Chef Tom and Cooking Class with Recipes!

Last night I led a cooking class for twenty-one people. This might have been class number thirty-six or fifty-two or twenty-eight, I’ve lost count.  Public classes, private parties, corporate team building, ingredient-focused, allergenista-friendly, I’ve done all sorts. Cooking classes are one of my favorite things to do. I always get a strong sense of fulfilling my purpose in life, whatever that is. Lol. I get to connect with people and watch them connect with each other as we all participate in fighting for, and then accomplishing, something remarkable together. Everyone loves food. Food is sexy. Cooking is the new black, or maybe it’s the old, classic black that never goes out of style. Seems the majority of folks actually enjoy cooking to some degree, or at least have a romantic notion of being a cook. There’s always plenty of fun to be had.

Chef Tom Toasts the Class

In every class there is this two-hour stretch of mostly chaos (my favorite part of the evening) where teams try to figure out their recipes, establish some sort of division of labor, and dive headlong into a straight-up alchemical process. The result usually ends up being more than the sum of its parts. In my recently-graduated-from writing class, we practiced metaphor. I wrote, “Cooking is a shotgun wedding between food and fancy.” I like that. I was going to say food and imagination, but I liked the alliteration.

A shotgun wedding is classically defined as a forced marriage due to an unplanned pregnancy. Someone got creative and decided to “force-wed” a bunch of weird ingredients (food/bride) to a set of crazy guidelines or recipe (fancy/groom). The pregnancy could be the finished dish, but who knows. Don’t be so literal. You get my point.

The menu last night was our most popular menu ever. This was the third, maybe the fifth time (again, who keeps track?) we’ve done this menu. Because It’s. So. Damn. Good. Yotam Ottolenghi, who I have mentioned here before, is an accomplished chef from Israel (although his name sounds like he might be African).  He has a number of amaze-balls cookbooks and (I think) four successful restaurants (in London) under his belt. He does largely Middle-Eastern style food, so the flavors are always bold and his choices of ingredients never fail to inspire. The menu was from my favorite of his cookbooks, Jerusalem.

Ottolenghi

The mean age in the kitchen must have been 50-60, which was nice, actually. I like Boomers. They have a more lived-in vibe. Old hippies, often world-traveled, a sense of humor (that I can relate to) and a refreshing irreverence that comes with having been around the sun a few times.

Everyone starts drifting in at five pm. I have appetizers ready. Last night’s was a yummy mush of cinnamon-roasted sweet potato (orange), tahini (beige), yogurt (white) and pomegranate molasses (dark brown, almost black), served with carrot and celery sticks for dipping. With the mash of potato, a decorative swirl of the various sauces, and a scattering of black and white sesame seeds, it looked plenty rustic (read fancy cow pie), and was really delicious. It was supposed to be butternut squash, but they were out, so I opted for the sweet potato. I was to use date syrup, but I grabbed a common ingredient in Middle Eastern recipes, pomegranate molasses. No one minded my subs in the least. Here’s the recipe.

Spread

After some basic logistics and an overview of the evening, I break the crowd into teams and assign one or two recipes each. They wash their hands and then all hell breaks loose. Imagine twenty-plus folks cheek to jowl playing with fire and sharp knives, reading large-font recipes (failing eyesight), plunging ahead with self-assured cockiness (that Boomer thang), and each cook swigging from a big glass of good wine. The wine helps loosen their too-tight nuts n’ bolts. Sometimes way loose, but hey, that can be fun.

I also had two sous chefs. Stanley, a young guy who owns his own successful café right across the street from us, which is how I met him because I have breakfast there two or three times a week. We love chatting each other up about all things food. He likes a more scientific approach than I and he tends to collect complicated kitchen gadgets. He’s one smart cookie and has pulled our cooking classes (we’ve done over twenty together) out of the ditch many times. Taylor was the new guy. I met him sitting across the dinner table at a meal shared by six strangers. We hit it off and I invited him to come play. He’s tall, charming, and seems to know what he’s doing in the kitchen (he was a professional chef for eight years and now does culinary consulting). The ladies were happy.

The three of us stayed in steady rotation from team to team, answering questions, giving advice and trying to prevent people from making some of the most unbelievable culinary blunders you can think of. Holy cats. Like in one class a cook’s job was to macerate (sixty dollars’ worth of) organic berries that were meant for dessert and instead of the sugar, she grabbed the salt. Yagg, I thought maybe I could turn it all into some kind of chutney, but they were beyond repair. Or the guy who walked up to me holding a ziplock baggie and in all seriousness asked, “Is this a foil pouch?”  Stuff like that. But, I learned a long time ago, never laugh in your student’s face. It can be rather off-putting.

Ninety-five percent of the time, despite two hours of craziness, when we plate the dishes and line them up in a giant buffet line, the food is not only beautiful, buy seriously delicious. Last night was no exception. When dinner rolls around, being hungry, a bit worn out, and having your nuts loosened by a Malbec of a Pinot Grigio, the food tastes incredible! Aristotle said, “There is no better sauce than hunger.”

The main protein was one of my all-time favorite combinations of flavor, called Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak. Big, juicy chicken thighs, tucked in with thin slices of clementine (tangerine) and sweet lemon (or Meyers), large chunks of onion and fennel, grain mustard, clementine and lemon juice, fresh thyme and a few generous glugs of licorice flavored Arak (similar to Raki, Pernod, Ouzo, etc.). The licorice isn’t cloying at all, it ends up making the dish nicely aromatic. The citrus slices kind of “candy” in the roasting process and we turn the chicken skin-side up so it will be wonderfully browned. The combo of flavors is pure magic.  Here is the recipe.

 

The star of the show was a creamy pistachio soup. Starts with a sautée of leeks and shallots in butter with fresh ginger and some cumin. Then you add chicken stock (I have been using bone broth lately) and simmer for about a half hour to blend the flavors. Next comes the pistachios and the whole mess in blended to a fine puree.  Just before serving, and this step turns the whole thing into something remarkable, we stir in tangerine (or orange) juice and lemon juice. Then we drizzle the top with golden-yellow saffron water and some chopped pistachios. Gorgeous.  The soup is a lovely pale green, unctuous and savory, and the citrus juices add an acidic bright note. Here is the recipe.

Soup

My favorite dish of the evening was dessert. We did Roasted Rhubarb and Sweet Labneh. Labneh is kind of a cheese made from hanging a bunch of good yogurt, sweetened with powdered sugar, in a pouch of cheesecloth, to drain out the liquid overnight. This thickening of the yogurt gives it the texture of cream cheese. The rhubarb was cut into 2-inch batons, then roasted/stewed with Moscato, a vanilla bean, and some sugar.

As a rather classy presentation, for each person we placed a big, white dollop of Labneh into an old fashioned martini glass. The thickened, lovingly rich, slightly tart yogurt-cheese, was topped with aromatic, sweet-tart chunks of rhubarb, then topped with lemon zest and crushed pistachio. Not only was it an elegant dessert, it was, ohmygodpleaserubthisinmyhair KILLER! Here is the recipe.

Labneh

Btw – take a look at cookhouse. This is where I’ve done my cooking classes for the last five years. It’s above Vesuvio Bar, across Jack Kerouac Alley from City Lights Bookstore in at the corner of Columbus and Broadway in Northbeach. I can’t help but feel like I am embedded into the Beat Generation’s timeline.

Cookhouse

One woman lifted her wine to toast the chefs and say, “Thank you for one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life!” That was more of the fulfilling my purpose in life stuff. A good half dozen folks, on their way out the door, expressed interest in doing the next class. The tip jar was nicely filled so I could toss a few shekels to the new guy, who had generously volunteered for the evening. I was able to go into the village get a yummy nightcap with two repeat customers and close foodie-friends. All in all a successful evening.

I don’t have anything in the pipe just yet, but I was recently contacted by an old work colleague. He said he’s looking for a change in career from being a translator living in Cologne, Germany with his family. Said he plans to come back to California and go through the training to become a sommelier of olive oil. Wanted to know if I would be interested in doing an olive-oil cooking class, a tasting tour of olive oil presses in the Bay Area and ultimately leading a food tour in the South of Greece (his wife is Greek and her family owns acres and acres of olive trees. My friend has been involved with the harvest every year for decades).

Hmmm….cooking class? Olive oil factory tour? Foodie tour in the South of Greece?

Oh hell yeah.

Olive Oil

=CTH=

Chef Tom is currently Resident Chef for a small tech firm in San Francisco. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at www.hippkitchen.com

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