A kitchen store near our house regularly offers cooking classes and wine tastings. We used to occasionally go to these as guests, as we could afford it, but then we discovered the possibility of volunteering in the store as class assistants. Now every couple of weeks or so during the class season we head down to the store after work and start chopping. The level of work required depends heavily on which chef or wine rep is leading the class, and how many people are signed up – classes range from 6 to 26 people. It’s work, but we get to taste the food and the wine, meet local chefs, and cook some things we don’t normally try at home. In return we chop, plate, wash dishes, serve, stuff peppers, debeard mussels, measure flour, and sweep up at the end of the night. It’s a little like getting restaurant experience without getting paid or yelled at.
A recent class that we helped out with was a joint venture by chef Casey Schanen of Nell Thorn and wine rep Tom Saunderson with Young’s Columbia. We’ve worked with both of them before and they do an excellent job. The first course was an antipasto plate spread with white beans seasoned with garlic and truffle oil, Sun Gold tomato & walnut tapenade, fresh Sun Gold tomatoes, and marvelous green olives marinated with lemon slices and lemon leaves. Plus a big basketful of Nell Thorn sourdough bread, still warm from the oven – heaven! Tom poured a nice cold Prosecco with this.
Next up was a single huge scallop laid on a bed of sauteed escarole (from our friend Steve’s farm) sitting in a pool of Sun Gold tomato beurre blanc, mmmmm. One of the other volunteers and I were discussing whether we could get away with licking our plates, then decided we should probably pass the bread around again so no-one else would have to make that decision. The wine was an Italian Orvieto white, very crisp and absolutely, stunningly perfect with the scallops.
Third course was risotto. Green tomato risotto, so it had an interesting tartness to it, tempered with a bowl of (unsweetened) whipped cream, lots of butter and pecorino, and a pile of seared chanterelle mushrooms on top. Plenty rich, but oh yum. Tom picked what he was calling a “superUmbrian” red (as opposed to a SuperTuscan, you know) – it tasted great with the risotto, but when I tried it alone later it had an odd grassy taste. It’s all in the pairing, sometimes.
Fourth (and final!) course: polenta pound cake with rosemary, served with cooked pears and their juice, sprinkled with powdered rosemary, black pepper and demerara sugar, and topped with whipped cream. This tasted pretty darn great, especially since it came with a glass of my favorite type of dessert wine, a slightly sparkling muscat.
We washed up (four courses, twenty-five people, you do the math) and swept and put away leftovers, and headed home in the rain, full, happy and exhausted.
photograph at top by Leigh Wiener