Cursing SmartPark, street parking, and canvassers, I rushed in five minutes and late tried to sit down as inconspicuously as possible. I was a guest at A Taste of Italy,
the latest in the Chef Series
, Le Cordon Bleu's cooking classes for the everyman—or at least every man willing to shell out $90. Before I could sneak to my seat and shuck off my jacket, one of the many class helpers (Le Cordon Bleu students all) came to take it from me and handed me an apron.
This was the first inkling of the strangest ‘Chef experience' that the class offered—more than the pasta making, more than the sauce instruction and tomato peeling, the army of excited, uniformed underlings cleaning and doing prep work gives one the impression of power and skills. I instantly became the master to these bright eyed kitchen hands, and while that has its charm–I never had to clean anything!–it seemed out of whack.
Reading absolutely no material before class, I nonetheless had exquisitely detailed expectations: An austere European chef (who had pulled himself up from his hardscrabble roots with regime-changing recipes) would mercilessly criticize my cooking throughout a moving montage, and after three minutes and dozens of grueling camera angles I would emerge a fantastic cook. As the last strains of “Eye of the Tiger” faded out, the camera would shift to Chef Bertrand Roughtumble. The quiet pride in his eyes lets the viewer know he believed in me all along. I was family to him, maybe even his long-lost son.
This was not the case. Rather that Chef Roughtumble there was the amiable Chef DJ
, who wisely opened with a quick appetizer demonstration followed by the class' shameless appetizer devouring. For the next two hours we watched him prepare a variety of dishes as he relentlessly stressed the simplicity of cooking. While “Cooking is easy” may help the shy step up to the frying pan, it doesn't pull others into the mystic fold. There was no behind-the-curtain antics, just simple cooking. It is a class on basic recipes with a few techniques thrown in, designed to give the amateur a handy stack of Le Cordon Bleu recipe cards and a healthy dollop of confidence
. It works better as a heavily interactive meal than a cooking education.
But it's a fantastic interactive meal. Everything from the initial two-hour cooking demonstration is fed to students immediately. Afterward students pick from the many things they've sampled and cook it themselves, and the end result is an obscene amount of fresh, delicious food. Giant trays of desserts, swordfish, sausage and fresh made pasta stretch over large wooden tables, and all are eaten without a hint of pretension
. Go if you normally wouldn't balk at spending $90 on a meal–it's more fun, and you'll like as not to learn something–but if that seems pricey, you'd be better off with a solid cookbook and a free afternoon.
There is no wine paring here (mumble mumble, something about regulations), so to be safe you'd best bring a bottle of your own.
Don't forget a to-go container. There will be more food than you can eat, and it will be worth eating later.
Click here to register for one of the upcoming classes in the Chef Series.