It is never too late to learn, and you are never too old to learn.
How many times have we all heard that old adage?
The wise saying came to mind recently when I received a verbal invitation from my friend, Joan Gallagher, to come and check out one of the spring Wallingford-Swarthmore Community Classes. The classes, which usually run one day a week on a Monday or Thursday for about eight weeks, teach all kinds of subjects. Classes are held in the evening at Strath Haven High School and in the daytime at Swarthmore Community Center and other locations.
The classes are for adults over 18, and the topics taught are varied. This spring, the Wallingford-Swarthmore Community Classes offered everything from learning the ukulele, creating stained glass, 10 steps to a healthy garden and bird watching to baking bread, embroidery 101, playwriting, country line dancing and still-life drawing. In any given season, classes may explore languages, cooking, wine, crafting, music, art, film, technology, dance, writing, practical skills, nature, exercise, mental and physical well-being and more.
In the past, some other local towns have had adult learning classes like these at high schools. Through the years, I personally have taken a “how to polka” class with my sister, a ballroom dancing class with my husband, a Learning QuickBooks for small businesses class, also with my husband, a cake decorating class, a photography class and a few others. These classes are always stimulating and fun because everyone there is anxious to learn a new skill or subject. They definitely add some zest to your weeknights and give you something enriching to look forward to each week. In fact, my sister and I still get up at every family wedding to dance a polka or two, but that’s another whole story!
One of the cool parts of the W-S classes is that they take some of them out of the high school and into the community, creating classrooms without walls. The class that I attended last week was one of those at Margaret Kuo’s Media on State Street. The class was advertised as “Master Classes with Margaret Kuo,” and last Thursday was “Learn How to Make Sushi.” I’m personally not a big sushi fan (I kept hush-hush about that while in the class), but my millennial daughter eats it so often that I think one day she may turn into a piece of sushi. I thought the class sounded interesting and fun. Learning this new skill would prove extra stimulating because it was learning something completely outside of my own little world.
When the class was over, I asked the adult students who attended if they were going to try what they learned at home. The answer from all 12 students was a resounding, “Yes!”
The class was limited to 12 so that participants could have an intimate, hands-on experience. Taught by chef and restaurateur Margaret Kuo, chef Kan Chang and sushi chef Jim Chang, the class began with a lesson about the history and origin of sushi and a discussion of many things that none of us knew about Japanese cuisine in general. The chefs told us about the importance of using sticky rice with the proper consistency and 4.6 PH level and then provided tips on making the rice. They also told us about the ingredients that they chose for the sushi and emphasized the need for very fresh fish. The team of chefs, very ably assisted by server Joey Huang and restaurant manager Andy Seang, also described the technique that would be used to make Kuo’s famous sushi. There is a popular sushi bar inside Margaret Kuo’s Media, where customers stop in night and day for the artistic culinary delight.
At the start of class, every participant put on their gloves and was given a flat sheet of bamboo, a set of chopsticks and a plate of ingredients that included tuna, salmon, shrimp in tempura batter, crab meat, cucumber, bean curd, seaweed (“one of the most nutritious foods in the world”) and avocado. The chefs came around the room and gave us all palm-ful portions of the sticky rice that we were to work onto the sheets of seaweed to begin. They provided us with tips, like not to press too hard or it takes the air out and the sushi will not be as airy and light as it should be. We were then taught the knack of rolling, using the bamboo to press as we rolled. It was all in the wrist action!
“I don’t expect you to be professionals,” Margaret said chuckling. “But please remember not to play with the rice or the fish too long when making your sushi or you will compromise the taste.”
Throughout the entire sushi-making process, we learned how to successfully combine the ingredients and roll the sticky rice, seafood and other authentic ingredients to create our own sushi, Japan’s renowned contribution to the culinary arts. The California roll is the most popular, we were told. The culinary team talked throughout the class, giving us tips, answering questions and providing insight. As the chefs cut our sushi rolls with precision, we even learned that chefs can pay over $1,000 for one knife. Chef Kan has been at Margaret Kuo’s for over 20 years.
“This was such a treat to teach this class,” Margaret smiled. “I am always happy to do anything for our community. I really wanted to teach everyone something that they will learn and remember.”
When we all had picture perfect-looking sushi, we were allowed to dig in. The Kuo team bought around some dipping sauces like wasabi and teriyaki, but we were cautioned about using too much and covering the fresh flavors. I was so proud of my creation and thought that it looked so beautiful that I almost hated to break into it and taste it. But I did, and I was not disappointed — it was delicious, even for a non-sushi eater like myself. We had a plate of ginger on the side to clean our palates in between eating the different varieties of our sushi. We created tuna sushi, salmon sushi, inari (bean curd skin) sushi, shrimp tempura roll and a California roll. Margaret told us that traditional Japanese dishes are simple and natural. In Japanese culture, diners are supposed to taste the fish so you don’t want to overpower it with stronger flavors from other foods.
“My dad always makes sushi,” said student Michael Matotek. “Now I can’t wait to also give it a try!”
The other classmates seemed equally pleased with their new knowledge. In fact, after class, they lingered a bit to exchange ideas of where they shop and how they cook. It was neat to see that they met new friends in the community, bonding over their fondness of Asian cuisine.
When we finished our homemade sushi meal, we were treated to green tea ice cream. As we chatted over the ice cream, I found out a few interesting facts about Margaret and her husband, Warren, who own “Best of Philly” restaurants in Media, Wayne and Malvern, with their restaurant being the only suburban restaurant that is featured in the 2018 Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival that will take place this week in Philadelphia. The Kuos will present a Kaiseki dinner at Margaret Kuo’s Wayne on April 13 at 7 p.m. For more info on the festival, visit subarucherryblossom.org.
The big scoop that Margaret told me was that she finally inked the deal to go back to Granite Run Mall, the location where her first restaurant, Peking, began her restaurant dynasty. Of course, it won’t be called the Granite Run Mall anymore but instead the Promedade at Granite Run Mall, a mixed-use development of restaurants, medical offices, entertainment, shops and apartments. Kuo will return with the all-new Margaret Kuo’s Kitchen. The restaurant will be more contemporary in design and offerings and offer outdoor dining when weather permits.
“The atmosphere will be casual,” Kuo shared, “and attractive to younger people. We hope to also offer a marketplace there with prepared foods, as well as a sushi bar and a rice and noodle bar. We will have lots of different foods. I am really excited about it!”
If all goes according to plan, Margaret Kuo’s Kitchen should be up and running by October or November, she said.
On April 19, Kuo will teach another Wallingford-Swarthmore Community Class, A Chinese Sampler, again at her restaurant. For more than 50 years, the Wallingford Swarthmore Community Classes (WSCC) have served the community with educational programs for adult learners. You don’t have to live in Wallingford or Swarthmore to take advantage. The classes are open to everyone. The WSCC organization is run by volunteers who form its governing board. Their duty is to ensure that a wide array of interesting, accessible and affordable adult enrichment classes and seminars, usually about 50 each semester, are offered during fall and spring semesters. The board also oversees the registration process and administrative tasks, as well as seeks to recruit qualified instructors for a variety of subjects. For more information about the classes, email email@example.com or visit wscclasses.org or call 610-566-5786.
When I went home that night after class, I couldn’t help but brag a little to my sushi-loving daughter and attempt to impress her with all my newly acquired knowledge of this Japanese culinary art.
“Stop it,” she laughed. “You’re making me so hungry for it now.”
I couldn’t help it — I was just so proud that I suddenly was this amateur walking, talking sushi expert. Plus, I never before realized that lifelong learning could ever taste so good!
Readers can reach Peg DeGrassa at firstname.lastname@example.org.