Chef holds class for dementia patients, caregivers

The audience watched intently as Gino Sclafani, corporate chef for Ruffino’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge, demonstrated cooking tips, such as how to cut a jalapeño or bell pepper so the seeds stay with the core and how to cut an onion into perfect dice.

As he chopped, he also discussed knive sharpening — “use the wrists not the whole arm to keep from cutting your fingers” — and how to make a roux for the crawfish etouffee the 25 audience members were about to eat.

“If you’re making gumbo, you want a dark roux but for other dishes, you only need it tan for a nutty flavor,” he said during the Feb. 5 class.

Sclafani, younger brother of Peter Sclafani III, executive chef and co-owner of Ruffino’s Restaurant, 18811 Highland Road, Baton Rouge, and the soon-to-open Ruffino’s on the River in Lafayette, has plenty of practice in how to conduct a cooking class. The Sclafani brothers each month host cooking classes at the restaurant. The monthly demonstration-style classes, limited to 40 cooking enthusiasts, include a multiple-course dinner with wine pairings. Often, those monthly classes showcase molecular gastronomy techniques and other cooking trends to produce new flavors and textures.

But, Peter Sclafani didn’t gear the Feb. 5 menu for “foodies.” Instead, he was asked for a Mardi Gras theme tailored for a group participating in a program that the Junior League of Baton Rouge’s TLC Committee hosts for caregivers and their loved ones with moderate to high-functioning Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. “We shortened the class and no wine was served, but they went through a regular cooking class,” Peter Sclafani said.

The menu included Boudin Balls with Dijon Honey Mustard, Creole Shrimp & Corn Soup, Crawfish Etouffee and Brandy’s King Cake.

The Junior League has been collaborating with the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area/Charlie’s Place for more than six years to offer Tender Loving Care events where families have opportunities to meet others who share the same experiences, said Dana Territo, director of services for Alzheimer’s Services.

It provides a nonjudgmental environment where everyone knows what they’re going through, explained Katherine Schillings, program coordinator for Alzheimer’s Services who works with the Junior League to plan the TLC outings. “It’s a chance to get them to smile. The caregivers look forward to this.”

Donna Kimball-Lerma attended the cooking class with her mother, Dorothy Kimball. “This is the first time I’ve come to a (TLC) program, but Mom went to the last event with the ’50s theme,” Kimball-Lerma said. “My sister, Brenda Dunnagan of Denham Springs, took Mom and she kept on singing the praises of the program.” The two sisters share care for their mother.

“I thought the (cooking) program was fabulous,” Kimball-Lerma said. “My daddy was an avid cook. She (Dorothy Kimball) did sweets and vegetables and she did all the chopping.”

Luz Barona, who cares for her husband Narses Barona, also enjoyed the class. “All the programs the Junior League has organized are wonderful,” she said. “They put so much effort into it. It’s remarkable. The love and support they show to the group is fantastic.”

Like with the restaurant’s regular cooking classes, the chef worked from behind several tables holding his cooking equipment, including a large chopping block and burners. A camera and large screen set-up allowed everyone to see what he was chopping or mixing.

“When making the etouffee, you can use water instead of shrimp or crawfish stock,” Gino Sclafani told the group, “but you will have to add more salt. We only use fresh crawfish. Be sure to squeeze the bag to get all the (crawfish) fat.”

He also pointed out that he was using green bell pepper instead of the sweeter red bell pepper in the tomato-based etouffee because he wanted the contrasting color.

He then turned the class over to “pastry chef” Brandy Gabel, who actually is the restaurant’s bookkeeper, to show how to make a simple, kid-friendly king cake with canned crescent roll dough. “With my kids it’s more about the filling and less about the cake,” she said in explaining why she makes her king cake with a convenience product.

For more information about Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area and its programs, call (225) 334-7494.

For information about Ruffino’s upcoming cooking classes, call the restaurant at 753-3458 or check its website at http://www.ruffinosrestaurant.com.