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Christmas and food go together. It’s like Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus”inseparable. Many of us don’t even know what mistletoe is, but we do know viscerally that smell of a hot kitchen in late December, and how warmth and family just go together. A recent demonstration at the Flav’our Cooking School, 7401 W. Madison, provided that blend of family orientation, festive atmosphere and, of course, food.

With Christmas carols playing softly on overhead speakers, the demonstration, headed by Chef Eryn Keuer, tackled an impressive and variegated Asian noodle favorites menu of Thai garlic noodles, grilled shrimp Udon noodle salad, Vietnamese beef noodle soup, and chow fun with Chinese smoked 5-spice pork.

The pleasant mood was enhanced by the relaxed student social atmosphere created by the always entertaining Keuer who, while cutting green onions, made the comment, “I keep my fingers curled, because I don’t feel like losing one, especially in the middle of class.” The earthy-colored well-lit dream kitchen also establishes the mood of a positive learning atmosphere where students get to learn the tricks of the food trade. For example, don’t buy the “fresh” shrimp that stores put out for display. It actually usually comes straight from a frozen shrimp bag that they have opened up and poured into the display case and marked up to a higher price. The customer does not know how long the shrimp has been put out in that fashion and there is also the added disadvantage that that shrimp has had contact with a variety of other fish. Your best bet: buy the frozen shrimp bag in the frozen food section.

Another example is her recommendations on where to buy food. Her recommendations on where she gets her choice cuts of meat include Whole Foods and “a lot of the meat packing plants and fish houses in Chicago” on Halsted. “You do end up paying for it, of course,” she added. One of the students chimed in “Ed’s Way” in Forest Park as a high recommendation.

Keuer is full of these helpful tidbits, but one of the benefits is getting to network with the other students on favorite recipes, store recommendations, and other cooking tips, so wise students brought a small scratch pad for notes and a personable attitude.

Prices for classes at Flav’our range anywhere from roughly $15 to $240 depending on if you take demonstration, lecture, couple, hands-on, and/or weekend intensive classes. But a key perk of several of the classes is that you get to not only learn how to cook, but also get to eat. And if you want, you can even split a bottle of Williamette Valley Pinot Noir for $24 and sip and learn.

Some hot January classes that could make good December Christmas gifts include their Culinary Boot Camp I and II on January 21 and 22, which is a hands-on weekend intensive course covering cooking basics including stir frying, braising, and roasting, and their Sous Chefs and Teens Cook Winter Camps January 3-6, which are two day weekday courses for young chefs wanting to learn “land & sea” dishes and culinary/baking 101 basics.

Adults can enjoy courses for post-teens (and very post-teens) by taking the January 30 Seafood Celebration course or the January 31 Cast Iron Cooking course, among a long list of monthly options several of which are geared towards healthy cooking. “Holiday-wise, these are going to be really fun for adults,” said co-owner Denise Norton.

Alena Weicher of Riverside is a satisfied customer of the more advanced cooking classes. Weicher explained, “It’s kind of like putting a restaurant in a cooking class.” Warm and friendly as the soup she got to sip on throughout the day, Alena spoke excitedly about the school. “It’s better than a restaurant,” Alena continued, “We’re thrilled. We love coming here. Obviously.”

The “obviously” is added as Alena and her husband of two-and-a-half years Mike Weicher are dedicated regulars, having taken courses at Flav’our since the Cooking School opened December 5, 2002. The Weichers even followed Norton from the previous school where she was teaching.

Norton, along with partner Christine Malone, opened up Flav’our because they were fans of the Forest Park area, particularly the village’s ever-burgeoning Madison Street.

“There’s so much happening on this street,” said Norton. On moving from Oak Park, Norton added, “It’s been so much easier to own a business and operate a business in Forest Park.” Norton showed her enthusiasm for Madison Street by participating wholeheartedly in the recent December 2 Holiday Walk by working hard on a live window display for the event that focused upon an impressive gingerbread house.

Having grown up in Oak Park/River Forest herself, Chicagoan Keuer is equally excited about working in and returning to the Forest Park area. “It’s amazing how much things have changed. It’s grown tremendously. It’s definitely very exciting to see,” said Keuer, “I’m really happy doing this right now.”

Norton and Keuer are two-thirds of the chefs that teach at Flav’our and their resumes are imposing. Norton has two degrees from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (on Chestnut and Orleans): an Associate’s in Culinary Arts and a Certificate in Baking and Pastries. She has also been featured regularly on the Food Network. Keuer has an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts and a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from Illinois State University.

“It goes to show that women are taking over,” Bergenske said of the twelve female employees at Flav’our and the continued growth of female businesses in Forest Park, adding, “It used to be a bachelor pad around here. Now it’s a Maxi-pad.”

Cooking enthusiasts though will more likely view Flav’our as a heating pad”for both hearts and stomachs, as well as carrying trays of tenderloin with pomegranate merlot sauce (and maybe a little mistletoe on the side).

Flav’our can be reached by phone at 488-0808 or on the web at www.flavourcookingschool.com. Hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. or weekend hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.