Cooking With Chef Paul Luna at Lunacy Black Market

My dear friend #TwitterlessHarvey has introduced me to many Atlanta restaurants. I have to admit DineWithDani might be better named anything that references him. My favorite of all of our restaurant outings has to be the cooking class with famed Atlanta chef Paul Luna– of Loca Luna and Eclipse Di Luna popularity. While he is no longer affiliated with those establishments, in 2010 he embarked on a new venture in Downtown Atlanta, Lunacy Black Market.

Located on Mitchell Street between Spring and Forsyth, this small eatery is only open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. But one particular Tuesday evening, Chef Paul opened his doors for three of his favorite customers and me. I had never eaten at Lunacy nor had the pleasure of meeting Chef Paul—so I jumped at the chance to join Harvey for a cooking class.

Upon arriving, we sat in the small dining room designed purposefully with mismatched tables and chairs, mismatched glassware, flatware and silverware, and artwork that made me do a double take. I thought that was where we would spend our night, but when Chef Paul called the four of us into the kitchen I got giddy; we were going to get a live cooking demonstration in his kitchen! And so we did. The kitchen, much like the dining room, was a hodgepodge pieces with nothing matching. So naturally I loved it.

Even though he is known for his “flamboyant” and “over-the-top” personality, I was pleased and put at ease with his casual warm manner. He didn’t tell us what we were doing or making. And after ensuring we all had a glass of wine he dove right in.

He started by explaining his philosophies on making Risotto (common misconceptions vs. his recommendations). He turned around to put on a pot of rice. Basically (1)start with ¾ the amount of water you expect to use; set the rest aside, (2)do not constantly stir; you need the starch to rise to the top to get the right texture in the end, and (3)toss in the last bit of water in the last few minutes; that’s the only time you should stir the risotto.

With a stainless steel work table between us, Chef Paul showed us how simple Lunacy’s slaw was to make. Of course he passed on a few tips and tricks while preparing it: (1)start with the fresh ingredients, (2)slice the cabbage as thinly as possible; a sharp knife makes this easy, and (3)as with any salad, add the wet ingredient last and never pour directly over the top; pour around the perimeter of the bowl and toss lightly.

He plated a small portion for each of us to taste. It was delicious; so few ingredients with so much flavor. While I was still high from love of the cabbage salad, Chef Paul filled a tall pot on the stove behind him with water and tossed in a handful of salt and then another. He walked around behind us to grab four medium bowls sitting one in front of each us. Oh, a soup course! I was wrong.

Chef Paul went into one of his refrigerators and pulled out what appeared to be a block of cheese. It turned out to be a block of curd. This was about to turn into a hands-on cheese making demonstration! Hype!

I was amazed at how easy and fun it is to make mozzarella. This is something that requires you to use your hands and your brain, not your eyes. We weren’t allowed to look while working. I wish I could describe how to make it, but I don’t think it would be worth it (maybe a video later).

All this made me think how wonderful it would be to learn from him. He mentioned that Lunacy was initially a community project- to create opportunities for at risk women and teens. His objective was to train individuals to cook, manage a dining room and ultimately run a restaurant. He hasn’t quite seen that mission come to fruition, but he is hopeful that he can be more hands off one day.

After we enjoyed our own homemade mozzarella balls with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, we all gathered around the stove to watch as Chef Paul finished up the Risotto.

He explained that Risotto was dish created to make a meal out of nothing. Whatever is left over at the end of the week is perfect to toss on top of risotto. It’s a cost effective dish that packs amazing flavor. For this particular class, we had collards and tomatoes tossed with wine, cheese and spices. It was delicious. One of the best plates of risotto I’ve ever had.

I went home feeling like I could totally make everything prepared in the class, but I absolutely wanted to taste more of Chef Paul Luna’s dishes. Since then I’ve purchased curd to make mozzarella, I’ve made the cabbage salad, but I have yet to attempt the risotto. Maybe I’ll just visit Lunacy Black Market on a Sunday night for the weekly risotto dinner.

Maybe he’s slowed down with age, maybe he was misunderstood in the past or maybe he was on his best behavior that night, but I found Chef Paul Luna to be lovely. He was super warm and inviting. And I hope to be in company again enjoying his food.

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