The first thing to know about Indian cooking, said Sanjiv Dhar, executive chef at and owner of Rasoi in Pawtucket, is that chefs can’t just throw together the ingredients, turn the oven up and go watch a football game.
The lamb dish he was preparing for about a dozen would-be home cooks, he said, would take 45 minutes of carefully adding the correct spices at the right time, watching to make sure they cooked properly. Of course, he told his eager students, there is always room for improvisation, and if they felt like adding something not on the ingredient list they should.
“Our recipes are not airtight,” Dhar said. “That’s not how it works. It is like a canvas and you start painting.” Dhar leads a cooking class at Rasoi, which he opened in 2006 as a sister restaurant to Kabob and Curry, the Thayer Street Indian restaurant he opened in the late 1980s, about once per month.
Dhar, who began offering the classes several years ago, has been at the forefront of a growing national trend.
The National Restaurant Association reported in a presentation it gave at the Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s Economic Outlook breakfast last fall that 33 percent of adults surveyed this year say they would attend a restaurant cooking class, up from 28 percent in the association’s 2011 restaurant industry economic forecast.
That number increases to 43 percent when pointing to adults between 18 and 34 years old.
Also, 54 percent of adults with children in their household said this year they would participate in an interactive cooking demonstration.
In its annual Restaurant Trends Survey for 2011, the association’s annual survey of industry professionals, 12 percent said cooking classes and demonstrations would be the hottest restaurant operational trend that year.
“Like other service-based businesses, the hospitality community is always looking for new ways to serve our guests,” said Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. “I think the real benefit is the loyalty it will foster. For a guest to be able to ‘wow’ their family and friends because of something we taught them is priceless. That is the type of service that will keep them coming back time and time again.”