"Food always brings people together." -- Beth Purifoy, Viking Cooking
Food lovers, aspiring chefs or folks just wanting a different night on the
town need look no further than the Viking Cooking School for a shared,
culinary experience proven to engender new friendships while tantalizing
palettes and teaching new skills.
The hands-on, skill-based cooking school is an integral component in
appliance manufacturer Viking Range's educational outreach. Instructing more
than 70,000 students a year in 17 cities throughout the U.S., including two
in Mississippi (Greenwood and Ridgeland), the workshops feature seasonal,
ethnic, traditional and trendy classes designed for all ages and experience
Founded by Greenwood native Fred Carl, Jr., Viking Range is a worldwide
leader in the premium culinary appliance market and a significant factor in
Greenwood's socioeconomic vibrancy. Viking's downtown presence includes the
upscale Alluvian Hotel, Alluvian Spa, Giardina's fine-dining restaurant and
the Viking Cooking School and retail store.
Located beneath the Alluvian Spa on historic Howard Street, Greenwood's
state-of-the-art cooking school and retail store-a potpourri of chrome,
glass, and mirror-sharp white tiles-entices visitors to leave the
beautifully, amber-lit Rockwellian downtown and enter a pristine,
cosmopolitan world promising a fun-filled, multi-sensory culinary
Recently, Viking in Greenwood hosted a culinary workshop inspired by "The
Help," the New York Times best-selling book written by Mississippi native
Kathryn Stockett, turned into a DreamWorks-produced hit movie, filmed in
Greenwood, Jackson and Clarksdale. The three-hour workshop, "Southern
Specialties from the Hit Movie 'The Help'," is also being offered in several
A dozen culinary enthusiasts from four states and four Mississippi towns,
descended upon Greenwood on a hazy, late-January evening seeking expertise
in Southern cooking, while extending their understanding of basic cooking
skills such as marinating, seasoning, breading, sautéing, braising and
Six-year veteran Viking instructor Beth Purifoy and her assistant, Deborah
Shaw, divided the students into three teams. Wearing a Viking apron while
sipping sweet tea or wine, attendees were apprised about the night's agenda:
five traditional Southern dishes were to be prepared - Southern fried
chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, slow-cooked Southern greens, skillet
cornbread and feather-light biscuits.
Purifoy and Shaw's preparation, culinary knowledge, and affability
immediately put participants at ease, establishing a light-hearted, training
environment conducive to relationship-building.
"It is amazing how during a class people find some commonality or someone
they know from somewhere," Purifoy told the class as students introduced
themselves. "By the end of the night we have exchanged email addresses,
phone numbers, and shared pictures on Facebook."
The most asked question of the evening: "What's the key to Southern fried
"Frying chicken is an art and this is the artist," Purifoy said pointing to
her assistant Deborah Shaw. "She knows more about frying chicken than I'll
never know about frying chicken."
Both chefs agreed that keeping the oil at a nearly constant temperature and
not crowding the skillet with too many pieces are keys to frying great
chicken. Well, that and a lot of practice.
All participants were encouraged to collaborate and contribute to each dish
being prepared. "You need to make sure you know where your biscuits are,"
Purifoy said with a grin. "It is very important that you get to eat the food
The trainees were told the reward for preparing the five Southern dishes
inspired by "The Help": "We all finish together and we sit down as a family
when we get through cooking to eat together."
Two groups of ladies were attending the class on a "girl's weekend," while
three married couples wanted to enjoy an evening together while learning how
to better cook Southern dishes. Not a person was disappointed.
Eddie Doss, the 1998 Illinois State rib champion, and his wife Nancy,
frequent visitors to the Magnolia state, said the evening's highlight was
the greens, biscuits and the reasonably priced $89 registration fee, plus a
discount on in-store purchases.
Each team worked at its own island from a recipe lesson plan with
pre-measured ingredients, spices and Viking utensils and cookware. The only
non-Viking product used was a cast-iron Lodge Dutch oven for frying chicken,
though it can be purchased in the Viking retail store attached to the
While slow-cooked mustard greens were simmering in their own "pot likker"
atop gas-burning Viking ranges, the teams began preparing an American
favorite-Mac n' Cheese-macaroni noodles tossed with a homemade cheese sauce
made from butter, flour, whole milk, and cheddar cheese.
Friday night's hands-down selection for the hardest-to-get-just-right dish
on the menu was the Southern fried chicken, also known as "yard bird" in the
Viking thought of everything. Previously segmented chicken pieces had been
marinated in seasoned, buttermilk brine for up to 24 hours. In order to
prepare, cook, and eat student-produced dishes, some preparation had been
done ahead of time by the instructional team.
While the greens were simmering and the Mac 'N Cheese was baking, the
much-lauded, quintessential Southern dish, fried chicken, was being
prepared. "You don't want to fry more than a couple pieces of chicken at a
time," Purifoy said. "Always start with the dark meat first, legs and
thighs, as it takes longer."
Thanks to the Viking instructors, well-tested recipes, seven-ply stainless
steel Viking cookware and a learning environment fostering instant team
chemistry, every piece of chicken was moist, crispy and cooked to
perfection. Even Minny from "The Help" might approve.
The last two dishes prepared were Southern cornbread and biscuits-both
accompanied by butter or jam, or used to sop up juices produced from
In order to complete all student-prepared dishes on time, two sample
desserts were prepared in advance by the Viking instructors.
The desserts were Minny's infamous chocolate pie, minus the "secret
ingredient," and her vanilla butter cake with Never Fail Creamy Caramel
icing. The butter cake recipe was borrowed by Stockett for "The Help" from
an entry submitted by Mrs. Phil "Honey" Thornton for the 1952 edition of The
Junior League of Memphis Cookbook.
Good friends and Ackerman residents Marina Loper and Leighanne Horne
attended the class on a girl's night out. Both ladies have read "The Help"
and seen the movie. Loper, the mother of three children, has attended
several Viking classes and said she plans on attending many more. "If I get
to do something for myself, I am going to be here."
Horne said her reason for attending the class based on dishes noted in the
bestselling novel and movie was simply to "learn how to fry chicken."
Hattiesburg resident Diantha Williamson previously attended a Viking cooking
class in Jackson where the focus was preparing healthy luncheons. She and
her husband Nathan were in Greenwood to celebrate Valentine's early, combing
an evening co-laboring over a range with an anticipated stay at the
luxurious Alluvian Hotel.
Jennifer Wilkinson said her favorite part of the school was the fellowship
and having fun. Meeting new friends, being with old friends, and learning
new things summed up the Hattiesburg lawyer's experience.
Her longtime friend and college roommate, Elizabeth Nearn, agreed. "The
fellowship is the best part, and it is fun. Everybody contributing, tasting
and deciding as a group what we thought was the best, and then getting to
eat it at the end. Really, there was nothing we didn't like about the
All 12 students shared during the post-dessert reflection that the
fellowship was the highlight of the evening. Pine Bluff resident David
Bridgforth seemed to sum up the group's collective feelings: "The best part
of the class was getting to meet a lot of nice people and learning to cook