about sex. I have a thought about food every seven minutes. I think about
preparing, tasting and comparing. Ironically, I’m not a very good
cook.

Imagine my delight in meeting Lovoni Walker. Lovoni doesn’t just
prepare food: she sculpts it, moulds it and creates it. She offers cookbook
and recipe development, food styling and yes, much needed cooking classes
through Fabulous Food Creations in Nisku, about 10 minutes south of
Edmonton.

I found her studio hidden among faceless industrial buildings. The renovated
warehouse had soaring terracotta walls and a huge U-shaped cooking area with
two below-counter ovens and a six-burner gas range. Thick wood countertops
adorned the prep area as well as the adjacent workstations. Task lighting
hung from the high ceilings and ambient light filled the corners of the room,
giving it an almost romantic feel.

Lovoni had generously allowed me to observe one of her classes, a hands-on
session for eight Lloydminster women enjoying a girls’ night out.
Although she holds demonstration classes for up to 24 at a time, Lovoni
prefers the hands-on sessions, for which she requires a minimum of six
students. During the Christmas season, she’ll teach festive menus and
host a number of office functions.

Previously a stylist for Australian Women’s Weekly, Lovoni moved to
Alberta six years ago and worked with Edmonton-based Company’s Coming.
In 2004, she left to form her own company. She loves the fact that she does
something different every day.

Lovoni has written several cookbooks. She writes and creates food layouts for
magazines, develops and tests recipes for a number of clients, and somehow
finds time to teach cooking classes to the public. While her eye for detail
makes her an outstanding stylist, her melodious Australian accent and sweet
disposition lend perfectly to teaching.

Her eager students arrived right on time. Lovoni made sure everyone had a
glass of wine before a short introduction and splitting the women into four
groups of two. She randomly assigned each group two dishes to prepare. Cheers
went up with every assignment: these 20- and 30-somethings were clearly there
to have fun.

Using the recipes provided at their workstations, which were stocked with
everything they needed, the cooking began. Lovoni walked from group to group,
offering tips and occasionally calling on everyone to watch a delicate
procedure. She made sectioning oranges look simple, and showed everyone how
to work with fragile phyllo pastry.

The women seemed to know their way around a kitchen but, according to Lovoni,
that’s not always a good thing. The novice is often more careful not to
make mistakes and read the instructions attentively. She likes teaching the
beginners; some of her students don’t know a ladle from a
spatula.

As the cooking progressed, the smell in the 1 200-square-foot kitchen began
to tantalize. Sautéed garlic mingled with the scent of melting
chocolate, as the laughing students chopped and stirred through the recipes.
Lovoni made certain that nothing was forgotten, overcooked or got burnt. She
was aware of everything that was happening in the kitchen, with an infallible
internal clock timing each of the dishes.

As each team finished their dishes, the ladies moved to help another. The
team-building potential was evident, and many corporations send groups of
employees for just that purpose. With Sinatra ballads playing in the
background, the atmosphere was both relaxing and industrious.

After all the stations were finished and our wine glasses were topped up
(some for the third or fourth time), we all sat down to enjoy the creations.
The menu was “Easy Entertaining” and featured recipes from
Lovoni’s beautifully appointed cookbook Simple, Fresh, Delicious:
Recipes for Easy Living and Relaxed Entertaining.

We started with an Asian nut mix featuring a blend of toasted almonds, pecans
and cashews in five-spice powder. Cheese and herb phyllo pastries were served
alongside a thick butternut squash soup. The peppery yellow soup had a hint
of rosemary and ample garlic. Many of the dishes could be prepared ahead of
time, something Lovoni finds convenient for the busy dinner host. The recipes
were all simple and made with fresh ingredients that could be found at any
supermarket.

Next, as the students chatted amiably around the table, Lovoni put the
finishing touches on the garlic and pea toss, the toasted almond couscous and
an incredible Moroccan chicken. The spicy dish with curry undertones and a
chili pepper zing was simply fantastic. Bits of onion, garlic, raisins and
apricots gave the sauce a wonderful texture.

One of the teams got up to finish the zabaglione, a light Italian custard,
for their blueberry and orange fruit bowls. Cooled brownies were fetched from
the freezer and served with the Cointreau-laced fruit for a final tribute to
an excellent meal.

By now completely relaxed and once again huddled around the stove, the women
tossed out questions, which Lovoni answered confidently. What’s your
favorite knife? Are slow cookers really safe to use? Where can you buy phyllo
pastry? It was a culinary Q and A, with everyone pleasantly satiated.

Lovoni wrapped up a couple of extra brownies for my drive home, and I tucked
a copy of her cookbook under my arm. Looking back at the kitchen, I was sad
to be leaving. It was a great experience.

Next time I hear of an office that needs a little team-building, or even just
a bit of fun, I know where I’ll suggest. Fabulous Food Creations is
just that: fabulous! V

Fabulous Food Creations
1506 – 7 Street, Nisku
955.3841
classes@fabulousfoodcreations.com

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