DOUGH’s classroom kitchen was designed to look and feel like a typical home kitchen, says the chef and owner Brian Ross. And it’s probably true that many of us would be familiar with the wooden countertops and spice racks, gas stoves and cast iron skillets at the North Asheville bakery and classroom. It won’t take long, however, to notice some key differences between DOUGH’s kitchen space and your own.
Wow, you may think, there’s so much room to spread out. And, how convenient — all of my ingredients are already measured out for me. But wait a minute, where are the dirty dishes disappearing off to? You glance through the row of sauces and spices along the wall. What recipe calls for butternut squash seed oil? I didn’t know pistachio oil even existed.
Equipped with a teacher (who is most likely a professional chef), kitchen assistants and all the appliances and ingredients you could ever need, DOUGH’s classroom kitchen is sort of like your kitchen at home — only better. But the important thing, according to Ross, is that it’s not intimidating. “It’s a very user-friendly space,” says Ross. “It’s what you would find at home and that’s comforting.”
DOUGH’s cooking classes are offered a few times a week and represent a range of offerings from Indian street food to rustic tarts to a two-day croissant workshop. There are even parent-child cooking classes.
A class that took place on Feb. 5 featured authentic Italian lasagna from the region of Bologna. The 3-hour class is taught by Emi Chiappa-Starnes. She may not be formally trained, but with parents from Sicily and a cookbook in the works, her background in Italian cooking is extensive.
At the start of the course, students are quiet and diligently taking notes. Soon, however, attendees are able to do some of the cooking themselves. People speak up and throw out questions as Chiappa-Starnes stands at the front of the class next to a portable burner and an overhead mirror, demonstrating to the class how to “let the meat sweat.”
“She’s not a chef,” Ross says, “but she knows how to do this stuff. That’s why her classes sell out.” Jill and Joe Lawrence enjoy cooking and have attended about seven classes at DOUGH so far, and Chiappa-Starnes is one of their favorite teachers. “I look online and see what there is, see if I can pick up anything new,” says Joe.
Students range from regulars to tourists traveling through Asheville. Many classes fill up soon after they are posted on DOUGH’s website, and the maximum attendance is generally 12 people per class. “The chefs have their own followings,” says Ross. “They become known.” And then there are a few people who “come for everything,” he says. Kimberly Coleman has taken about 30 classes at DOUGH since the bakery started offering them in March.
In addition to the cooking classes, DOUGH is a market, bakery and now a restaurant — sort of. It offers some pre-made meals and side dishes, as well as gourmet sandwiches and pizzas, in addition to larger entrees meant to be “takeaways.” The market also offers gourmet grocery items, many of which are used as ingredients in the cooking classes. Since it opened last February, DOUGH has also expanded to offer more seating. “It was never designed to be a restaurant, but that’s what people wanted to do,” Ross says. Especially during the breakfast and lunch hours, Ross says, “it’s crazy the amount of people who come in here.”
All of DOUGH’s offerings reflect the career path and interests of its chef and owner. Ross began his career baking bread, and moved on into the restaurant world. “I didn’t want to be pinned down to one thing,” Ross says. “I like to teach, I like to bake. The whole market concept was a way to do all the things I like. It was my way to parlay all the different talents I had into something that was the grind of a restaurant.”
“Twenty four hours a day there’s something going on here,” Ross says. “It’s a food factory.”