Mobile chef Tom Castrigno teaches Indian and Thai cooking classes |

Mobile chef Tom Castrigno teaches Indian and Thai cooking classes

BRECKENRIDGE – I walked into mobile chef Tom Castrigno’s Indian cooking class last month with a secret, not knowing I would spill the beans, so to speak, in the first five minutes of class.

Castrigno innocently asked each of his eight students what brought them to the class. As the participants talked about their love of cooking and Indian food, I knew I couldn’t lie. I had to admit not only do I hate to cook, but also I was raised on meat and potatoes in the Midwest, and I’m pretty suspicious about new tastes. Castrigno had his work cut out for him.

He rose to the challenge superbly. First, he passed around the multitude of new spices with which we’d cook. His methodical introduction calmed my paranoia of strange foods, and the olfactory stimuli excited me.

Then, he tempted our palette with papads – wafers made from chick pea flour – and mango chutney. We took turns cooking the papads over an open flame. One man in the class grabbed the tongs with the confidence of the barbecue master he was and whisked the papad over the fire without burning it. His wife had brought him to class because after 26 years of marriage, she wanted him to cook at least one meal a week for her – in the kitchen.

Castrigno told us where to buy the authentic papads and delicious chutney, then we moved onto our next entrees – yogurt riata and potato and green pea stew.

Throughout the class, Castrigno gave us tips, such as how to peel tomatoes easily, the proper way to hold a knife while chopping and how to make fresh herbs last longer. He told us how to make ghee, or clarified butter, which is used to fry Indian spices.

While the stew simmered, we prepared the jeera rice. The most important technique I learned involved coating the grains of rice with spices before adding water. Castrigno taught us the secret to Indian cooking: adding specific amounts of each spice in a precise order.

My favorite dish – and apparently everyone else’s, judging by how quickly it disappeared when it was time to eat – was the spiced creamed spinach. Initially, I was most suspicious of this dish, particularly because I’m not fond of spinach or cottage cheese, two of the main ingredients. Unfortunately, I only took a small portion before it disappeared.

Castrigno invited me to cook this dish, noticing I had been hiding in the background while the “cooks” in the class eagerly volunteered to chop, measure and blend ingredients. His friendly, easy-going personality and his thorough teaching skills helped me feel comfortable cooking a dish for eight strangers.

By the time we sat down to enjoy our labors, we were all chatting and laughing. Castrigno created a festive environment with his love and extensive knowledge of cooking. He made cooking fun – even for the “nonbelievers” in the room.


Out of the classroom

For the past three years, Castrigno has offered classes and mobile chef service in Summit County. Growing up in an Italian family where food was a central part of everyday life inspired him to gain work experience as a chef and study cuisine in Thailand, Europe and Central America.

In addition to offering classes at the Breckenridge and Silverthorne recreation centers, he provides full, personal chef service and cooking classes in private homes.

People hire the mobile chef to cook for surprise parties, anniversaries and other gatherings when they want to focus on their guests rather than worry about the food.

Co-workers, friends and families hire him to come to their homes and privately teach them how to cook specific dishes. Last month, six co-workers from FirstBank in Frisco gathered with him for a Thai cooking class.

“It was a girls’ night out,” said Linda Blaylock, who works in new accounts. “He gave us a lot of insight in terms of his travel in Thailand and his experiences in different areas and the types of foods the areas specialize in. He provided the food and any special equipment (including extra burners). Just having someone of that expertise come into the house and make it a personal thing (was unique). That was the nice thing – it wasn’t just a presentation that we watched. We were involved.

“It tasted delicious in the end. You can’t beat that. Everyone was really comfortable with Tom. He’s a very easy-going guy, very patient. No question was too silly to answer. He took the time to answer everyone’s questions. For me, it was a unique experience. I would recommend it for people who want to do something socially but want a little different flair to what they’re doing.”

Full, personal chef service begins at $35 per person, depending on the menu. Private cooking classes are $30 per person, with a four-person minimum. To arrange a class, call him at (970) 668-8500.

Castrigno’s three-hour cooking classes (and dinner) at the recreation centers are $29, plus a $5 materials fee and require a 48-hour advance registration. The next class is Thai cooking from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Breckenridge Recreation Center. Castrigno teaches Indian cooking at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 25 at the rec center. To register, call (970) 453-1734.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at

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