NEW YORK -- Cooking dairy-free was the subject of one of Fairway Market's Master Classes recently, held in the second-floor cafe at the store's Broadway and 74th Street location, which opened here last year.
The hour-and-a-half class, conducted by chef/author Louis Lanza, focused on soy and Asian products, and demonstrated how to make such dishes as mashed potatoes without any milk, butter or cream.
Fairway frequently hosts well-known chefs, who donate their services to charity. All proceeds of the class fees, which just went up from $35 to $40 per person, are given to CityMeals-on-Wheels.
"It's something every store should be doing," said Steve Jenkins, Fairway's cheese expert, who sets up the Master Class programs and teaches some classes himself. Food retailers that don't offer classes are not maximizing their effect on the community, Jenkins told SN.
It's difficult to track exactly the effect of the classes on Center Store sales, "but, after a class, the store gets busy," said Brian Riesenburger, Fairway general manager. Fairway has been offering the classes for about four years, first at its uptown location, and then switching to downtown since the Broadway market first expanded in 1997.
Lanza is the chef/owner of three restaurants in Manhattan, including Josie's Restaurant & Juice Bar, which serves no dairy, and co-author of "Totally Dairy-Free Cooking," which came out this year from William Morrow & Co. here.
On the day of SN's visit he demonstrated a menu of a pan-seared black bean -- made with canned beans -- dumpling appetizer with dipping sauce, a chopped vegetable salad, seared tuna in sesame seeds with miso tofu vinaigrette, and whipped potatoes made with soy milk, soy margarine, scallions and wasabi powder.
Dessert was biscotti made with spelt flour, served with ice-cold vanilla-flavored soy milk. Lanza recommended the Soy Delicious ice cream Fairway carries, and said he serves it in his restaurant, and that people can't detect its difference from regular ice cream.
All these ingredients were in the store to be purchased after the class ended, by customers using a special one-day discount pass that gave 10% off anything purchased that day.
The class began promptly at 7:30 p.m. and ended about 9 p.m., with many attendees lining up to buy Lanza's cookbook and have him sign it. The cookbook was priced at $22.50 instead of the regular price of $25.
After class, SN's undercover reporter spent $30 on organic sesame tahini, brown rice vinegar, tamari soy sauce, mirin, and ponzu sauce -- all of which were used in just the appetizer, and some other items as well, such as Shiloh Farm whole wheat couscous, Fairway's brand of organic balsamic vinegar ($3.99), and Arrowhead Mills hulled sesame seeds.
The cafe area at Fairway can accommodate about 50 to 60 people. The chef works on a butcher block and with a hot plate, facing the crowd. Mirrors above him allow everyone to see. Attendees sit on tin chairs, which were closely spaced at tables.
At each place is a manila envelope with a "Fairway, Like No Other Market!" sticker on it, and the recipes for the class are inside, along with a description of the CityMeals-on-Wheels charity, and, in this case, a postcard from Josie's Restaurant & Juice Bar, 300 Amsterdam Ave. at 74th Street, and the 10%-off discount pass to Fairway.
"I'm a serious cook. I cook healthy," Lanza told his students, also adding that he shops at Fairway for its "best supply of organic and natural foods."
Lanza said his philosophy is to "serve food that is good for you, looks good and tastes good." His manner was brisk but friendly, informally answering questions about food and diet, some of which he referred to his marketing director, a woman he introduced as a nutritionist.
"We have redefined the image of health food," he continued. "We don't just go after the vegetarians. We appeal to the masses." He said he has been cooking without dairy products for the last 10 years, and eating that way as well. His serum cholesterol has gone down in that time, to about 125 now, and he's lost 15 pounds, too, he said.