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Art of the Meal cooking school mixes food and new friendships

Art of the Meal in Marble Falls

Head chef Lexy Holloman (left) and Art of the Meal owner Ginger Sprouse prepared shaved carrots with charred dates and butternut squash tarte tatin in a trial run before the Thanksgiving turkey, gravy, and sides class Nov. 12. Staff photo by David Bean

Eyes closed, mouth gently chewing, Ginger Sprouse sighed as she tasted the latest twist on a Thanksgiving side dish in the kitchen at Art of the Meal in Marble Falls. 

“I am in my happy place,” she said. 

Opening her eyes, the cooking school owner turned her fork and palms to the sky and looked to Lexy Holloman, the head chef. 

“You know what this needs?” she asked. “Toasted almonds.” 

Which is how the dishes taught at Art of the Meal evolve. 

“I don’t necessarily have recipes I use verbatim from a cookbook,” Sprouse said. “That’s where I get my ideas.”

Sprouse and Holloman teach public and private classes, each with different recipes for every lesson. November classes were on variations of traditional Thanksgiving side dishes and holiday baking. December offers holiday-themed classes, too, which are posted on the school’s website at artofthemeal.net

“I don’t repeat the menus,” Sprouse said. “Every month, I recreate everything from scratch. It’s always new. I make it hard on myself, but it’s more fun that way.”

The classes use fresh ingredients, many grown in a garden at Sprouse’s home in Spicewood. While preparing the dish Sprouse was tasting, Holloman decided to add mint. She slipped out the kitchen door to snip some leaves for a salad from the herb garden in the back.

“I like to cook with bright colors and fresh herbs and spices,” Sprouse said. “That’s huge in cooking.”

Sprouse taught herself to cook at a young age. 

“I was just trying to survive because my mother did not love (cooking),” she said. “When the kids were born, I wanted them to have healthy, good food, so I learned to make everything from scratch. I’m really very self-taught.” 

She has been teaching cooking classes for seven years — five in Houston. She brought Holloman into the Marble Falls business in June. 

Holloman trained at The Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, graduating with honors in 2019. Having worked in a variety of restaurants in different states, Holloman declared the Art of the Meal gig her favorite. 

“Most of the time, working in a kitchen, it’s just you on the line and you don’t get to really see how people are reacting,” she said. “It’s just you and food. It’s nice to interact with people here and help them feel confident in the kitchen — and see their faces while they are enjoying food. I love to make people feel happy with food.” 

Conversing and enjoying food with others drew Sprouse to the business after she and husband Dean had a date night at a cooking class with friends. They were living in Houston at the time. 

She loved it so much, she started her own version, which she ran successfully for five years. When the couple decided to retire to the Highland Lakes, she sold every last soup spoon. 

“I was done,” she said. “Then, I saw this building come on the market and it was perfect. I asked my husband, ‘How do you feel about me starting over?’”

Eighteen months into Art of the Meal, she is busier than she can handle, which is why she brought Holloman on board. 

However, creating culinary masterpieces and running a successful business are not the real drivers behind Art of the Meal. It’s the camaraderie. 

“It’s a great way to meet people,” Sprouse said. “I want people to come here and have an amazing time.” 

That includes kids, too. Art of the Meal runs a series of weeklong children’s camps all summer, each one featuring different recipes and cooking skills. In early 2023, she plans to debut a budding chef’s program, a six-week boot camp that will teach “everything from knife skills to breaking down a chicken to making soufflé,” she said. 

The boot camp would be one night a week for six weeks for only eight students. 

“I want it to be 100-percent hands-on,” Sprouse said. 

Private classes can be one person, a couple, or a group. The most common groups are families, which come in to cook together and bond over a custom menu. 

“For private lessons, I want to know: What do you love? What are you interested in? What do you want to do?” she said. “You get a 100-percent custom menu.”

Group classes are for 16 people at a time. Four people are assigned to a large steel table, where all the preparations take place before dishes move to the industrial ovens and stovetops in the kitchen. Meals are plated and eaten at the steel tables. 

“When you walk in, we have everything prepared,” Sprouse said. “We have wine and appetizers ready to go, and we get to know each other before we start to cook. The attitude we greet people with sets the tone of the whole evening. It’s very important to me for people to feel comfortable.” 

The evenings always end with new friendships formed and new recipes to take home and try with family and friends. 

“It’s so much fun,” Sprouse said. “I feel like we get to have a dinner party every weekend.” 

Art of the Meal is located at 1005 N. Main St. in Marble Falls. Call 713-933-8241 or visit artofthemeal.net for more information. 

RECIPES

Shaved carrots with charred dates

8 servings

  • 1½ lb purple or orange carrots, trimmed, scrubbed, shaved on a mandoline or very thinly sliced into rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large blood oranges or 2 small grapefruits
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 10 Medjool dates
  • Tarragon leaves (for serving)

Place carrots in a large bowl, season generously with salt, and toss to coat. Let sit at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour to soften slightly. Pour off any liquid that collects in the bowl.

Meanwhile, cut peel and white pith from oranges. Working your way around, cut citrus flesh off cores in lobes. Cut each lobe into large pieces and place in a medium bowl; set aside. Squeeze cores over a small bowl to extract any juice (you want 2 Tbsp; discard or drink any extra). Discard cores. Whisk oil, lime juice, and vinegar into orange juice; season with salt.

Pour half of dressing over carrots and let sit, tossing occasionally, until ready to serve. Set remaining dressing aside.

Heat a small skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high. Cook dates, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots, about 3 minutes. Let cool; remove pits.

Just before serving, pour off excess liquid from carrots and discard (carrots will have softened by now). Drizzle reserved dressing over carrots and toss to coat. Tear dates into bite-size pieces; add to carrots along with reserved oranges and toss to combine. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Top with tarragon.

Butternut squash tarte tatin

Harissa Paste

  • 10 dried New Mexico chiles (or other large dried chile with mild-to-medium spiciness)
  • 7 dried chiles de arbol (increase for more heat, decrease for less heat)
  • 1 Tbsp (heaping) cumin seeds (or sub slightly less ground; if using ground, skip toasting step)
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds (or sub slightly less ground; if using ground, skip toasting step)
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (not essential, but added to most traditional harissa)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste (or sub finely chopped sundried tomatoes)
  • ¼ cup olive oil (if avoiding oil, sub water or omit)

Add dried chilies to a mixing bowl or measuring cup and cover with hot water. Once submerged, cover and steam for 15-20 minutes to rehydrate. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add cumin and coriander seeds to a small skillet and toast over medium heat for a few minutes, or until fragrant and they start to pop. Then, transfer to a mortar and pestle (if you don’t own one, just add to a food processor to mix later) and crush into a fine powder.

Next, add caraway seeds, minced garlic, smoked paprika, and salt and mix. Then, add lemon juice and vinegar and mix again until you’ve achieved a paste. Transfer paste to food processor and add the tomato paste. Set aside.

Once chiles are rehydrated, drain and remove the stems and seeds. Then, add to food processor. At this point, all ingredients (besides olive oil) should be in the food processor.

Blend for 1-2 minutes, scraping down sides as needed until a smooth paste is achieved. Then, stream in ¼ cup of olive oil while blending to create a saucier consistency (see photo). (Add more oil (or water) as needed until desired consistency is achieved.)

Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more lemon or vinegar for acidity, paprika for smokiness, tomato paste for depth of flavor, or salt to taste. If it’s not spicy enough at this point, you can either add more chiles de arbol (rehydrated and seeds removed) or cayenne pepper to taste.

Squash

  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¼-inch rounds
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 Tbsp thyme leaves
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp salted butter
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp harissa paste
  • puff pastry
  • salt and pepper
  • small handful of mint leaves to serve

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put nice big chunks of butternut squash into a roasting tin, seeds and all. Add coriander seeds, thyme, and 2 tablespoons of oil, then mix well. Spread out evenly and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes, turning halfway through.

Meanwhile, put remaining oil along with the butter, maple syrup, and cumin seeds in an ovenproof frying pan over medium heat. Heat, swirling until bubbling, for about a minute, then remove from heat and add the harissa paste. Arrange roasted squash slices flat on the base of the frying pan on top of the mixture. Use all of the slices, adding a second layer if necessary. Allow to cool slightly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry until it is large enough to cover the frying pan. Using the rolling pin to pick up the pastry, carefully drape it over the squash, letting the edges overhang the sides of the pan. Trim away all excess pastry with scissors, leaving about 1 centimeter (½ inch) all the way around to allow for “shrinking” as it cooks. Tuck the overhanging pastry between the squash and frying pan. Make a few slits in the pastry to let the steam out.

Bake for 30 minutes until brown. Leave to cool for 10 minutes. Place a lipped serving plate upside down over the pastry. Then, using oven gloves, carefully flip the whole thing over. Remove the pan, replacing any escaped pieces of squash if needed. Scatter with mint leaves and serve.

suzanne@thepicayune.com