Wilton Continuing Education: Couple brings dance, food and passion

Two new classes are being offered by Wilton Continuing Education this fall, and they’re keeping it in the family.

Nirmala Clarence and her husband, Clarence Xavier, will each be teaching a class. Ms. Clarence is teaching Indian Folk and Bollywood Dance, with classes beginning on Sept. 25 and continuing Wednesday through Nov. 13. It will take place at Miller-Driscoll School, in the south gym, from 6:45 until 7:45.

Clarence, known as chef Rence, will teach two separate one-time cooking classes. On Sept. 26, he will host a session called Creative Indian Style Cooking with Fish, Poultry & Meats: Aromatic Gravy Dishes. The two-hour class will run from 7 to 9 at Middlebrook School. Then on Dec. 5, he will return to teach a session on Indian grill and festival dishes.

Each of these classes have proved to be very popular, with just a few seats remaining.

Upon entering their comfortable apartment, the scent of Indian spices hangs pleasantly in the air.

Ms. Clarence, dressed in colorful traditional Indian wear, believes that any guest should enjoy food and drink. Yet it’s her passion and energy for dance that is so apparent, as she demonstrates a few moves.

“I wanted to do something for the stay-at-home mom,” she said. “So what I did, just like Zumba — which is for Spanish music — was to choreograph the dance moves, which could give you the benefit of a workout, as you’re learning the dance.

“If you do that class, you’re good to go. Even at home, you could perform for family, do a stage show, or simply do a one-hour workout.”

She explained it is a classical form of Indian dance. Traditionally, it was performed in the temples to praise, but evolved into current Bollywood dancing, a mix of genres, including hip hop. The style was on display at the recent Miss America contest in Atlantic City, as Nina Davuluri of New York performed a fusion of Indian and Bollywood dance en route to winning the title.

“This Bollywood class will be a lot of fun,” Ms. Clarence said. “I will teach the basics moves of Indian steps, because it’s not in everyone’s feet.

“I realized Wilton did not have anything Indian, although this class is not just for Indians. It’s meant to be multicultural.”

She has already taught Bollywood dancing in Darien and Milford.

Cooking with passion

Chef Rence, a one-time pastry chef who worked on a cruise ship before settling down in the United States, was taught the basics of cooking by his maternal grandmother.

“It’s my passion,” he said of cooking.

It’s a multicultural household in that the two are originally from different states in India. Their native languages are different, as are their individual cultures. They married in 2001, and as it was chef Rence’s dream to come to the U.S., he moved here in 2002. Ms. Clarence soon followed as her husband began to manage several restaurants in Fairfield County. In 2008, after working long hours, and missing his two children, he stopped running the restaurants.

The couple moved to Wilton in 2009 and soon chef Rence found his calling.

“One of my neighbors came over and I made something,” he said.

The neighbor ate the meal that he prepared and encouraged him to begin a business. That led him to Wilton Continuing Education.

“He’s got some blessing in his hands from his grandmother,” his wife said. “That’s what he believes.”

He described his food as “different” — his is homestyle, as opposed to restaurant style. While he often works with vegetarian food, his class will be non-vegetarian.

“I’m giving a lot of tips on basic gravies,” he said “How they can make multiple dishes. It makes people’s work much easier. You can have white gravy, brown gravy, and red gravy. You have three things. Keep them in fridge and mix and match. Then you can flavor it with some mustard, some red chilis, some cumin. If you play with that, you can make wonderful dishes.”

The couple was vegetarian for six years, but resumed eating meat in part to “beef” up their daughter.

“We went to India two years ago,” Ms. Clarence said. “My sister and my brother-in-law — they are both doctors — they were on top of me saying ‘your daughter. She’s so skinny.’”

Chef Rence currently provides lunch for corporate employers.

“I give one menu,” he said. “No choice.”

He prepares cakes as well, and still makes pastries, focusing on French and Italian styles, such as tiramasu. Those cakes and pastries are available for special functions and weddings.

His second class, in December, will focus on festival dishes.

“It’s all grilled but in different flavors and different tastes,” he said. Yet he made sure it’s understood that Indian food isn’t necessarily spicy, despite the uses of spices.

“The spice doesn’t mean it’s hot spice. It is a flavor, an aroma. The hot spices are very few, such as red chilis, and small green peppers. There’s also black pepper, but not the one available in the market. I grind it in the coffee grinder. The pepper that comes from India has a very strong flavor, and it is hot.”

The couple has two children, an 11-year-old daughter, and a nine-year-old son, who are taking hip-hop at the Wilton Family Y.

“I figure why not,” Ms. Clarence said.

“My grandfather was a military officer,” she added. “My mother was very disciplined, but she loved to dance. She put me and my sister into dance class. The master was very tough on us. I always tell my children to take the hardship of learning. That will give you the best discipline in your body.

“I thank my mother all the time, in my heart. She gave me a base. When I teach, I’m so joyful.”

For chef Rence, his passion is taken very seriously and he believes it pays dividends, by topping his food with “love and positive energy.”

“When I am cooking in the morning, do not interrupt me,” he said. “Don’t talk about anybody or any problems. If my mind is disturbed, it creates a bad energy. That is going to be in the food, and it is going to be consumed by a lot of people.

“I always tell everyone to cook with a happy heart. That is why every grandmother has food that tastes so different. Because they love their grandchildren and they cook with a happy heart.

“I send an email every morning, and it says ‘love served daily.’ The people don’t eat every day, but they read the menu because they like that.”

Information: wiltoncontinuinged.org.