It is no secret that I love to cook and it has been my longtime dream to take professional cooking classes. Unfortunately, due to my busy work and grad school schedule, I was not able to achieve this dream for the longest time. Last year, when Matt and I moved to Denver, I suddenly found myself with plenty of free time on my hands and I immediately signed up for cooking classes.
I signed up for “Classic Techniques: Essentials” levels 1 and 2 at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. This is an 8 weeks course that would meet once a week for almost 4 hours in the evening. In these classes we covered basic foundations of cooking and cuisine from French and Italian perspective taught by professional cooks. Beware, lots of tasty pictures below. Please note, no recipes posted.
Many people believe that cooking is a process of following written recipes. Knowledgeable cooks, on the other hand, are able to prepare foods without written recipes because they have a firm understanding of basic principles and techniques. These classes provide you with a foundation of cooking techniques from knife skills and butchery to functions of various ingredients and many ways of cooking them all accompanied with a variety of tasty sauces.
On our first day we learned how to blanch vegetables and shrimp and make omelets. Sounds easy, right? I mean, anybody can make an omelette, right? Oh I was so wrong. We learned how to make a three egg omelette using a classic french recipe perfected by famous chefs such as Jacques Pépin or Julia Child. A main takeaway, NEVER brown your omelette.
In addition, we learned a ton of information about eggs: facts, structure, quality, color, safety, buying, grading, size. Eggs have been called “the cement that holds the castle of cuisine together” and according to a legend, real chef should be able to cook an egg 100 different ways.
We learned one of those ways during our first class: Vacherin – macerated fruits in french meringue baskets topped with creme anglaise. We also learned differences between French, Swiss and Italian types of meringue. After more than 3 hours of slaving in the kitchen, our evening is completed by a sit down dinner of our creations accompanied by wines.
We learned how to make our own pasta – that was fun. We learned and had to memorize new glossary – not as much fun. Brunoise, chiffonade, dice, etuve, supreme cut, oblique cut, mise en place, bouquuet garni, flambe, etuve, sear…
All worth it at the end when rewarded with poached chicken and fresh pasta fettuccini in a vegetable stock with grapefruit cut supreme style topped with candid zest and chiffonade of basil.
We used a real wood burning oven to make our chewy and crusty breads and garlicky croutons.
We got our hands really dirty while learning various ways of filleting the fish.
We learned how to select and emulsify ingredients which would results in finger licking sauces. Of course, not forgetting to do a taste test at the end. Grilled fish and asparagus with mojo & romesco sauces and quinoa salad.
And what would a cooking class be without learning how to bake a chocolate souffle! I would have to dedicate a whole blog post to an art and science of baking a perfect souffle – one that is barely cooked with a soft center, standing high and even.
Through out all our classes, we learned an absolutely enormous amount of information about all the ingredients we worked with. We learned how to chose the right virgin olive oil, which oils or butters to cook with, how to make your ghee, how to read food labels, how to create perfect marriages of spices and herbs, which salts to use to dress up your dish (black lava, pink Himalayan, Kosher, Maldon flakes, smoked salt and etc.), even how to grow your own oyster mushrooms.
Level 2 classes were heavily focused on seafood and meat preparations.
Here prepared are seared scallops with tarragon red pepper coulis and grilled asparagus.
Venetian spiced duck breast topped with apple gastrique.
This time we accompanied our meal with our own in-house made lemon sorbet Sgroppino instead of wine. Sgroppino is a traditional Venetian dessert consisting Prosecco poured over sorbet.
We got to work with and taste many different meats: chicken, beef, lamb, duck, and even venison.
Roasted rack of venison topped wild mushrooms and mustard cherry mostarda with a side of creamy farrotto.
Never forgetting to accompany every meal with a dessert. Creme brulee was my favorite. Did you know that one way to tell if you got a perfect creme brulee is by seeing if your french vanilla seeds are evenly distributed and have not sunken to the bottom. If you get one, where vanilla seeds are on the bottom, send it back to the kitchen. I am turning into a foodie snob.
Our first experience of food is usually how it looks; thus, the art of food presentation was heavily emphasized with every dish.
We roasted leg of lamb in our wood cracking oven.
We learned how to prepare a wide variety of grains, this time focusing on french lentils.
We learned about cheeses and how to partner them with pickles, jams, nuts. We got our hands wet and dirty by making our own mozzarella cheese from cheese curds and stretched and kneaded it until it was a perfect ball of creamy soft mozzarella cheese.
These cooking classes have completely changed my perception and understanding of food. I walked out with extreme appreciation of ingredients and new profound love of cooking. This was one of the best and unforgettable experiences!