It should be no secret that J and I enjoy food. If we splurge on anything, it would be for a nice meal from time to time. But we also enjoy cooking. While neither of us are particularly masterful in the kitchen, we both are comfortable and adventurous.
This is why we were very excited to take a cooking class for couples. Using a gift certificate that we received for L'Academie de Cuisine, we signed up for the "Romantic Dinner for Two" class taught by Chef Oliver Friendly. The class was held in the Gaithersburg location (the main location is in Bethesda). Each of the 24 attendees were partnered in six teams of four to make (and eat!) a three course meal over the three hour class.
Chef Friendly was true to his name (which is not a stage name) and blended technical knowledge with entertaining anecdotes from his time as a student in L'Academie and throughout the world of food. Among the highlights were personal stories of celebrity chefs (of note, Gordon Ramsey), memorable blunders (don't burn the sesame seeds unless you want to eat a pound of them), and kitchen initiations (spending an hour, soaking wet in the freezer). He was far from intimidating yet earned the respect of the most experienced members of the room. While the evening might not have been the advertised romantic night out, it was exactly what we were looking for. At the same time, other couples who were less involved and looking for a less interactive experience, seemed to enjoy it as well.
The class was more than just following a recipe while being entertained. We learned practical techniques (sound knife techniques and the proper way to separate an egg, cut an onion, and season soup) as well as new ways to approach a meal (preparing stock, constructing sauces and soups, and the chemistry of cooking). The menu included: potato and sorrel soup, Maryland Rockfish with sauteed mustard greens and carrots with a tarragon wine sauce, and vanilla crème brulee. Nearly all of the ingredients were freshly purchased from local farmers markets.
I think the soup was probably the most useful dish since it was taught with the idea of future concoctions with a variety of substituted ingredients. That said, the soup was also the dish I'm most excited about remaking. It was clear that the creamy soup was freshly made with quality ingredients. Also, the sorrel which I'd not heard of, much less cooked with, was a great addition (it has a fresh tart/sour flavor).
The fish was my primary assignment for the night and while good, it was something I'm used to cooking at home. The most instructional element was the creation of the sauce, something I'd also like to try for myself.
J made the crème brulee. Again, this is something we've done at home but was fun to do again.
The Sous Chef (or just J) Speaks
I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous about attending a class at a professional cooking school. While I can hold my own in the kitchen, my skills are less than polished. I cook sort of like I type: my fingers are never in the right places but I get the job done quickly. My nervousness subsided as soon as Chef Friendly began to speak. He is down-to-earth and far from intimidating. There were some missteps along the way (I coated my wedding rings in egg as I attempted to separate the eggs with one hand) but by the end of the class I was eagerly volunteering to torch the crème brulee. I had a really good time and learned a lot.
I normally review each dish and describe in detail the textures and flavors. For me, however, this class was less about the food and more about the learning experience. Don’t get me wrong, the food was outstanding and it was a real treat to get to sit down to a three course meal after all of our hard work. B and I really took advantage of the opportunity and jumped right in. Chef Friendly even thanked us for being so interested and engaged. By getting over my fear and getting my hands dirty (very literally) I took home several valuable kitchen techniques. I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get into the kitchen to test out my new skills.
The class fell short of expectations in only one respect. As it was advertised as “Romantic Dinner for Two” I expected to learn how to work together in the kitchen as a couple and divide tasks to conquer challenging recipes. There really wasn’t any focus on the “couples” aspect of the class but I think B and I have that part down pretty well. Our teamwork is definitely one of our strong suits. As demonstrated all of 30 minutes ago – I’m writing this 40,000 feet in the air – we currently hold the world’s fastest time for Synchronized Airport Security Screening (I dare you to try to get your shoes off, laptop out, metal items off, and boarding pass in hand faster than us). The point is, it would have been nice for the class to put a bit more emphasis on the couples part as we sometimes step on each other’s toes in the kitchen. Overall, it was a great class taught by a very enthusiastic and comical chef.