Livin’ La Vida Bourdain!
Thursday night was the first of three classes in the Anthony Bourdain Techniques of Cooking Series, offered at Sur La Table. There were the Two Handsome Older European Men (yummier than any food made that evening, so you know this started well). As we were seated for the introduction by Chef Marianne Holloway, I met The Two Sweeties, Marshmallow and Cocoa, Nurses who drove all the way from Gilroy and Pacifica, respectively.
Next to me were the All Star Pro’s. They entered the classroom at the back of the store with a green reusable shopping bag, and proceeded to disgorge and don, with great Punk Rock Flourish, *EMBROIDERED* chef’s coats, long half-aprons and, for Mr. Pro, the essential tie-back head scarf. I’m wracking my brain as to why two Chefs are here. Turns out they’re kitchen newbies who always wanted to learn so they got each other kitted out properly for Christmas and bought the course! Sweet Wowza Woo, I may have Jacket Jealousy!
Me? What am I doing parked on Table 1? I’ve never taken a cooking course, so I’ve learned everything from cookbooks, TV shows, friends and trial-and-error. When I saw the listing for the Anthony Bourdain course, I thought it’d be great to get some formal instruction on all those basics I’d picked up on the mean streets. And Tony is on my List. The one where I sell my closest friend’s handsome younger brother on the black market for the chance to apply a choice of dipping sauces and.....Ahem. Other List-ees include Alan Cumming, Timothy Hutton, Alan Rickman, Patrick Stewart, ah...cooking class, right-ee-yoo. Onward!
We were told that Tony is a Renegade, but deeply rooted in Classical French Cooking. Bitchin’. Tonight’s class would cover some Knife Basics, a Classic Omelet, Rice Pilaf, Mashed Potatoes Two Ways, Pasta with Rustic Tomato Sauce and a Fennel and Haricots Verts Salad with Supremes of Orange.
Chef Marianne presented the concept and the butane burners for the omelet, at which time we should pair off and egg up. Eggs are the great survival food, the basic omelet is one I mastered some time ago, with the amalgamated assistance of Alton Brown, Jaques Pepin and Julia Child. Just keep that pan lubed up and the heat low-ish and you’re good, so-- Cream in bowl with two room-temp eggs, fork ‘em up, pour into a ready pan.
I’m a shaker, and that’s a concept I suddenly realise is too weird to explain. I pour the eggs in and gently shake the pan first in a sauté motion, then sort of circular motion. Normal people use a rubber spatula or a fork to keep the edges moving in and tilt the pan round so the liquid egg moves out to the edge to become cooked. When it starts to look cohesive, I grind in pepper, sprinkle in a bit of cheese et voilà.
I’m one of the few students flying solo, and after a couple of attempts at seducing a potential pan partner I just go Generalissima by making with the flame and asking for stuff. What the HECK does a cute girl have to do to get a Assistant Jedi round here??? I manage to start the butane stove, retaining both eyebrows, and zip through the fun stuff, finding a nice single boy to cheese me at the end, goading him to try some chopped tarragon to see if he wanted to add it. He liked so he did and I triple-folded that sucker right onto the plate. He’s HR in tech, and single, and is doing this course on a personal dare. I will obtain Name, Contact Info and Relationship Resumé for those of you interested in a handsome asian man who’s gonna know his way round dinner AND breakfast, if you know what I mean.
As more people finish the omelet station, we are moved over to the main cooking station, where we started the Rice Pilaf. Chef has 3 Kitchen Assistants, who have some amount of prep done, groundwork laid and tools ready, so all of the aromatics are chopped (no knifework done or demonstrated), and the stock is piping hot ready to go. I stepped up and got the onion sweating and handed Marshmallow the ladle for the stock and Cocoa the bowl of washed rice while we listened to how the pilaf process works.
Rice was popped in the oven and we moved to the salad station--but what were those tomatoes on the main demonstration stage? There were large-ish tomatoes, bottoms-up, crosses cut into the skins, sitting on a prep tray, and a bowl of tomato sauce...
Oh! and Chef has squeaked in some spud action--see? spuds! All cut, they were put in proper cold water and now they’re boiling and we have to catch them at exactly the right moment! I could draw this all the way through the rest of the tale, but I’ll just sum right up as I have NO clue how we got to “done” on those taters, only one person got to stick a fork in one, no timer was ever set, and for all of Chef’s dire warnings about Perfection in Timing, I doubt anyone else in that class would have the first clue how to get there. I am half Irish, and my husband is Irish. If I don’t instinctively know when a spud is Done, I’m probably Dead. She also proclaimed we would be Gilding the Lily by preparing them the very French way, with raw egg and cream. That’s called Champ, and it’s Irish, but you’ve left out the scallions, which would have made it better. I, erm...may have blurted that last bit out.
....But HERE! Kitchen Assistant is demonstrating orange supremes! And the fennel! And the Beans! Because "they are just green beans, this time of year." Haricots, the tender delectable green matchstick beans, are out of season, but we’re making an out-of season dish anyway. And the beans they have are visibly brown-spotted, but “that’s what we have right now due to the cold weather.” On to the oranges. She’s certainly handy with the paring knife, but only one more orange needs done, so no-one else really gets to practice. It’s one of the reasons I’m here-- the last time I attempted supremes on my pretty, fresh CSA blood oranges it looked as though a highly demented cuttlefish had at it with a dull machete.
No, that’s a slight against cuttlefish. They can change colour, texture, size and shape in 45 seconds to hide from predators, then use two halves of a coconut to make shelter on the ocean floor. In 45 seconds I can reduce a citrus fruit to a puddle of membrane and juice on the cutting board. Maybe I should head to the aquarium for a lesson.
Then there’s the fennel, which she attempts to partially dismantle by knife then use a ceramic slicer that she’s really not comfortable with and does not work. She tells us to go back to using the chef’s knife, but does not, in any way, teach the class knife technique.
Allow me to repeat. A class with Anthony Bourdain’s name on it. Teaching the Essentials of Classic Cooking. Including, as the *first* item on the curriculum, Knife Technique. Did. Not. Teach. Knife. Technique. She left us at the station with some fennel bulbs and the recipe for the dressing, so I grabbed the 12" knife and went Super Freak on it. It's my party piece, and also Gets The Job Done. As a salad, it was some beans one of the Assistants blanched behind the scenes so no-one saw how to do it, and a bunch of other stuff.
As we finished this, Chef Marianne calls us back to the main demo stage where she hurriedly attempt to catch us up on the tomato sauce prep, which apparently required the tomatoes that were on the tray earlier. For some reason they went thru a process of steps I could refer to the recipe sheet right now in order to enlighten you, but were *completely* glossed over in about 20 seconds as Chef and The Assistants bustled in their uncoordinated manner behind the counter.
Something was happening with the pilaf in the oven behind them. It made an appearance, was deemed unready and stuck back in. Any Questions? Great! So All the tomatoes, and you really must use San Marzano Tomatoes (this is where she finally slowed down, to expound on the precise tomato--I truly understand, but at the expense of the entire recipe is complete folly), go in the pan, and will be mashed in a bit.
Except a bit later, the previously observed bowl of tomato juice/sauce, never even mentioned on the recipe sheet, and *barely* mentioned as she added, was dumped into the pan and explained in mumbles as juice from the tomatoes. It was equivalent to about 3-15 oz cans of sauce added into the mysteriously blanched, skinned fresh toms, canned toms and a couple big bunches of fresh basil. And were not mashed. She said they shouldn’t be.
And no wine. Wine would ruin it. We should all taste it. We all tasted it, and we all puckered at the sharpness. A box of sugar was on the counter, as was a bottle of olive oil, and she asked us how we could counter sharp taste and we said fat and sugar. She said yes, and we should add some, and now for the break!
Shopping Interlude. In which Chef Sold People Expensive Knives and Kitchen Assistants Caused the Food to be Done.
The pasta had been started in a too-small pan, to which she added a good dollop of olive oil, which I haven’t seen done in 20 years. When we returned from the break, it was in a serving dish, covered with the vinegar-sour sauce which she claimed was left as ‘We’, the class, had decided to leave it when she asked us before the break. It was watery and hard to pick up, due to the spaghetti being coated in oil. Also served were the two kinds of spuds (one smashed, one put through a ricer) which were, in the end, identical. Salad as previously commented. Rice Pilaf, having been made with plain rice and chicken stock which was nutty and a great basic to learn.
I came home and fixed myself dinner. I can wield the big knife, make a white sauce, do a lot of stuff and I felt like a know-it-all-show-off because of what I was able to do going in and jumped in to do, while feeling perhaps the people around me without knife skills or kitchen chops were getting cheated. My Tech HR Omelet-Share Guy? He and half the class never got to make their own omelet, or get hands-on with anything else, they only got to watch. I understand time restraint and class logistics, but for $200.oo, he deserves better. They all do. For a small fee, You may submit an application to walk him through egg basics again, I will match you up.
Next week, Gettin' Saucy with Chicks, Boobs and Muscles!
-OR- Session Two: Stocks, Soups and Sauces. “Rich Chicken Stock-Fish Stock-Mushroom Soup-Mussels Steamed in White Wine (Moules à la Grecque)-Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Bearnaise Sauce.”Pin It Now!