NEW BUFFALO — It was a graduate-level class in preparing a Thanksgiving feast offered by the Friends of New Buffalo Library Chef Night at New Buffalo Bill’s BBQ on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

“Professors” for the evening were owners Bill Reynolds and Mary Abbott Hess, with Reynolds at the head of the class and Hess roaming the aisles offering plenty of tastings and helpful commentary. Also assisting with trays of both before and after ingredients were Manager Arturo Lozano and Serving Assistant Denise Briewer.

Before “retiring” and opening New Buffalo Bill’s, both Reynolds and Hess made their names in the world of culinary academics. 

Reynolds had a 25-year career with the Culinary Institute of America and 12 years with the City Colleges of Chicago’s culinary program. His barbeque expertise was learned on his family’s Texas ranch.

Hess is an award-winning author of 10 books and countless articles in professional journals and consumer publications, including what many consider to the “The” textbook for dieticians. With her text “Essentials of Nutrition for Chefs,” Hess became a leader in bringing chefs and dieticians together, something that did not often occur. As Reynolds said in introducing her, “Whatever Mary says about nutrition you can take to the bank.”

Both have also made a name for themselves locally through their contributions to New Buffalo Township Library, fund-raisers such as the Three Oaks Flag Day Pig Roast, and local youth sports banquets.

Upon entering Chef Night, participants received a copy of “Tips for the Best Thanksgiving Ever!” which included the recipes and directions from the evening’s class, along with plate, silverware, napkin and choice of hot cider or wine.

The two-and-a-half-hour lesson began promptly at 6 p.m. with Reynolds telling about his first Thanksgiving dinner class for an adult education program. For that class, he went all out with instructions on preparing a deboned roasted turkey roll, cranberry souffle and other new ideas to try for Thanksgiving. During the follow-up class, however, he found that not one of his students had done anything differently than they had for previous holidays, including one student who still insisted on defrosting her turkey the night before in the bathtub (Reynolds’ advice: plan ahead if using a frozen turkey and allow two to three days to defrost in the refrigerator).

For the Nov. 13 presentation, Reynolds said he had toned down his lesson plan and concentrated more on “stressless” recipes, 75 percent of which can be prepared two to three days ahead of time.

When asked, Reynolds did recall one stressful Thanksgiving from his past. The day started with a turkey dinner for 500 homeless Chicago residents followed by dinner for the family of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after which Reynolds went home and cooked the traditional feast for his own family.

Hess frequently added her dietician’s viewpoint, such as the fact that a typical Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most nutritional dinner menus found. However, she cautioned that a serving of cornbread is 600 calories.  Both said the menus presented during the evening could be prepared, perhaps with slight modifications, anytime of the year.

The evening’s “text” included: how to smoke a turkey, from time and temperatures to sanitation issues; turkey brine, although Reynolds said most turkeys today are already brined by the producer in order to increase the weight at purchase; turkey broth and giblet gravy; New Buffalo Bill’s Sweet Potato Casserole; several recipes for cranberry sauce and relish; wild rice and walnut dressing; corn spoon bread (Thanksgiving version), and green bean casserole topped with frizzled leeks.

The next Friends of the Library (FOL) Chef Night will feature Milda Rudaitis, proprietor of Milda’s Corner Café in Union Pier, on Monday, Dec. 3. The demonstration of making a variety of holiday cookies from one basic Spritz batter will be held in the kitchen at Elsie Earl Studios, 300 W. Buffalo St., New Buffalo, beginning at 6 p.m. The cost for the FOL fundraiser is $35 and reservations should be made by calling the library at (269) 469-2933.

Rudaitis, a graduate of Kendall College which is known for its top culinary and hospitality program, is another local chef with a long reputation gained from her time in the kitchens of many area favorites from Brewster’s and Red Arrow Roadhouse to Casey’s and Bistro on the Boulevard.

For the past 18 years as owner of Milda’s Cafe, she has pleased the plates of local patrons with her wide selection of homemade soups, pastries and sausages made from scratch, Lithuanian and Eastern European dishes and breads. In her store, she carries “things you can use everyday but never find anyplace else.”

For the FOL Chef Night, Rudaitis will take a basic spritz, or butter cookie, recipe and show participants how to shape, top and decorate them in a variety of ways for a full holiday cookie selection.

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