FAIRBANKS — When dining on the plate of the pomegranate, you’ll probably do more than just dine — you might learn a thing or two as well.
That’s the goal behind the cooking demonstrations at Joan Busam’s l’assiette de Pomegranate, which literally translates as “the plate of the pomegranate.” The bakery and bistro in downtown Fairbanks, which owner and chef Busam has been at the helm of since about 2001, offers homemade desserts and soups, and more recently, an ever-expanding cooking class segment that allows Busam to impart her more than 30 years of knowledge she has gained from working in the restaurant industry.
“Running a restaurant requires your blood, guts and soul,” Busam said. “It requires the ability to plan ahead, to organize and to stay current with what’s going on as far as food goes. I’ve always believed in fresh food, even in my home, and I wanted to bring that to Fairbanks, using as much fresh ingredients as I could.”
While de Pomegranate still offers its homemade soups, sandwiches and desserts, Busam has scaled back the days she is open to the public so she can concentrate on her baking and catering. She’s always taught some sort of cooking class at de Pomegranate, but it wasn’t until recently when more people began asking for the classes that she decided to increase their frequency.
“I’ve been teaching on and off for years, and the demand seems to be there,” she said. “I want people to be able to learn technique and try new things and not be intimidated by the kitchen.”
In February, Busam hosted a couple’s cooking class near Valentine’s Day where she taught how to make a champagne risotto with shrimp and balance a citrus salad with the proper amounts of olive oil and pomegranate juice. In March, it was a class teaching you how to make traditional oatmeal scones and glazed corned beef just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day. The classes aren’t all holiday-themed, but those are what seem to draw the most participants, Busam said.
“I generally get a pretty good response to the classes, and sometimes there are bigger classes, sometimes there are smaller classes. I like to keep the number of participants to between 12 and 16 so everyone can see and taste and take part,” she said.
If you attend one of Busam’s cooking classes, don’t go in expecting to flail around with a filet knife or run high-tech kitchen equipment. Liability issues keep the classes more on the cooking demonstration level than actually putting a knife in your hand learning how to slice open a Copper River king salmon.
What you do get is detailed instructions on how to prepare a meal that you might shy away from cooking at your home — and be prepared to sample all you witness in her kitchen.
“I teach a lot of prepping, technique, how to use the tools and how to go about getting ingredients. If you keep certain things in your pantry, you’ll use it,” she said. “We also do lots of sampling. If you taste it, you know what it’s supposed to taste like. I like tweaking the recipes until they’re perfect.”
In addition to the cooking classes, Busam keeps busy in her kitchen with her two hobbies — baking and soups. An array of fresh soups often include a curried cream of carrot, a leek and potato a fresh tomato soup with baby spinach and a sweet potato soup (“It will knock your socks off. People love it,” she said).
Other days, she’s punching out homemade cookies, a variety of cakes and fresh fruit tarts and has started recently expanding her pie baking (“I definitely want to do more pies,” she said).