Last week, Andrew Wilen of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen tweeted me an invitation to attend their Basic Meals Boot Camp class. I was excited, since attending some of their classes has been high on my to-do list for a while. Since my mom is the the most unskilled cook I know, I brought her along as a test subject. I gave up on trying to teach her how to do anything in the kitchen but clean it a long time ago; If Alyssa could help her prepare even a side dish, much less a whole meal, she’d be moving mountains. (If you’re friends with me on Facebook, scroll back to Easter 2013 and my live-updates of her attempt to make a banana pudding. The experience was hilariously unpleasant.)
Chef Alyssa Gorelick’s classes are inside Atherton Market in Southend. If you’ve never been, it’s a year-round indoor farmer’s market of sorts, with vendors selling art, jewelry, meats, breads, honey, pickles… it’s a neat place.
I ran over to Vin Master to purchase a couple beers (the classes are BYOB) and settled into a spot close to the demo station. Our tablemates were a boyfriend-girlfriend couple from Davidson. The rest of the class ranged in ages from twenties to fifties, I guess. I probably should’ve asked around and gotten a better feel like a real reporter, but it was soggy and humid and I was hungry and slightly cranky. Then I got distracted…
…by appetizer sandwiches. I was so glad there was something to nosh on. They were not an example of a sandwich we were about to make, but I cared not. I had four of them. With zero shame. Cranks gone.
Now to the work. Our lesson plan, which came packaged in a nice little cookbook, looked like far more than a “basic meal.” We were baking tarts, braising and searing chicken two ways, deglazing and making buttery sauces… I was a little bit worried that it was going to be beyond my mom’s comfort level.
But Alyssa is really good at this! She prepared each step while we watched, then provided a fully-prepped and measured ingredient tray for us to take it on for ourselves. Each table of 4 worked together on components so I was a little nervous (y’all know I’m not, and have never been here for other people’s hygiene) but there were copious amounts of hand sanitizer and prep gloves for the using. Mom and I volunteered for the jobs that were most hands-on though, because we’re neurotic.
Since we were working with raw meats and whatnot, there were also tips about how to keep your prep surfaces and utensils clean. Because not everyone’s gramma kept bleach under the sink. These are things you have to know.
After about 2 hours of cooking, we had a meal! Now, several people I know with extreme reservations about cooking cite the time it takes as the reason they don’t want to try. Common sense should tell you that the class takes two hours because it’s stop-start and you’re spending time watching the demo and waiting. This would probably take 30-40 minutes at home. So don’t use that as an excuse.
After we plated ourselves, we got to enjoy our handmade meals and socialize a bit. I have to say, everything tasted pretty darn good. I would’ve spiced some things up more, but you can’t go too crazy in a cooking class (especially a “basic skills” class) lest you get confusing. Alyssa did a good job of explaining the whys behind certain decisions (letting the dough rest, cutting the veggies to certain sizes, searing the meats first) so that things made more sense.
My main test was if my mom, who is literally afraid of stoves, felt confident and enjoyed herself. And she did! She had fun! She’s trying to get her friends to register for the Thai food class next month. And I’m probably going to take the one on knife skills (that’s my weakness.) Unfortunately, this confidence hasn’t resulted in her using her home kitchen any more often, but she won’t stop talking about that tart dough. We’ll see if she ever makes up a batch.
Check out chefalyssaskitchen.com for more info and the full class schedule.