Food is a magical thing.
Though everyone who sits at a table will have a unique experience, we still refer to a meal as being shared. You can disagree about a particular taste and the other people at the table with an opposing view will actually support your preference so that nothing goes to waste. Love pickles? Here, have my share. Hate chocolate? Please, by all means, pass that my way.
Food brings us together in a way that nothing else can.
My husband and I decided several years ago that we would rather exchange memories than things and so unless there is a specific pressing need, our gifts to each other are typically printed out confirmations of bookings or tickets to an upcoming event. This year was no exception. I’d booked us a couple’s night out at a local cooking class.
Now, not all cooking classes are created the same and so it is always important to read a class description as well as reviews before signing up.
Words to look for:
Home Chef – unless you are trying to learn to be a professional in the kitchen, classes that cater (pun intended) to the home chef typically feature more commonly found ingredients and utilize the types of equipment and/or appliances found in the average kitchen. Meaning there is a remote chance you might be able to recreate a recipe at home on your own. The downside though is you will learn a recipe you can recreate at home – meaning don’t expect a once in a lifetime experience.
Hands-on – If you are looking for dinner and a show, a class that is not advertised as “hands-on,” is the one for you. A hands-off class is like being part of the live studio audience on a cooking show. You get to sit at a bar drinking wine while the chef talks you through what he or she is doing and then you eat the results. At a hands-on class, you should expect to work for your meal. Hmm, now that I’ve put it like that, I am beginning to question my preference.
Class size – The best classes are smaller classes with a high teacher to student ratio – ideally you don’t want to share your instruction with more than nine other students.
Instructor – It should go almost without saying that you want to be lead in your cooking class by someone who actually has formal training in the subject matter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach. This is one of those times you may want to pay attention to a person’s resume.
Location, Location, Location
This wasn’t our first cooking class together. We’d gone to one offered by chefs at one of the high-end restaurants in town. We’d learned about wine pairings, how to properly trim (and store) a steak. Though the class hadn’t been quite as hands-on as we would have liked, we still left with more food than we could eat.
We also left with significantly less money in our wallets. That class hadn’t been cheap, nor had the schedule been flexible as this class sells out months in advance with no refunds offered.
The second class we took together was easier on the budget (as well as the calendar) but was located within a cooking supply store rather than a restaurant. As a result, in addition to our meal, we also had to listen to product pitches for the latest and greatest kitchen do-dads. Still, the food we made all by ourselves (four words – black truffle mashed potatoes) was worth the occasional commercial interruption.
This year I tried to find a happy median between the two. I found a small, hands-on class offered by a chef whose primary business model was the cooking school. The advertised meal (Chicken Saltimbocca) looked delicious, the price was right and the schedule, convenient. But the class itself was not entirely what I expected.
Instead of each couple preparing our own meal from end to end, we each were given a specific course along with a recipe card while the chef instructor hovered between stations. If I ruined the chicken, I’d ruin it for everyone. Right – no pressure at all! I decided it was in the best interest of the group to pass that duty over to my hubby while I peeled potatoes instead.
I will admit that I was disappointed not to be at the dessert station as baking is where my talents lie, but that would have meant spending the evening apart from my other half, who is never so happy as when he is cooking, hence the reason for the night out in the first place.
Then it was time to eat.
The eight of us took our plates to an adjacent room and sat down and this is where the real magic happened. I might not have learned how to make a raspberry almond torte, but instead, I learned of one couple’s adult twin daughters now making their parents so proud. I learned of a documentary on wine tasting, I need to check out, and of one woman’s semester abroad.
Food has a way feeding conversation as well as people.
But I also learned that my hubby still makes me proud (and continues to make me laugh) as he entertained the group with our stories both at the table and over the stove preparing a meal we enjoyed together. And that’s a lesson always worth learning more than once.