Last month we attended the grand opening of Sur La Table’s new store in La Jolla and have been itching to go to one of their cooking classes since. Finally, on Friday last week, we joined in the ‘4 Meals For The Busy Cook’ by Chef Andrew Young, which was more than worth the wait. We were really impressed by the whole experience and the attention to detail, but the main thing that stood out was how welcoming and useful the class felt. It’s a hands-on cooking session where you learn, laugh and eat the food that you make. Everyone walks away having accomplished something.
We started off a basic overview, where the chef spoke a bit about the four meals we were going to make:
• Tangliatelle pasta with peas, chicken sausage and home-made basic pesto
• Braised chicken with tomatoes and olives
• Stir-fried pork with snow peas and carrots
• Poached salmon with spinach and herbed aioli
After a quick round of Q and A, we were split into small groups, sent to our stations and put to work. Sur La Table has done an amazing job of setting up the kitchen – everything is state-of-the-art and new. These classes are a great way for them to showcase the goods inside the store, so it feels a bit like you’re getting to participate in a two hour demo (which sounds long, but flies by). To really sweeten the deal, they offer a store discount card to everyone attending; naturally, once you’ve had a chance to play with all the cool toys in the kitchen, you’re more than ready to take a few home.
More than anything, this is a class about cooking as a process, and not just the act of mixing ingredients in a pot or pan. I’m sure everyone there could have made these dishes by following a step-by-step recipe, but not with all the practical building blocks that we were shown on the day. There were interesting and useful nuances explained, like how to make the pesto thicker or thinner, how to braise the chicken properly and prepare the water for poaching salmon, all of which add to the meal that ends up on your plate. Stuff that I certainly wouldn’t know or think about when cooking.
A lot of the information is probably a simple Google search away, but it’s not the same as having a trained professional explain the process, then show you why and how certain herbs and ingredients need to be handled. As I said in the earlier, this was a really fun class where you learn as much about the practicalities of cooking as you do about the recipes. Chef Andrew is a great teacher who does a terrific job of putting these fine details into context and keeping the class engaged from start to finish.
Another really impressive touch was the service offered by the assistant chefs. From beginning to end, the support staff (Julie, Julia and Michael) were on hand to help out if we lost our way (which I consistently did), offer words of encouragement (which I needed) and make sure our water or coffee cups were full.
All in all, it was a great experience and one we’d highly recommend.
*The La Jolla Blue Book would like to thank Sur La Table, Chef Andrew and his team for the opportunity to attend.