Weeks 11-14 of cooking school have come and gone, as they took place in November. Any parent knows that once the first holiday of the season hits- October 31- it’s full steam ahead! To say that the time between Halloween and just before Christmas was crazy busy is an understatement. It’s always a fun, but busy time of the year, but this year pushed my limits! Thankfully, the holidays are over and I’ve had a few weeks of R&R. I’ve had a chance to reflect on the last few weeks of cooking school, including my final exam and Restaurant Week, as well all the fun I had with my classmates. I miss them all so much!
Looking back on November- it was FULL of awesome food. Food that I knew I’d love, but especially since it was food that didn’t involve any butchering of large animals. To begin the month, we had a fun Cheese Workshop with Juliana Uruburu from Market Hall in Oakland- and what an amazing cheesemonger she is. We worked through the different textures, styles and animal/milk profiles of 13 kinds of cheese. I didn’t even know you could do a cheese tasting without wine or bubbly- apparently in school, to take it seriously, it is done with a water glass and a full water pitcher. I look forward to hosting a cheese tasting with family and friends, with wine or bubbly, and chat about the cheese with just a little more cheese knowledge than I had before. Not a bad idea to eat something light and healthy beforehand and wear your cheese pants for such an event.
In November we also made pasta, lots of it. It’s surprisingly easy to make at home and very satisfying to eat the result. Who doesn’t love pasta?? Basically, we made two types- semolina and egg. Semolina is great for making all kind of fun shapes by hand- farfalle, orecchiette, cavatelli, etc. and includes only semolina flour, all purpose flour, water and salt. Easy and fun to do with kids or a group of friends. Egg pasta is not much more than flour, egg yolks, olive oil and salt. It is made by hand on a board, kneaded and then rolled out in a pasta machine to make a noodle such as fettuccine, or a sheets to make stuffed pasta like agnolotti, tortellini or mezzelone. All fun to make and delicious to eat!
In between several days of pasta production, we took a detour and did Steak 101. Admittedly, I don’t buy a lot of red meat and when I do I have to ask the butcher for all kinds of assistance. Grass fed ground beef is what we buy the most for chili, but when it comes to steaks, I’m pretty lost. We did a taste test of unsalted, pan seared steaks to get the true flavor of each cut, both conventionally grain fed as well as grass fed. Hands down, the grain fed was preferable in flavor to nearly everyone, except me. I actually prefer the brighter, grassy taste versus the meaty flavor that comes through on the grain fed. This could just be my inexperience of eating much meat. Either way, there was no argument on how tasty the steak was in a baguette sandwich with horsey mayo- yum!
One of my most favorite days in November was our Food Panel Day. We had four guest speakers come in to tell us about jobs in the food industry that did not have to do with working in or running a restaurant. They were food writers, recipe developers, cookbook writers, and food innovators. I listened, asked questions and was inspired; a perk to cooking school beyond making delicious food that was unexpected.
November also brought us a very fun Bread Workshop with Michael Kalanty. I’d taken a few of his classes on wild yeast breads and croissants at a local cooking school, so I knew we were in a for a treat. He’s funny, frank, and so talented. His sourdough starter is 30+ years old and I have a bit of it in my refrigerator waiting to be fed.
To keep things light (ha!) before Thanksgiving we did a Thai Workshop and Fried Chicken Day. These were fun days because it was full of food I knew not much about but learned a ton. In Thai cooking, you season with fish sauce, not salt. Despite how many times we were told by Chef, many of us reached for the salt when tasting our dishes and finding a lack of seasoning. It was cooking school- we had just learned the importance of salt when bringing out the flavor in a dish! But not in Thai food, you season with fish sauce.
Fried Chicken Day was heavy, as expected. I learned the difference between a deep fry and a shallow fry, and when to use each. In the end, I realized that it’s the sides that go with this type of meal, not the fried chicken, that I really enjoy. I’ll take an asian slaw, chive mashed potato, and miso-glazed delicata squash over a piece of fried chicken any day.
The end of November concluded with two great days- one of which was a great recipe development class with the school’s founder, Jodi Liano. She has written several cookbooks of her own and for Williams Sonoma, so when she spoke about how to develop a recipe, I took good notes. We practiced with a fun exercise on how to make a grilled cheese. It definitely reminded me of my teaching days and trying to get my 3rd grade students to write clearly using descriptive words. If you don’t specify putting the butter on the outside of the two slices of bread, where does it go??
The other fun day was a Creative Cooking Class with Chef Catherine Patsios. Chef Catherine was the former head instructor at SF Cooking School until she retired just prior to me starting school. She has owned her own restaurant and been with the school since it opened 6 yrs ago. Like something you’ve seen on tv, she made a list of ingredients that we were allowed to use, and the 14 of us brainstormed ideas on how to use these ingredients. There was white pepper but not black pepper; cayenne but no chili flakes; and yellow potatoes, not russets. It was, however, a pretty extensive list of ingredients, so it was pretty fun to come up with an appetizer, a first course, a main course, and a dessert. This day, as I would come to understand about a week later, was to prepare us for Restaurant Week later in December. The end result of our Creative Cooking Class was pretty impressive. I think even our head chef instructor was pretty impressed with what we came up with. I think she had a newfound respect for the 14 of us and had to have been impressed with how far we had come.
Well, that was a lot of info and food! Cannot wait to try these at home…