I love cooking classes. I a NOT a professional chef. Not even close. I go to classes because I want to learn; techniques, new dishes, recipes, flavor combinations, ideas, history of food, trivia – I want to know it all! Over the last few years my passion has grown. My knowledge has grown. My skills have grown. My family, bowling teams and co-workers have been my taste-testers for experiments, snacks and some pretty awesome (and some not so awesome) dinners.
Sadly, just like my not-so-awesome dinners, there are not-so-awesome cooking classes. Unfortunately, we attended one of those last week. I realize people can have an “off” night and perhaps that’s what this was… The presenters (because I refuse to call them instructors) were not organized, not engaged and the class, while hands-on, was chaotic. During the brief run-thru of the dishes we would be making, the presenter had his back to us nearly the entire time. His description of the dishes was bland and frankly, he seemed to have just woken up. The other presenter spent her time texting or trying to find things we needed. Knife skills were presented quickly and again, briefly. The presenter showed us how to cut an apple around the core. When he did, he found a big worm in the apple. He told us to just cut around it and tossed the apple back into the prep bowl and said the people doing the dish could finish the cutting later. Several people were completely taken aback at this, myself included.
We were split into teams of two, each assigned a dish to prepare for the class meal at the end. While this is a lovely idea, I now only know how to make my dish and none of the others. Recipes were not given in class. We were told we could E-mail the school the next day to ask for a copy of the recipes if we wanted them. There was a single recipe provided for each dish, but nothing for us to take notes on, or take home. Imagine the chaos of 12 people, plus two presenters in a small loft kitchen, making six dishes with a single oven (set to one temperature, despite the recipes calling for several different temperatures) that needed to roast fruit and vegetables, cook meat, bake a tart shell and later the tart itself, six burners sharing time between boiling potatoes, boiling celery root, boiling (or not) bean soup, wilting spinach, browning meat, toasting pine nuts, making lemon curd, making a glaze for the meat, sauté onions and garlic, fry shallot rings and that’s just off the top of my head. I think I may have missed a few things. This was in addition to finding prep space to chop, mix, and whisk! Did I mention it was a bit chaotic?
Our dish was dessert. A lovely lemon and rosemary crusted tart! The first step was to prepare the crust. Everything we needed was in our basket, each ingredient was prepared and measured out for us prior to class. All we had to do was put it together. Another great idea! It sounds simple enough, right? In theory, it should have been easy, except we had to hunt for bowls to mix the ingredients, we had to find a lemon zester and space to prepare it all. My partner searched where one of the presenters told her it would be, it was not there. When we asked the other presenter, she knew exactly where it was… in a drawer on the other side of the kitchen. As we put together our dough, it was very dry. I’ve made a tart or two in my time and there simply wasn’t enough wet ingredients. The presenter told me it only needed a bit of ice water and would come together as it sat in the refrigerator. I tried to explain that it wasn’t even dough yet, it was the texture of sand. He told me to wrap the whole mess in plastic and press it together as best I could, his recipe was NOT wrong and it would be fine. Umm.. Ok. I already had visions of disaster dancing in my head, so we moved on to making lemon curd. More bowls to find, a pot to find so we could create a double boiler and then space to find on a burner to get it to set up. While we were waiting for a spot on the stove, students were questioning each other about their dishes, how they had put them together, what was in them, etc. Things we would know if we had recipes. They were whispered questions about the presenters techniques and reasons behind what he was doing. They knew enough to know a soup should simmer, yet the presenter kept turning down the heat. (In the end it was under done and under seasoned) We knew enough to know roasting veggies should be done at a higher temperature, not moved to the bottom of the oven (where they didn’t even fit as the pans were too big) because there were other things that had to get in.
When it came time to get the dough from the fridge and roll it out to make the tart, it was still sand. The presenter accused us of not adding all the ingredients. He went down the list one by one from the basket and then shook his head like we were idiots. From that point, he treated us as such. He added more water and told us “any dough can be saved by adding water!” He also told us not to worry because “Baking isn’t a science. It doesn’t have to be exact.” Other students around us were nodding their heads like this was new knowledge and valid. I was so mad at this point, I had to walk away. Baking *is* a science. It does have to be exact or it won’t work. Hence, tart sand and not tart dough. A student questioned the difference between pizza dough and tart dough. A valid question! The presenter didn’t acknowledge the question or even answer it, so I ended up talking quietly with the student while he kept trying to make the sand dough work with more water. Another glass of wine later and I was pressing tart sand into a pan to be baked anyway. You know, next to the meat and above the roasting veggies… The presenter had to move on.
As things came together and students started to plate their dishes, the presenter tasted several and made the comment: “Wow.. Should have tasted that earlier, let’s just add some salt. It will be fine.”
I have never wanted to walk out of a cooking class, but I was ready to leave this one.
Overall, despite the chaos, some of the dishes were good. I don’t know how to make them, but they were good. Since we made dessert, after baking the crust, we added our lemon curd to the top and put it back in the oven to finish baking. I had to keep getting up during dinner to check on it, which I wouldn’t have minded had it been a dinner party in my own house! The presenter told me he would do it, but he ended up at the other end of the table, farthest away from the stove and promptly forgot about it. Thank goodness it didn’t burn. For the record, sand tart dough tastes VERY dry, even with half-way decent lemon curd on top of it.
The kicker at the end though, was as we were all leaving, the presenter encouraged me not to give up. “Don’t give up! Making tart dough is such a good skill to have. If you kept practicing, it will work one day and you can translate it to other things. Won’t that be great?” Wow…
Needless to say, we won’t be going back. I have pictures too, but do you really want beautiful pictures of bland food?
We are trying two new schools over the next few months and I am hopeful they won’t end up like this one!