Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Experience Taking Part in a Sur la Table Cooking Class...Celebrating Julia Child!

I was recently able to cross an item off my personal culinary bucket list: take a cooking class. I’ve wanted to take a hands-on cooking class for ages, so I was very excited when Sur la Table offered to host me for a very special cooking class. Celebrating Julia Child was held at San Antonio’s La Cantera location of Sur la Table last month…and it took place on Ms. Child’s birthday! Julia’s one of my all-time culinary idols, so I was beyond thrilled to learn how to make some of her classic dishes. I own both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but have to admit that I can sometimes be intimidated by all the steps involved in cooking the French classics. Learning how to make a few of her signature dishes made them much more accessible for home cooks – even experienced home cooks like me!

Michael attended the class with me, so it was a fun culinary date night for us!We headed off to Sur la Table after work and arrived just as the class was starting. We were warmly welcomed by Chef Chris Kidd and his staff of assistants. The cooking classroom is large, modern and full of light. The room can accommodate approximately 15-20 food lovers. We were seated at a wooden table with another couple. At each place setting were cooking tools, a name tag, and an apron to wear during class. As everyone gathered, we were offered an appetizer of bruschetta topped with brie and jam. Once everyone arrived, Chef Kidd had each of us wash our hands and gave us some background information on Ms. Child. We also found out what we’d be cooking that evening. On our menu was: Curly Endive with Bacon and Poached Eggs, Coq au Vin, Stove Top Anna and Mousseline au Chocolat. 
Over the next three hours, class participants watched as Chef Kidd demonstrated helpful cooking techniques and gave us lots of very helpful kitchen hints. We also had ample opportunity to take part in hands-on participation in the kitchen classroom. For example: Michael chopped garlic and I diced the bacon for the coq au vin. We started with the salad. We learned how to make perfect poached eggs using ingenious silicone molds, as well as a fabulous homemade bacon dressing. After the salad was tossed and plated, we sat down at our tables and enjoyed this first course. I had never had a poached egg on a salad; we loved how the bacon and egg worked together with the slightly bitter curly endive. We agreed this would be a great starter for a weekend brunch.
Next, we tackled the coq au vin. Although there are many steps to this classic braised chicken dish, Chef Kidd broke each one down for us. His detailed instructions made the dish much less intimidating, and now I can’t wait to make it at home when the weather turns a bit cooler! Since coq au vin needs to braise for several hours, he prepared a pot ahead of time for us to sample during class. But first, it was time for Chef Kidd to demonstrate how to make the Stove Top Anna. This is basically paper-thin slices of potatoes layered with Swiss cheese and butter…and slowly cooked on the stovetop. A golden, crispy crust forms on the bottom of the pan, and the potatoes are perfectly tender all the way through. This dish is simplicity at its best!

Finally, we learned how to make Mousseline au Chocolat for dessert the classic French way. That entails melting chocolate and coffee very slowly while also whipping egg whites and cooking a sabayon over a water bath. It sounds harder than it is, because the egg whites are whipped in a stand mixer. This allows you to keep an eye on the melting chocolate as you whisk the sabayon over the water bath. Once the components are ready, it’s a matter of carefully and patiently folding everything together into a light, fluffy mousse. While we made this batch of mousses, Chef Kidd’s kitchen assistants unmolded a batch of mousse that had been prepared and chilled earlier that day. Then? It was time to eat!

The price of the class includes hands-on instruction, as well as a generous serving of the dishes created in the class. We enjoyed plates of braised coq au vin paired with the potato gratin. The chicken was literally fall-off-the-bone tender and flavored with bacon, pearl onions and mushrooms. It was divine! The simple potatoes were delicious and paired perfectly with the more robust coq au vin. Then, we went into the kitchen to serve ourselves some of the mousse. It was light in texture, but very rich. A small serving was the perfect ending to our educational and fun classroom experience. I like to think that somewhere in that Great Kitchen in the Sky, Ms. Child was looking down and pleased to see others share her passion for French cooking to celebrate her birthday!

After the class was over, we chatted with Chef Kidd for a few minutes and snapped a couple of pictures. He was a great instructor, making the class informative for cooks with all levels of experience. I consider myself a seasoned cook, and I learned several great tips and techniques during the class. Sur la Table offers cooking classes at its locations across the United States. Each location has an online calendar that shows at least two months worth of upcoming classes. Classes are offered in a broad range of categories, including: baking, chef spotlights, and themed date night classes geared specifically to couples. Based on my experience, I can vouch that the classes are a great value. You learn a lot, get hand-on experience in new cooking techniques…and end up with a tasty meal afterward to boot! To find classes offered at the Sur la Table near you, simply visit the Cooking Class locator at the Sur la Table website.

Disclosure: Sur la Table provided me with a complimentary cooking class to facilitate this post; we paid for Michael’s class registration. All photographs are copyright Michael K. Garcia. They may not be copied or otherwise used without  prior permission.

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