We were all ushered into the cooking facility and seated at a communal table, where we were greeted with printed versions of all the recipes we'd be working that night along with these cheese cookies: little savory biscuits made from cheese straw batter but prepared like peanut butter cookies. After an introduction and a rundown of what we'd be doing that evening, we proceeded to wash our hands and headed to our stations.
Our group was divided into three teams. Each of us started out with our own cutting board, apron, knife, and towel. Our first task was to learn how to de-stem a collard green; our cleaned, de-stemmed, and sliced greens went into a bowl together and more prepped greens were added.
Prepping banana pudding
We prepped the banana pudding next so it could chill while we worked. Part of each team worked to heat the milk, half-and-half, sugar, and cornstarch while another part separated eggs. The eggs were beaten and then tempered before being added to the heated milk along with some vanilla.
Prepping banana pudding
The resulting custard was layered with vanilla wafers and banana slices before being placed in the cooler. Meanwhile, bacon was fried in the bottom of a big pot with onions, then the pan was deglazed with chicken broth and the collard greens were added a handful at a time.
Fried chicken seasonings
Some team members cut up potatoes and boiled them while others put together the ingredients to flour our chicken. The Viking Cooking School chefs take care of the buttermilk soak for the fried chicken in advance so the chicken comes out right, but students put together the "dusting" of flour, cayenne, paprika, cornstarch, and pepper. To get the chicken ready for frying, we use the shake-and-bake method—putting the buttermilk-soaked chicken in a ziptop bag with the flour and spices and shaking the hell out of it.
Students used a ricer to mash potatoes to the appropriate consistency before blending with hot melted butter and half-and-half.
Once a Dutch oven of hot oil reached the appropriate temperature, pieces of the chicken were carefully immersed with tongs, one at a time. The person manning the fryer watched to make sure the temperature of the oil never dipped below 325 degrees.
Finished fried chicken
After each piece of chicken was done cooking, it was checked for doneness. Bits of loose batter were removed and reserved for gravy making.
Cornbread batter was made while a skillet was heated in the oven. The collard greens were checked occasionally, and as soon as the last of the chicken was fried a roux was made by ladling a cup of the hot oil into the skillet and adding half a cup of flour. The reserved bits of loose chicken batter, some salt and pepper, and whole milk were added to create the gravy.
Dinner is served
With dinner done, the group sat down to a meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens, cornbread, and bread pudding served with sweet tea and Riesling wine.