Serendipity is rarely used in conjunction with knife use, but that’s the only way to describe how I came across a class offered in knife skills just a few weeks ago when I was looking for just such a thing. In early February I was Googling “knife skills class columbia sc” and up popped the page for USC’s Cancer Prevention and Control program, and lo and behold, a knife skills class was being offered at the end of the month! And it wasn’t expensive! And in the description it said that the class would focus on the proper knife techniques for cutting fruits and vegetables (along with how to cut a whole chicken, which of course I didn’t want). But at least it wasn’t meant-centric, like one would likely expect.

I signed up right away to ensure myself a spot in the class and the night before I made sure my materials were clean and ready to go. You needed to take your chef’s knife, a cutting board, and an apron (though they had extras available if you didn’t have your own). The idea was to get used to using your own tools since every knife is made differently.

In case you don’t know where the Cancer Prevention & Control test kitchen is, it’s the large Innovista building right across from the Colonial Life Arena, on the first floor. It’s the fantastic looking kitchen that made me feel like I was in an Ikea kitchen (in a good way- because of the very modern cabinets).

We started out seated around the room while our guest chef for the evening, Robert Stegall-Smith, CEC, ACC went over some basic cuts with us and the importance of uniformity in the size of the pieces we cut. He also showed us some industry tips for presentation and why restaurants plate foods the way they do. The answer to that is usually to fool the eye into thinking there is more on the plate than there actually is, by the way. Think about that next time you’re eating at a nice restaurant!

Then we went over the six recipes we’d be cooking that night and split into teams. I chose to be on the zucchini noodle team so I could try using a mandolin for the first time. Talking to the other two people on my team, they had the same idea as me: to try it out to see if it was worth buying one for the home, or if it was just another kitchen gadget that would get pushed to the wayside after the initial excitement of it wore off. This is what we produced after scraping eight zucchini down the mandolin blade.

We each took turns with the zucs, and in the meantime we used the zucchini middles to practice our dice and julienne cuts.

Our noodles didn’t take very long at all to get together in comparison with the chicken creole another team was cooking, so we wandered around to different stations to see what everyone else was up to. This team was cooking up Moroccan carrots, and they got to use their knives a lot more to diagonal slice carrots, and to mince up fresh herbs and garlic.

Once everything was cooked, we assembled it buffet style and got to taste everyone’s creations! The whole menu included chicken creole (not pictured), zucchini noodles, Moroccan carrots, cabbage rolls, Bahn Xeo (rice crepes), and roasted pineapple. My favorite thing was the cabbage rolls, which really surprised me! I didn’t think I was that big a fan of cabbage, but I definitely will be making these, since I anticipate getting plenty of cabbage in my spring CSA boxes when they start up in mid-April.

Ta da! I loved being around others who also whipped out their cameras to photograph their dinner before they ate it. The social aspect of this class was another great surprise. I met a lot of cool people there who loved cooking and food as much as I did to be taking a class about kitchen skills on a Friday night!

Ms. Katherine Shavo, MS, RD, LD who heads up this project,called the Columbia’s Cooking! classes one of Columbia’s best kept secrets, but it definitely shouldn’t be a secret! There’s a lot to learn from this program.Here is the schedule of upcoming classes and information about the Cancer Prevention & Control Program. It should be updated with more classes once research that is going to be conducted concludes so bookmark it and check back!