So we come to the end. As a wrap-up, last week’s class had a great concept and was fun to execute–come to class and cook. That’s all. No recipes, just some ideas of what we’d like to try based on what we’ve learned the past three weeks.
Ok, there was a bit more to it than that, it wasn’t just an Iron Chef-style free-for-all. Shelley and Mario talked with each of us about our ideas during class, how to turn them into complete well-balanced meals; went over the importance of preparation, timing, and planning (I do love a good plan), concepts of plating and presentation (like a painting, white space on a plate is important). One of the best things I’ve taken away from this series, though, is that a single dish doesn’t need to be perfectly balanced with all flavors as long as the entire meal has balance: a rich, savory main course and a simple salad lightly dressed with an acidic vinaigrette can be perfect.
The two things I knew I wanted to try were making mayonnaise and a butter-based pan sauce, two things I haven’t gotten quite right at home. Since I love shrimp, Shelley helped me come up with two meals: a shrimp salad in an avocado half, topped with toasted mustard seeds (one of my favorite flavors from week one) and a few herbs; and shrimp sauteed with garlic, deglazed with chicken stock and lemon juice, finished with butter, and topped with an herb salad.
My dishes turned out quite well considering I wasn’t in my own kitchen, using my own familiar tools. My mayonnaise turned out perfect and toasted mustard seeds will be my go-to secret ingredient from now on; I could have made a bit more sauce for my shrimp, but what I had was delicious. I also loved watching the rest of the class create completely unique dishes (one classmate made a sauce with dried ancho peppers, raisins, and cumin that was amazing). It was fun to see a) how much we all remembered from the previous weeks and b) see how they all came together in the creation of an impromptu meal.
So would I do this again, would I recommend it? Yes. If you love to cook or eat, the Cooking Lab is a great way to learn the “why” behind a lot of food theory from people who know what they’re talking about. I learned plenty of great lessons that have already been useful and will affect how I approach food and recipes in the future.
Here’s a perfect example. I had a recipe last week that that called for finishing with tarragon (a licorice-y fresh herb). I didn’t have any, and I also didn’t have any of the celery the recipe called for. But I did have a fennel root. While I probably would have subbed the fennel in anyways and hoped for the best, now I did it with the confidence that it would work because of similar textures between the celery and fennel and similar flavors of tarragon and fennel; not just because, well, it was there.
I want to mention one thing. I’ve said since the first post that I was able to take this class for free in exchange for feedback; normally it’s $390. It’s extremely rare that I’m willing to spend more than $100 at a time on just about anything. I’ll be honest that the cost for most any cooking class is more than I can usually afford compared to how much I actually learn. That said, for three+ hours each week learning hands-on from exceptionally experienced people, this class, to my frugal mind, was worth the cost.
It’s been great to write about a little bit of the theory and thought behind cooking for a slight change of pace from my usual. I’ve learned a lot and I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts too!