It’s an unseasonably warm night as guests arrive for the Italian Winter Dinner cooking class at Le Chat Gourmet in Eaton Rapids, Mich.30
Students open the doors to find a European-inspired kitchen. Denene Vincent, executive chef and owner of Le Chat Gourmet, greets each of them like old friends, with her warm smile and infectious laugh.
Vincent discovered her love of cooking at a young age.
“I grew up on our family farm in Leslie, Mich. and was blessed to be surrounded by fabulous women cooks,” said Vincent. “It wasn’t gourmet, but rather homegrown ingredients being turned into delicious dishes by my mom and grandmothers.”
This love of fresh, local ingredients is demonstrated by the dishes she creates. Michigan grown and produced ingredients are used throughout every class and she encourages her students to shop at the local markets.
“I love Michigan! In addition to our Michigan students, Le Chat Gourmet draws visitors from all over the world and across America. Being an Ambassador for Michigan is very important to me.”
She says that during her time as host of a local TV program, Great Lakes Kitchen, it was the ability “to showcase Michigan ingredients” that made the experience priceless.
This evening’s class is just one of about 100 classes taught each year. Classes cover a variety of topics; like knife skills, artisan breads and French pastries. They also offer kids courses and summer camps.
One of the most unique offerings are annual culinary vacations, led by Chef Vincent. Through her travels, she has made friends all over the world and has groups of six to eight people join her in Provence, France and Tuscany, Italy each year.
“It’s a very personalized, behind-the-scenes experience. From truffle hunting in the French Luberon to crushing grapes with your feet in a Tuscan vineyard — it all creates the experience of a lifetime. And, of course, there are market tours and cooking!”
The level of intimacy on the small group trips extends into the kitchen. As the students begin separating egg whites for their Italian Tiramisu, Chef Vincent remarks with a smile on her face, “Isn’t it amazing! This is what food is all about.”
For her, cooking has always been about gathering family and friends around the table and sharing a meal, friendship and love. She says that creating meals should be fun, and eating a joy.
For more information about Le Chat Gourmet, visit lechatgourmet.com or call (517) 663-7322.