April 19, 2011

Is this a glimpse of what it's like to work in a restaurant?

I mentioned in my previous post on flourless chocolate cake that I had taken a cooking class recently.  For years, I've talked about taking cooking classes just for fun and my husband finally took action for me when he gave me a gift of one at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.  I thought we'd take a little dessert reprieve and I could share with you some of the thoughts and pictures I have from that day.

Generally, I prefer to bake at home.  It's easier, requires far less time (I don't count waiting for a cake to bake in the oven as time), and involves minimal ingredient-hunting.  But if I took a cooking class, I always figured I'd go the savory route instead of more baking.  This particular course was called "Great New York Restaurants' Signature Dishes."  It looked great though I had some qualms about going to a hands-on class without knowing anyone.  Turns out, there were about 15 people in the class (about half from New Jersey like me, incidentally), and a number of people came alone.  It really didn't matter if you knew anyone else because you were basically too busy cooking anyway.

The class was 4.5 hours long and we went over-time by more than half an hour.  I think I can sum up the experience by saying I have newfound appreciation for those who work in the professional kitchen.  I salute all those people and thank them for doing it.

First off, the recipes.  Goodness, now I know why they have to charge us $20 for that salad!  We made the Balthazar Salad, which involves something like 5 kinds of lettuce greens, about 4 other vegetables that needed to be blanched or roasted just so, and a lemon truffle vinaigrette.  It's not exactly something you'd whip up at home, even for company.  (Actually, I checked online and saw this salad is just $13 at Balthazar...I am telling you, that is a bargain.)

How about making your own pasta?  And the filling and sauce that goes with it too, of course.  It was a really fun experience for me to make my own pasta dough for the first time and see that it was not hard at all.  However, it is time consuming and it is much harder to then transform the dough into ravioli and keep the filling inside while cooking.  This dish was Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage from Babbo (a great Italian restaurant I finally had a chance to go to with my husband last summer).  This took hours to make and you need to get your hands on merguez sausage - a type of lamb sausage I'd never heard of before this.  But all together, this dish was totally delicious.

Next up, the class made Roast Monkfish on Savoy Cabbage and Bacon Butter Sauce as well as Hanger Steak with Bordelaise Sauce.  Need I say more?  The fish dish is from Le Bernardin, an amazing restaurant.  The steak recipe is from Craft restaurant.  It was delicious and I'd love to try out the "real" version someday.
Lastly, of course, there was the warm chocolate cake from Gotham Bar & Grill that I talked about in my last post.  I wish I had a picture of that to show you but it was the end of the long class, the cake was making a re-appearance late (it has to be re-heated before serving), and when I got hold of it, I just inhaled it. 

All in all, it was eye-opening to get a look into the real recipes behind these notable dishes.  I was really surprised that everything came together in the end and tasted delicious, which I think is a credit to the recipes themselves.  The class made me appreciate all the work and the creative process that goes into what we eat at some of these restaurants.  After standing on my feet and cooking for over 4 hours, I was completely exhausted.  And I didn't even cook every dish (each team cooks 2-3 items but there are many steps) and didn't have to gather all the ingredients beforehand or wash the dishes. 

Near the end of the class, I remember there was a mom in our group who was there with her son (he had gotten the class for them as a Christmas gift to her - such a nice gesture) and she was telling him that maybe they could take this class again and make the other items they didn't get a chance to work on today.  I looked at her and told her I learned that it would probably make more sense for me to go to the actual restaurant and eat there instead.

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