Monday, May 20, 2013

5 Things I Learned at a One-Night Cooking Class: Wine & Food Pairing with Chef Eric

Chef Eric and an apprentice with all the food we cooked: scallops, homemade pasta, lamb stew and sauteed chicken.

Ever thought of trying to take your sketchy home cooking skills to a new level? I've been looking into cooking schools lately, particularly those with semi-pro courses. It turns out that at the moment there are really only two places that offer a semi-pro course: the New School of Cooking in Culver City and Chef Eric's Culinary Classroom in West L.A.
Several years ago, I took Thai Street Food with Jet Tila at the New School, but when I was offered a trial class at Chef Eric's, I thought it would be a great way to get a taste of what the school has to offer. In fact, not just a taste, but a full meal. Chef Eric invited some food writers to try his Wine and Food Pairing class, which includes quite a few dishes: zucchini eggplant fritters to start, seared scallops with wild mushrooms, homemade pasta with tomato and kalamata olive tapenade sauce; sauteed chicken breasts with sunchokes and sundried tomatoes; lamb stew with wild mushrooms and tiramisu for dessert. In addition we tasted several nice wines when we were done cooking everything.
It's been several years since I've taken a cooking class, and I'm a decent home cook, but even at a one-night class you always learn a handy tip or two. For example, Chef Tila taught me a quick way to peel ginger (with the back of the knife) that I still remember. Here's a few things I learned from the class:

1. Lots of restaurant/travel writers don't actually cook much, they're too busy travelling. So like in other classes, the ability levels of your classmates will vary greatly. Take advantage of the teacher and assistants to make sure your technique is correct even if you think you know how to chop vegetables, for example. It turns out I didn't really know how to do it right (hint: it's a rocking motion).
Chef Eric demonstrates a garlic peeling method

2. Need to peel a bunch of cloves of garlic quickly? Put the separated cloves in two bowls and shake vigorously. Voila, most of the peels will fall away, leaving naked cloves to be chopped.
3. In most one-night cooking classes, the entire class will end up with at least five dishes, but you will likely be assigned to a team that will only make one dish from start to finish. This seems to be the main complaint about cooking classes on Yelp -- people think it's actually possible to teach a dozen or so people how to make five dishes, have everyone make them all from scratch and eat them in three hours. That's not possible, thus the team method. I was assigned to sauteed chicken breasts, but wandering around, I also got a turn cranking the pasta machine and chopping the wild mushrooms.
4. Cooking classes are also a chance to taste something you wouldn't normally order. Lamb is not my favorite, but the lamb stew was delicious. Chef Eric uses excellent ingredients like scallops from Santa Monica Seafood and wild chanterelles, which makes a big difference in flavor.
5. Pay attention to when the class is when deciding what to take. I'm glad I took the sample class on a weeknight after work, because I realize now there's no way I would have the energy to do the 18-week Master Chef program on weeknights. Fortunately, if I ever decide to do it, it's also available on weekends.

Which program to choose? Both schools are a bit far for me, and both semi-pro series are around $2500, so it will probably have to wait for a while. I liked the spacious facilities at New School of Cooking, though I'm not familiar with the teachers.
Chef Eric Crowley is a Patina Catering vet who graduated from the CIA, and he had an easy, friendly manner with students. But the kitchen is quite compact although it's very efficicently set up. Try Chef Eric's Culinary Classroom for an evening or weekend class to learn anything from knife skills to sushi making or healthy cooking. There's also a four week culinary basics series, for the true beginners, and kid's classes, so you can make those little buggers learn to make you dinner.
Chef Eric's Culinary Classroom
2366 Pelham Ave.
L.A. 90064
Looking for cooking classes in the Downtown or Pasadena area? Here's a recent L.A. Weekly article on five other places to take classes, but none offer a semi-pro series.

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