Chef all fired up for grilling class

The Baltimore Sun

Scott Opdyke learned to fend for himself in the kitchen at an early age.

His mother worked as a medical technician at Franklin Square hospital, and his father blew up hot dogs in the microwave for dinner, he said.

"With my mom working, I either had to learn how to cook, or eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," said Opdyke, of Bel Air.

In no time, the budding chef was making fried egg sandwiches.

He's come a long way since then.

In May 2007, Opdyke, 26, was named the executive chef of the Mountain Branch Grill & Pub in Joppa, where he gave his first solo cooking class last week.

Called "Simply Grilling with Chef Scott, " the two-hour class at the restaurant was attended by 18 people who wanted to learn how to cook a gourmet meal on a grill.

"Grilling was my first cooking outlet," he said. "I think it goes back to my Boy Scout fascination with fire."

The menu for the day was a summer spinach salad, spice-rubbed shrimp, polenta, pancetta-wrapped asparagus, grilled corn on the cob, chipotle honey pork, and grilled pineapple and vanilla ice cream. Each course of the dinner was served with a matching wine selection.

"Wine tastings and wine events are becoming popular at golf courses, and other outside venues," said Vincent Saguto Jr., regional sales manager for the Mid-Atlantic Region for Click Wine Group, a Seattle-based wine import company.

Started eight years ago, shortly after Mountain Branch Golf Course and the Grill & Pub opened, the classes are designed to help people see Mountain Branch as more than just a place to golf, said Erienne Sutherell, the restaurant manager.

"We started the classes to give guests a chance to see the culinary side of Mountain Branch," Sutherell said. "We wanted to give people a chance to come here, take a class, and take what they learned home and try it."

The class took place on an outdoor deck overlooking the picturesque golf course, with tables arranged with formal place settings, and information packets that included recipe cards for each item on the chef's grilling menu.

Opdyke set up behind a stainless-steel grill.

"My main focus today is to teach you how to make these items at home, on the grill, in a timely fashion," said Opdyke, who graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, in Montpelier, Vt., in 2002.

Opdyke started his cooking career as a 16-year-old, washing pots and pans, he said.

"It was three years before they let me touch a knife or turn on a grill," he said. "But I was passionate about cooking. It was in my soul."

During his time at the culinary institute, he went to school for six months and then completed two internships for six months. He said he worked at various jobs, including stints at Mountain Branch, and Bob Kinkead's Colvin Run Tavern in Vienna, Va. He originally left Mountain Branch, where he was a sous chef, because he wanted to experience cooking in a high-volume restaurant, he said. But when he was offered the executive chef position at the Grill & Pub, he returned.

"My passion for cooking helped me realize a dream to be an executive chef," he said. "It takes most people 30 years to achieve that dream, but I did it in 10 years," he said.

After acclimating himself to where everything was behind the grill, he started the class by preparing several things to be used later. First, he threw two, plump red peppers on the grill and said, "I like cooking these peppers like this, because you can burn them, and then use them."

He dazzled the audience with his cooking techniques that included how to properly cut onions and shallots, and how to make shrimp stand up on the grill.

Fred Johnson took part in the class as a belated 45th-birthday present from his wife, Twyla Johnson. Somewhat of a grilling aficionado, Johnson said it was the first grilling class he had attended. He said he learned a lot.

Johnson, of Rosedale, said he plans to use what he learned when he cooks out on his grill this weekend.

"The class was very educational," he said. "I learned some new ways to do things, such as how to properly make a vinaigrette dressing and how to soak brine."

The class continued with Opdyke doing regular tasks such as wrapping asparagus in pancetta, and peeling the husks of the corn on a cob down like a banana, while making both actions look like an art form.

As he worked, he sprinkled a dash of several spices on his entrees.

"One of the things that makes a good chef is proper seasoning," he said. "If nothing else, use salt, pepper and honey. Layer those flavorings on your food, and you can't go wrong."

The best part of the class was the interaction with the chef, Johnson said.

"It was like watching the Iron Chef, but then being able to taste the food," he said.

The next class will be Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. at the Mountain Branch Grill & Pub, 1827 Mountain Road, Joppa. The cost is $60 and reservations must be made in advance. To attend a class call 410-836-9600, ext. 3.

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