Saturday, July 7, 2007

Cooking Classes and why I go

No recipe today! Yesterday I misstepped off our boat and turned my ankle completely sideways. Crunch. I'm very laid up yesterday and today; can barely barely walk. Dave rolled me in one of the yacht club's grungy rolling carts (used to haul gear from boat to parking lot and vice-versa) from our boat to our car. No way could I walk the block-long dock distance. Once home, Dave fetched my father's cane which has been collecting dust in the front closet. My ankle is very swollen and hurts like heck if I put any weight on it.

SO, thought I'd wax poetic about cooking classes, since I may not be cooking for a few days.

Recently, several people said to me one of the following:

  • Why the heck do you go to cooking classes?
  • You certainly don't need to go to cooking classes.
  • Don't you have enough recipes already?
  • You're already a good cook, why do you go?
  • You could be teaching the classes yourself, so why would you go?
So, to those questions, my answers are: I go to cooking classes because:
  • I really, really enjoy them, so it's like recreation to me; maybe you go to a scrapbooking class, or watch television, go to a game, lie on the beach, whatever it might be that floats your boat;
  • Learning to cook different things is a challenge; or watching somebody else prepare something I've made for years, in a new and unusual way, which makes me think;
  • My friend, Cherrie, and I enjoy doing this together - it's like girlfriend bonding time;
  • Yes, I have enough recipes to last several lifetimes. I've been a recipe collector for my entire adult life (that's 4 1/2 decades, last count), and I'm still a recipe clipper;
  • Particularly I enjoy attending a class demonstration by a well-known cookbook author. Joanne Weir is about my favorite, but Phillis Carey is a close second. And I've attended countless others as well, a few I've written up in previous blog posts. More often than not I end up buying the cookbook, unless I'm disappointed in the food prepared. And in those instances, I can always look at the cooking class as entertainment. The bonus is that we get to eat, too!
  • I count myself lucky - this is after years and years of attending cooking classes - if I come home with just one - yes ONE - recipe that I'll make myself. I once heard someone say about buying record albums - if he bought one album and there was just one - just one song that was a keeper, he felt he'd made a good investment. On occasion I'll come home with no recipes I'll have the desire to prepare, but not usually. I have become a bit more circumspect about the menus - I really read them well before deciding to attend a class. I don't need to learn knife skills. Or basics, like sauces. The class needs to have some kind of hook - maybe like "summer entertaining," or "spring vegetable extravaganza." That kind of thing.
  • It's not always about the recipes alone, either. Even though a class may not be about a cooking technique, I almost always learn something I didn't know. You may find that hard to believe, but it's true. It may be nothing more than watching the chef cut up something differently -like a very unusual method of cutting zucchini that I've used time and again since. Or seeing a chef use a Meisermeister peeler, which has become my all-time favorite. Or learning about the unusual spices used in Indian cooking.
  • Could I teach cooking classes myself? Well yes, probably I could. I'm sure I could. Do I want to? No. Too much work. WAY too much work and not enough monetary benefit. That's why I don't quibble when I have to pay $50-$75 for a class. I'm quite happy to let somebody show me.
  • And probably last, but not least, watching somebody else prepare a full menu of food gives me ideas. More often than not, the chef will talk about why she/he put certain foods together, why they're good on the palate, why they look good on the plate (the aesthetics are important too). Or maybe it's just the idea that using cardamom pods in making homemade iced tea will give plain-old iced tea an added boost of flavor.

So, that's why I love going to cooking classes. And, as I've mentioned before, I used to be a huge fan of Sur la Table. I still love the store, but I'm very down on the cooking school. About a year ago the company at large let go nearly all the cooking school staffs and hired (unknown) professional chefs. The cooking schools are now separate profit centers, and each day there is a class at a Sur la Table anywhere in the country, most of the time anyway, it's the identical class and menu in all of their stores, prepared by the staff chef or one of his/her minions. They have very, very few well-known chefs - guest chefs - anymore. Cherrie, Darlene and I, who were regulars at their classes, have all individually complained. I even wrote a blistering letter to their corporate office complaining about the chef who is in charge at their Newport Beach store. I've watched him in action, and truly question the wisdom of his hire. He's arrogant and self-serving. I simply won't go to classes there anymore. They are very basic and elementary too, which I don't need. But, probably I'm an aberration for them - I'm an experienced cook and want more difficult subjects.

Therefore, Cherrie and I have begun looking elsewhere to attend classes. I've mentioned the private classes we attend at homes in Coto de Caza. And we also go to A Store for Cooks. And our favorite is Our House, South County, but it may be closing down soon. Phillis Carey teaches at a place in San Diego, so we're thinking about trying that out one of these days. It will mean an all-day expedition, that's all. Cherrie found a new place in San Clemente, and we may try a class there. It's called Villa Cucina.

Since I'm on the subject of cooking classes, perhaps, for those who are uninitiated in this venue, I'll mention that there are two kinds of classes: demonstration and hand-on. I suppose if I really needed to learn a specific technique, I'd want a hands-on. But with most classes of 20-30 people, you may not get a choice as to what you prepare. Meanwhile, everybody else does the prep on the other menu items and you don't benefit or hear about their learning curve. Recently, when Cherrie and I went to Wine Country and attended classes at Ramekins in Sonoma, at one of my classes all I was given to do was slice, thinly slice, a red onion. Yawn. Therefore, Cherrie and I balk at going to hands-on classes anymore. We'll mostly attend demonstration classes. That way we get to watch everything being prepared, we hear about all the steps and missteps along the way.

If you do enjoy cooking, you really should try going to some classes. Your family might be thrilled to see some new things on the dinner table. So, you want to go to a cooking class with me? For now I'm going to get a bag of ice for my ankle.

No comments: