Apr 30 2010

An Education

Published by at 9:20 pm under Cooking Classes

The most memorable bonding activities my sister and I have ever shared together weren’t our numerous fancy brunches in Chicago or our nacho platters for two back home (and yes, there were many. Of both). They were cooking classes we took at the Chopping Block, a Christmas gift from our father that struck a delicate balance between a fine dining experience, girls’ night in, and comedy of errors.

No, the meal turned out wonderfully: sea bass cooked in parchment paper, hazelnut and goat cheese salad, endive and fennel gratin, and a bread pudding to top it off. But it was made all the more interesting by the teamwork, and there were plenty of laughs when fresh orange juice just would not incorporate into our herb butter and we snuck popcorn throughout the whole cooking process because we were so starving.

Also a bonus: We got to open our bottle of wine at the beginning of the class.

The gift I asked for from my dad this past Christmas was another class, this time at a tiny spot near my apartment called Chef Joe’s Culinary Salon, which are touted as “the best little cooking classes in San Francisco.” And this time, I was taking my assistant with me.

My initial thoughts were that this experience was not going to be like my last one. It was the definition of a “far cry.” The Chopping Block class had been held in a spacious room with four individual mini-kitchens and islands, each pair of guests with all of their own supplies, including knives and ingredients. We prepared the whole meal leisurely, mostly on our own.

Chef Joe’s petite shop consists of three steel tables with some portable stoves, a refrigerator snuggled up to a washer and dryer, and dozens of the chef’s own artistic creations lining the walls and ceilings. His wine was flowing before we even walked in, and he barely paused to breathe the whole time.

By the end of the class, my thoughts were something like this: Chopping Block-style classes might be great for a bachelorette party, but Chef Joe’s is where you go to learn how to cook.

The French Bistro-themed class was fast-paced, and Chef Joe was all over the room at any given time. My assistant and I were in charge of the soup, but the room was small enough for us to observe the rest of the students working on other dishes. Chef Joe knows just about everything — he was an instructor at the┬áCalifornia Culinary Academy — and he’ll answer all your questions, but he won’t coddle you. All of our mistakes could be corrected, but they did not go unannounced.

For anyone who’s serious about learning some technique — and some delicious dishes for entertaining — I would whole-heartedly recommend Chef Joe’s classes as a good place to start. The students had varying levels of experience, but anyone would feel comfortable in his kitchen. And by the time you leave, you’ll be wanting to try every single class. Can you tell I am? The Indian Street Food course is calling my name, but my assistant thinks we’d better start with Knife Skills.

I’m not posting the recipes out of respect for the chef, but I couldn’t resist sharing pictures from the class. Once they’re perfected, I’ll be sure to post my version of the individual dishes. Enjoy!

Salad Lyonnaise

Dandelion greens, bacon and potatoes tossed with a Dijon vinaigrette and topped with poached eggs: Breakfast of champions.

Carrot Ginger Soup

Made with no cream, just veggies and broth, and topped with chives. Delectably light and crisp!

Coq au Vin

Chicken braised in a red wine sauce with carrots, mushrooms and pearl onions. Quite literally falling off the bone — my assistant went back for seconds. And I may have joined him.

Tart Tatin

Upside down caramelized apple tart, just like in Paris. Golden rule: Resist the urge to add cinnamon, because the apples are so flavorful on their own.

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One Response to “An Education”

  1. liv bites » Wining and Dining in Napaon 23 Jun 2010 at 7:40 pm

    […] my culinary education continues, little by little. This class was vastly different from the last one I took at Chef Joe’s Culinary Salon; it was held in a gorgeous B&B instead of a San Francisco storefront, the dishes were fancier […]