Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Cooking School Date

BrooklynLady and I have a hard time getting time to go out together, now that we have a little daughter. I understand now that we used to take this for granted. We had the ability to go out on a whim, to have a simple date, like taking a walk through the leafy streets of our neighborhood and grabbing a drink somewhere. Or something a bit fancier, like going to dinner at a nice restaurant.

So now, when we actually get to go out on a date, we try to put some effort into it, to think of something really fun to do, because we don't get to go out that often. Pressure? Yup. But recently we thought we had a sure thing. We decided to take a cooking class together! Sounds like a nice way to spend a Friday evening, right?

We both love to cook, and we're already pretty competent, but it would be nice to add some new dishes to our repertoire. So when we saw a class called "Essentials of Provençal Cooking" in the Institute for Culinary Education Catalog, it just seemed obvious. Provence - isn't that the land of black olives and lavender and all sorts of other yummy things?

Here is the course description:

Provence is a gastronomic paradise where French techniques meet Mediterranean elements like garlic, basil, olives, lavender, and honey. Throughout this enchanting evening you will learn essential techniques, including selecting the proper herbs and other aromatics that pair with the freshest of ingredients to make simple dishes that burst with flavor. On your menu will be Pastis; Tapenade (olive spread on rustic bread); Brandade de Morue à l’Aïoli (dried cod with aioli); Soupe au Pistou (bean soup with cheese and basil-garlic dressing); Daube de Boeuf (beef simmered in red wine); Tian d’Aubergines et Courgettes (eggplant and zucchini crustless tart); Carré d’Agneau Rôti aux Herbes de Provence (roast lamb with herbes de provence); Fenouil à la Provençale (braised fennel with tomatoes and garlic); Dried Fruit and Honey Compote.
You know as well as I do - that sounds amazing. Four or five dishes that I would love to learn how to make. But sadly, mis-advertised. Here is what the course description SHOULD have said:
Provence is a gastronomic paradise where French techniques meet Mediterranean elements like garlic, basil, olives, lavender, and honey. But we will not discuss that, we just wrote that to get you in the door. Instead you will watch the chef as he thinly slices onions and garlic, just like Emeril or one of the other food network chefs. You will prep zucchini, more onions, and slice several baguettes. Please remember, do not ask any questions about or in any way attempt to discuss Provençal cooking. And if you thought you'd enjoy a glass of wine on Friday night while prepping onions, forget it pal. We have knife safety to think about. Now get to work, and split into three groups so that you can actually make all of the food. That's right, we'll assign dishes to your group - you will not learn to make all of the dishes as advertised. Stop complaining and start slicing onions. Please do not make me repeat myself.
Thankfully BrooklynLady looked up at me about 15 minutes into the 4 and half hour class and said "can we escape this together?" We faked a childcare emergency and fled, wandering downtown until we found ourselves at the much hyped, but quite good Momofuku Ssam Bar. But that's another story...

So have you ever been to a good cooking class? Was my experience typical? New York typical? I cannot believe how LAME LAME LAME this class was. Clearly we are not the target audience. Or is everyone else normal and we're crazy???

15 comments:

Jeff said...

WOW! What a letdown. And especially since it's not that easy to go out in the first place.

Joanne said...

Oh gosh. I'm glad you ended up having a nice dinner after all. And Kudos for cutting your losses and bailing.)

My experience with cooking classes is that the ones run by the stores generally are pretty basic skills. I started out choosing only the "hands-on" classes (thinking what's the point of going if you don't cook) and after a couple of poor experiences like you just had I now prefer their "demo" classes if I go at all. I would only take a class there if I know next to nothing about the subject or if the teacher is in fact a cookbook author of note. (Some of the store class offerings are even *for* singles.)

If you want a more intelligent approach with depth you have to look harder - either taking a real cooking school course (although quality is hard to find) or sometimes restaurants offer classes and that can be fun if the chef is a good teacher.

On "date nights" which we revere we usually go out to dinner. Jack & I only once tooked a mildly successful cooking class together in San Francisco and it wasn't exactly a romantic evening. You are not crazy and you were not their target audience :)

RougeAndBlanc said...

Is it possible to ask the some sort of reimbursment for the misleading nature of this course?

RougeAndBlanc said...

oops. sticky fingers: I meant: 'to ask the institue for some sort of reimbursement'

Brooklynguy said...

hi jeff - yup, it was a letdown, but we wound up having a good night anyway. its important to remember how to spontaneously have fun with your spouse when you are almost never out alone together...

hi joanne! hope you're well out there. i appreciate your comments, and i agree - no point in compounding your losses by staying to the bitter end, just cause you've already paid. the sad part, by the way, is that ICE is a "Real" cooking school, i believe. i think next time we are traveling in france we'll take a class in a small town or something, or maybe look harder here for a class at a restaurant we like. i guess its not easy to find what we were hoping for-glad we're not crazy. hi to jack, and take it easy-neil

Brooklynguy said...

we should have done just that andrew, but i was so full of venom that i didn't want to talk to them

Lenn said...

that is absolutely horrible...I really hope that you called/emailed/wrote to them after the fact.

I've never taken a cooking class, but something tells me that a fair number are just like that...meant for 'intro' cooking types.

They should at least advertise it correctly.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Lenn - you know, maybe I will call them now just to see what happens.

Jcooks said...

What a terrible experience! I have taken hands-on pastry classes that I loved (I ended up taking 6 altogether) and I really took a job developing cooking classes for adults. I certainly hope my students will have a better experience!

Brooklynguy said...

Hi jcooks - sounds like an interesting job. i think it comes down to two things: advertise the class honestly, and make sure that new cooks and experienced cooks can find something that interests them. thanks for stopping by, and good luck in your new job.

andy said...

Hi Brooklynguy, next time curl up to some Julia Childs web videos on PBS. Nice thinking on the escape plan, always good to have one on the way in. Sometimes, if I see something that makes me squeamish, at a restaurant, I use "left my card in the machine" and leave before the menu's come. Amelia has to know the secret escape plan is in the works and I'll tell her what I saw when we get outside.

Well done on the happy ending.

Brooklynguy said...

hey andy - an escape plan is crucial at restaurants, i think. there is just nothing that says you must stay for dinner if what you experience before dinner is worrisome.

sddonegan said...

Ok, your experience was terrible. Sadly, I hear this is very typical. I am a cooking instructor based in Atlanta but I travel the Country holding group cooking classes. I handle mine a little differently though. I do take the hands on approach letting the students get involved, but my classes are based less on technique and more on the actual taste of the food.
But I must say, Im not a culinary school trained teacher. I learned to cook in my grandmothers resturant. I tried the culinary things and just like your class you attended, it was terrible. I was less interested in teaching others technique which I find quite boring. Dont get me wrong, technique is important, but I dont think that it should over power the class.
I wasnt your instructor, but I apoligize for your experience.

www.stephaniedonegan.com
www.myspace.com/stephaniedonegan

jiganshu said...

In today’s hectic life we don’t have time for our partner. We wait far a date for long time and it gets postponed due to several reasons. to avoid this couple must join .which enables them to share same interest.

htttp://www.culinaryschoolsprograms.com/

Anonymous said...

I had the same, exact experience at a cooking school in Sonoma, Ramakins three times with three classes that were supposed to be hands on. In one, I cut up an onion and deboned 1/2 a chicken and that was it! The night was pretty much a joke for $100. In addition, it went way over. Finally at 10:15 I left and the dessert wasn't even in the oven!