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Joys of entertaining
Cleveland Park couple teaches how to
decrease stress when company's coming
(Published March 20, 2006)
By CHRISTINE GOSS
Special to The Common Denominator
"To cook is to eat well, to eat well is to live well," explains Jinny Fleischman of her dual philosophy of business and life.
Company's Coming, a business she co-founded with her husband Ed Fleischman, is dedicated to showing Washingtonians how to enjoy life through good food and friends. During classes held in their Cleveland Park home, the Fleischmans not only teach their customers how to prepare delicious meals, but also show them the art of entertaining without stress -- a great recipe, the Fleischmans believe, to get the most out of life.
Jinny began cooking in her senior year of college when she and a roommate lived in an apartment off-campus. She continued to nurture her passion for cooking by entertaining for friends when she moved to the District from New York. It was at one of her dinner parties that Ed, another native New Yorker, and Jinny were first introduced by a mutual friend.
"We met over a leg of lamb," Ed jokes.
The dinner turned out to be serendipitous: Ed not only loved to eat, but had a passion for grilling. Thus, Company's Coming entered its beginning stages. The Fleischmans started entertaining for their friends soon after meeting.
Friends of the Fleischmans describe Ed and Jinny's parties, and later Company's Coming, as "Ed on the outside, and Jinny on the inside" -- referring to Jinny's expertise in the kitchen and Ed's mastery of the grill.
Company's Coming is the product of years of honing their skills and exposing themselves to new ideas. Jinny recalls, in particular, a cooking course she took at the Smithsonian taught by Edith Vanocur. Vanocur had an "open and eclectic way of looking at food that I really appreciated," Jinny says. Not bound by common ingredients or traditional combinations, Vanocur was adventurous and "showed us how to cook a leg of lamb with garlic and cumin…in the 70s," Jinny marvels. "Who had even heard of cumin in the 70s?" Jinny says she continues to experiment with recipes and challenge herself by deviating from tradition.
Ed's loyalty to the grill drives his innovation and he proudly boasts that he "can grill anything," citing "twice-cooked duck" prepared on the grill as his own invention.
"People have held umbrellas over me," Ed says, emphasizing his dedication to the grill.
Jinny reminds him of the time they agreed to cook for some friends, while on a visit to Boston. Ed didn't let the fact that the grill was buried deep in snow stop him. He dug his way to the grill, shoveled it out and prepared a wonderful meal.
Initially, entertaining for friends and family was simply a hobby for the Fleischmans as Jinny used her creative talent in marketing at the Smithsonian, while Ed worked as a consultant for the Federal Transportation Administration.
"As we pursued our own careers, certain things moved the idea along," Ed explains about the fruition of Company's Coming.
Ed cited a cooking class he and Jinny observed while on vacation in Provence, France, in 1991. Ed remembers thinking that "we know as much as he does -- we can do that."
Ed's feelings were reinforced by the encouragement of friends, who would leave Fleischman events with comments such as "Wow! You do such a good job, you should show others."
"Whenever you get invited to dinner at the Fleischmans', you know it's going to be a riot," says Judy Watters.
Watters has known Ed and Jinny for more than 25 years and can't pick out a favorite meal enjoyed in their home.
"This house is just fun," she explains during a recent dinner. "They really bring you into it -- it's like an Italian family," she says of the way the Fleischmans delegate tasks to draw their guests into the meal's preparation.
Watters and other friends recognized that it wasn't just good food that made the Fleischmans' parties so enjoyable, but the entire presentation and mood that they created. They urged Ed and Jinny to teach others their talent. In 1999, Jinny and Ed started Company's Coming as a sideline to their regular jobs.
The goal of Company's Coming, according to Jinny, reflects her own evolution in the way she approaches entertaining.
"I first started (entertaining) with very elaborate meals and was exhausted by the time people arrived," she recalls, noting that she has since learned to make her meals "simpler."
In addition to recipes, Vanocur taught Jinny a new outlook on cooking.
Vanocur "had a relaxed way of looking at food….a sense that it doesn't have to be perfect," Jinny says, and this attitude became the heart of what Company's Coming is all about. Citing Peking duck as an example, Jinny explains that it is perfectly acceptable to buy the Chinese pancakes at a local restaurant to accompany the Peking duck that you prepare as a main course.
"It doesn't have to be overwhelming," Jinny says. "It's not worth the effort -- you don't have to do everything yourself."
Cooking and entertaining should be enjoyable for all, and the Fleischmans' classes teach people -- including the hosts -- how to enjoy it.
"When I say 'simple,' I mean simple," Jinny emphasizes to her class on March 8 as she opens a can of peeled tomatoes. "The less time it takes to do something, the more apt you are to do it."
The theme for the evening's dinner is Sicilian Italian, and Jinny is demonstrating how to make her "simple tomato sauce," a key ingredient for the meal's entre, eggplant and pasta cake. Jinny seeks to show her class that buying the tomatoes already peeled is a perfectly acceptable shortcut, eliminating a step and decreasing preparation time.
Part of enjoying a meal is decreasing the stress involved, and Jinny prides herself on teaching her classes tricks to simplify preparation of an outstanding meal. Her signature "make-ahead notes" offer tips such as making the cake up to six months in advance and keeping it in the freezer.
But Company's Coming stresses the importance of "entertaining," not just cooking.
"A meal is the whole experience of getting together and sharing with friends. It is more than food," Jinny explains.
While decreasing stress is important, entertainment involves much more. The vibrantly painted orange walls of the Fleischmans' dining room and the rosy tablecloth selected for the evening create an ambiance of warmth and welcome.
"The look of the table immediately gets people in the mood," Jinny says.
For this evening, Jinny chose to use plates that resemble cabbage leaves because, she says, "to me, Sicily is always spring."
Ed explains that he and Jinny hope to "show people that they shouldn't be afraid to have people over."
Nothing will ever be perfect, and the Fleischmans have had their share of mishaps.
"The disaster is always greater to the one having the event," Jinny says. "No one else really notices -- they are busy having a great time."
Having fun through entertaining also has a lot to do with attitude. Once, Jinny was making ice cream for her guests when the machine broke. Left with cold liquid, she didn't panic: "I just poured it on fruit…it was delicious."
People attend Company's Coming classes for a variety of reasons. While a regular schedule of theme dinners is always offered, business or social groups can arrange tailored classes for parties or team-building purposes. Details about classes may be found online at www.companycoming.com.
"Cooking is a good unifier," Jinny says. "It gives people the opportunity to work together."
The Fleischmans see classes for business groups as a great way for an office to "gain an appreciation for each other and see each other in a different way," Jinny says.
Stuart Allen, Ben Allen, Brinkley Tappan and Edward Holzwanger came to the March 8 class as a change from their normal routine.
"We all love cooking and going to restaurants, so we thought this would be more fun than going to a restaurant," Stuart explains.
Another attendee, Bill Sanders, chose to take the Sicilian cooking class with Company's Coming because of the home-style setting and interactive nature of the classes. Having the class in a home "emulates an Italian kitchen. It is more charming and relaxed," Sanders says. He says he also enjoys being involved in the preparation of the meal rather than simply instructed, as many other cooking classes are structured.
"How much mint?" Jinny quizzes her class, forcing them to refer to the printed recipe handout. In Company's Coming style, everyone must contribute to preparation of the meal that they will later enjoy together.
For particular groups, the Fleischmans also readily embrace the challenge of special requests, such as vegetarian, vegan or allergy-restricted diets.
"New needs and requests add to the fun of it," Jinny says.
One way the Fleischmans expand their cooking knowledge and capability is through travel. While they just returned from a week-long cooking class in Mexico, they do not always attend classes on their trips. Often, they spend time teaching themselves how to cook different ethnic foods and experimenting. Then, they travel to a place to "get a sense of what something should really taste like," Jinny says. Italy, France, China, Spain, Morocco and Mexico are just a few of the places the Fleischmans have treated their taste buds to.
The Fleischmans ran Company's Coming as a sideline to their regular jobs for seven years. However, Jinny left her job last year to focus on the business.
"I never had time to go after other business -- that's my job this year," Jinny says.
Since focusing her attention, Company's Coming appears to have caught fire. Saveur, a prestigious food magazine, has asked the Fleischmans to teach its cooking classes -- a testament to their cooking ability.
In addition, Company's Coming is expanding to host cooking classes internationally. The first such class will take place in Southern France. Coinciding with the wine harvest, the Fleischmans have rented a villa at the end of September, where they will host a seven-day program that involves cooking instruction, winery tours and historical expeditions. Appropriately named "Travels of the Cork and Fork," the Fleischmans intend this to be just the first of many destination courses.
While their horizons are expanding beyond the Capital Beltway, the Fleischmans continue to love serving the Washington area.
"D.C. is very cosmopolitan. Washington is very unusual for its size in terms of food offerings," Ed says.
With so many international organizations, there is demand for and openness to ethnic foods. In fact, Company's Coming, by its range of course offerings, contributes to the "international flavor" of the city.
"People learn something and take it away so they can do it again. It is very gratifying," Ed says.
Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator