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I f you want to see Daniel Brelsford in action, you could search for the episode of Food Network’s Chopped where—spoiler alert—the Milford chef walks away with the top prize. Or you could sign up for a cooking class and four-course meal at Consiglio’s restaurant on Wooster Street and have Brelsford cook for you in person.

The popular Italian eatery has been offering cooking classes for more than 20 years, says third-generation owner Trish Perrotti. They’ve always been popular, but since Brelsford topped Chopped in 2018, they’ve gotten a “little bump,” she says. Brelsford alternates classes with chef Maureen Nuzzo, who’ll return to the kitchen later this spring.

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I sat down with nine others from New Haven, Hamden and Trumbull on a recent Friday night to see what Brelsford could teach us and to enjoy a meal cooked by Consiglio’s kitchen using the same menu and recipes—a collaboration among Brelsford, Consiglio’s head chefs and Perrotti. Several of my fellow diners had been to Consiglio’s classes before and were excited for another go-’round. Seated in a horseshoe of tables in the rosy, warm light of the restaurant’s bar, we settled in for an evening of laughter, learning and linguini.

Cooking on a single burner at the table in front of us, Brelsford began with a recipe for Baked Fresh Mozzarella that was so easy it made me, not much of a cook, think I might actually go home and try it. The fresh balls of mozzarella were breaded simply with flour, eggs and bread crumbs. But Brelsford offered us a few “insider tricks.” When cutting a rounded piece of cheese, take a small wedge off to make a flat side, creating a more stable surface for cutting. Crack your eggs on a flat surface and “you’ll have a much better chance of a clean crack.” And when breading the cheese, keep one hand wet (for the egg) and one dry (for the flour and breadcrumbs) so you don’t end up making a mess or continually wiping your hands.

These are the same kinds of tips you might pick up from watching a cooking show on TV. But this audience is intimate, and the chef is happy to answer questions along the way. How do you break down the tomatoes? one guest wanted to know, and Brelsford took a little detour to explain.

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The first course demonstration over, Brelsford took his pan into the kitchen to clean it, and the waitstaff brought us our own generous portions of baked mozzarella to try: lightly breaded, with a slight anchovy flavor in the sauce, which was also demonstrated by the chef. They’re entirely different from the mozzarella sticks you’ll find at restaurants or in the freezer section at the supermarket, and it didn’t take us long to devour them.

For the salad course, Brelsford used spinach leaves with strawberries, gorgonzola and pecans in a honey balsamic dressing—the part that requires a recipe. This dressing uses a combination of balsamic and red wine vinegar with olive oil, its flavor enhanced with amber honey, finely crushed garlic, salt, freshly ground black pepper, dried oregano, fresh basil and crushed red pepper. “You don’t want to overdress your salad,” Brelsford advised. He built a gently tossed pile in the center of the plate, going for height because “you’re going to eat with your eyes first,” then gave it a little extra “sexy” dressing at the end.

Now that the wine (not included in the base price) had been flowing for a while, the group loosened up and enjoyed not only the meal but some conversation, a camaraderie that added to the fun of the evening. The questions and compliments were flying, too, punctuating Brelsford’s cooking with exclamations of “yeah!” and “nicely done!” Several times, the chef stepped from behind his table to walk the pan past us so we could see what was happening. What’s an “aromatic”? someone wanted to know after hearing the term a couple of times, and Brelsford explained it’s anything that enhances the aroma or the flavor of a dish.

Our main course was next: Shrimp Consiglio, featuring jumbo shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and artichoke hearts with homemade linguini, all cooked in a sauce of chicken stock, white wine, sautéed garlic, capers, butter, olive oil, Italian parsley, salt and pepper. Now things were getting a little bit more complicated. I learned the term “fond,” for the residue left in the pan after the shrimp have been cooked. Brelsford deglazed the pan with wine to lift this fond and savor every bit of flavor it offers. Once the pasta was plated—built high like the salad, but this time using a twist of fork against spoon—Brelsford reached for a rubber spatula to scrape the pan because, he told us, “you don’t want to wash any flavor down the sink.” All the while, he gamely responded to questions about where to get the best Gulf shrimp, chicken wings and barbecue—the latter two of which had nothing to do with the menu but are among his favorite dishes.

We’d been observing, taking notes, asking questions and eating for nearly two hours, but there were still cannoli to look forward to. One woman’s father was a baker, and she recognized the metal tube Brelsford showed us for wrapping the cannoli dough around while deep frying. If deep frying sounds like a lot of work and mess, Brelsford agrees. “There are some things to buy, some things to make,” he says. Cannoli shells, he told us, are worth buying. Our tutorial was focused instead on the filling: ricotta impastada (“into a paste”) cheese, confectionary sugar, milk and chocolate chips. Brelsford showed us what kind of pastry bags to buy, how to fold down the edges before filling and how to press the paste in before cutting the tip (a big-enough hole to allow the chips to pass through). Timing is everything for good cannoli, he says. They should be prepared right before eating, or they’ll be soggy. “This is one of those things where you have to excuse yourself from your guests.”

“They’re not too sweet. They’re excellent,” one guest raved after we got our own plates of cannoli—again, a generous serving. The evening ended with applause, recipes to take home and, in some cases, delicious leftovers.

Consiglio’s Cooking Classes
165 Wooster St, New Haven (map)
(203) 865-4489
$75 per person; reservations required
www.consigliosrestaurant.com/cooking-classes

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Join her this month on Goodreads for a guided winter reading of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.

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