Jan. 23 2013 12:00 AM

Eaton Rapids chef offers private gourmet cooking lessons

Whichever argument you support in the age-old “eat to live vs. live to eat” debate, you have to admit that we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food. Eat for health. Eat for pleasure. Gluten-free. Paleo. Flexitarian. Food has its own vocabulary nowadays and someone has to teach you to speak the language.

Learning basic kitchen skills can be easy if you’ve got a computer and access to Food Network. But if you want to step your game up and learn how to cook to impress, you’ve got to head out of town — about 15 miles south down M-99, to be precise. That’s where you’ll find Le Chat Gourmet, where Chef Denene Vincent offers cooking classes for Lansing’s established and fledgling gourmands.

Several evenings a week, people descend upon the lower level of Vincent’s home, which has been converted into a large, gorgeous kitchen. Next month marks 10 years since Vincent opened Le Chat Gourmet with a novel proposal — she wanted to allow people the discretion to choose what they wanted to learn how to cook, on the nights that were available to them. 

“People kept telling me ‘I wish I could do what you do,’ ” said Vincent, 47, who was raised on a family farm in Leslie, where she had early exposure to the “farm to table” concept. “I still live that. We use what we grow in the gardens here at Le Chat Gourmet and I get to show the class participants what I have harvested from right outside my doors.”

Vincent relied on background in classical French culinary technique when the time came to name her business. 

“I am a major cat lover,” she said. “We adopted four kittens, and I wanted a name that was something French but also mentioned cats. We always knew that there was a risk that people wouldn´t be able to pronounce it.” (For the record, Vincent has been asked only once if she cooks felines in her kitchen. The question came from Food Network´s Alton Brown, and the answer is a resounding “non.”)

A girlfriend and I recently took one of Vincent’s classes, along with some mother-daughter pairs, a couple on a date and a single guy whose chances of getting my email address increased dramatically when I witnessed his impressive knife skills. We spent the evening preparing a carefully chosen meal under Vincent’s supervision and eventually sat down to feast upon our creations, which, for this class, was braised short ribs. Be forewarned: if you decide to attend a class, eat a snack before you leave home — we didn’t sit down until 10 p.m.

The food was luscious, and even the most inexperienced cooks in our group felt like they had contributed. Vincent hands out printed recipes before the class gets rolling, which is helpful for note-taking (and the exchanging of email addresses.) Taking a class at Le Chat makes for a unique date and would be fun for a bachelorette or birthday party. Vincent offers classes that run the gamut from cheese-making workshops to sushi tutorials to a summertime camp for kids. And if you start saving now, you can join Vincent for a June culinary vacation to Provence. The trip begins on my birthday, and I would be happy to accept a gifted reservation.

As Le Chat Gourmet enters its 10th year, Vincent can be found both in the kitchen teaching her classes and at the helm of the “Great Lakes Kitchen” television show on My18. The program, whose third season begins in February, airs at 10 a.m. Saturday mornings. The show gives Vincent a platform to showcase her passion for food as well as share little-known information about the Michigan culinary scene. 

“I just adore this state,” she said. “I want to help people recognize everything that we have in Michigan, make the correct choices and support our state.”

You may also bring your own wine to sip while you enjoy the fruits of your labor. Santé!

Gabrielle Johnson is the “She” of our monthly food review, “He Ate/She Ate.” She blogs at eatinglansing.blogspot.com.

Le Chat Gourmet
11874 Bunker Highway, Eaton Rapids
(517) 663-7322
Class times and prices vary

We need a writer

As interest in organic food grows, so does the confusion surrounding it. What is organic food? Is it really that much better for me? And most important, where can I find it locally?  

To that end, City Pulse is looking to separate fact from fiction with a new monthly column dedicated to the topic. Stories will focus on local growers, restaurants and other food service providers who are focused on this specific market. 

To be considered, you must be based in the Lansing area, have strong writing skills and a broad base of knowledge about organic food. If you’re interested, please send a cover letter and three writing samples by Feb. 14 to publisher@lansingcitypulse.com.