Monday, August 12, 2013

Day 92 - Attending a Cooking Class

I have never attended a cooking class. I have always maintained an interest in cooking, but I have had little by way of direction in the area up to this point in my life. As a result, I will periodically get the urge to cook, but my lack of expertise leaves me not knowing where to start. In turn, I will generally quit before I start or get frustrated and give up when I try to cook a meal. Obviously, I knew the only way I could improve in the area is with practice and direction, so I looked into my options for instruction and resolved to attend my first cooking class during my “I have never...” year. After some research and planning, I ultimately narrowed in on a series of classes offered at a kitchen and conference room in a local grocery store, Hyvee. Although the forum seemed odd to me, the more I read about the class offerings and the instructor, Chef David, the more appealing the classes became. When I eventually stumbled upon an upcoming class on one of my favorite dishes, curry, I knew I was sold on the idea of attending a class with Chef David. As a result, I reserved a spot in the curry cooking class scheduled for tonight and made my way to the local Hyvee after work this evening.

The class
Upon arriving at Hyvee, I was directed by staff to a conference room off to the side of the massive store’s south wall. As directed, I wound my way through store aisles until I came upon a room lined with rows of tables facing a full commercial kitchen at the opposite end of room. Inside, an older man in a chef’s uniform stood before a small group of people sitting at the table closest to the kitchen. Assuming I was in the correct location, I entered the room and began walking toward the group, which prompted the man in the chef’s uniform to look up and greet me. “Hell there! You must be Caleb!” he said with a warm smile. I confirmed his assumption as I continued toward the front of the room. “I’m Chef David. Please, come in and take a seat!” the man continued as he motioned toward an empty chair in the middle of the five other students in attendance. Following his instruction, I took my position at the table and introduced myself to the rest of the group.

Moments later, Chef David indicated we were ready to start our class. At first, he walked us through a display of spices, ingredients, and products that would be used during our curry cooking experience. His knowledge and expertise were apparent as he spoke. Chef David detailed the origins, uses, and flavors of each product on the display cart before us, explaining how each of the products provides depth and complexity to various types of curry dishes. With his background on the ingredients complete, he immediately directed us to a list of curry recipes he had prepared for the group. Specifying we would be comparing the chicken curry recipe in our class, he was deliberate in his effort to spell out the subtleties in the remaining recipes. Chef David highlighted the important elements of the lamb curry, beef curry, and shrimp curry recipes to ensure we had a good understanding of the unique elements of each recipe that serve to provide balance and flavor centered on the meat or seafood in each recipe. As a beginner, it was hard for me not to feel consternation at Chef David’s knowledge, but his approach assured me his support and direction would guide us through the forthcoming cooking experience.

The start of the rice...
With his background complete, Chef David advised us he would give each member of our group a chance to participate in the whole of the food preparation. Continuing, he asked each of us to rise and take a position at the countertop in the kitchen. With the group moving to the kitchen, Chef David assigned us tasks in the cooking process. As he worked through the group, Chef David tasked me and another student with the process of preparing the seasoned rice that would accompany the curry. He explained we would have ample opportunity to experience cooking the curry itself, but was quick to remind us the rice was as important to the flavor of the curry as the curry sauce was itself. With our assignments established, our group quickly set to work preparing our portions of the dish. As we worked on preparing the rice, I consistently found myself surprised and a little confused by some of the ingredients called for in the rice recipe. After preparing some chicken broth and ghee, a form of clarified butter, we added cinnamon sticks and a healthy amount of lime zest to the mixture. I was a bit skeptical of the brown, lime scented mixture at first, but the aroma it produced with the steady application of heat was unbelievable. With the base ready, my partner and I added the rice to let it simmer for a little more than 10 minutes. That time frame gave us the opportunity to shift our attention to the preparation of the curry, which was just getting started.

Almost ready!
As I approached the other end of the kitchen, I noticed the other half of the group was still in the process of cooking the lightly peppered chicken meat for the meal. I watched on as the group worked, helping where I could and encouraging them in their efforts. A few minutes later the meat was prepared, which caused Chef David to move in and give some direction on the next few steps. He quickly and plainly explained the value of deglazing the pot used to cook the chicken, which would add another layer of flavor to the curry. In turn, Chef David grabbed a bottle of white wine and carefully added a slight amount to the pan. Immediately the oil and chicken juice base in the pan reacted, creating a smooth mixture that would serve as the foundation for our next steps in the process. Continuing, Chef David placed the booked chicken back in the pan and instructed our group on the timing of adding the onions, red curry, coconut milk, shitake mushrooms, ghee, and red peppers to the pan in the coming minutes. As directed, the team worked in unison to add the ingredients as instructed. With Chef David watching on, we mixed and blended the ingredients over heat until a beautiful and aromatic curry begin to form in front of us.

Nearly finished!
With the curry prepared and ready to cook down, I moved back to the rice, which was ready for its final touches and a little more heat. As instructed by the recipe, I added peas, shredded basil, and lime juice to the now-golden rice. The mix of the curry and rice lifting into the air, my appetite started making itself known. Everything around me looked and smelled so delicious it was hard to think of anything other than food. After waiting several more minutes for the curry to cook down, Chef David informed us it was time to prepare our toppings and sit down for a meal. On cue, Chef David moved to the opposite end of the counter and grabbed small bowls of pan fried peanuts, pineapple, shredded coconut, and raisins. He proceeded to prepare a small dish of chutney before turning to the group with a smile. “Who’s hungry?” he asked as he gestured toward the completed meal. The answer was obvious, and our group was more than ready to try our first attempt at chicken curry.

My plate... So good.

After grabbing a plate and placing a little bit of each topping strategically on my plate, I sat down in my place at the conference table in anticipation of my first taste of the curry I helped create. After getting myself settled, I immediately grabbed my fork and dove in. The first bite was a burst of flavor that was beyond what I had expected. Complex layers of the meal flowed over a base of curry spice that had the perfect amount of bite. While I can’t say it was the best curry I have ever tasted, it was damn near close, and that made me proud of our first effort at preparing such a dish. Under Chef David’s direction, our team had crafted a delicious curry that could rival that prepared by any local restaurant with ease. The feeling of accomplishment and confidence that came with that discovery was apparent. We did better than well. We did a freaking amazing job.

Hangin' with Chef David

As I wrapped up my meal (yes, I had a second serving), I thought about the experience and the insight I gained from my first cooking class. I chatted with Chef David about the experience for some time, detailing the most surprising and enlightening aspects of the experience. Chef David was happy to hear my remarks and provided me ample amounts of encouragement to continue learning more about cooking. As I gathered my things to leave, I assured him I had every intention to do so after my experience in his class and I thanked him for his approach and his knowledge. As I walked out of the conference room and toward the exit, I reflected on the whole of the experience. Although it was a typical event in my “I have never...” journey, taking a cooking class gave me a sense of accomplishment and joy that was hard to ignore. With a smile on my face, I hopped in my car and said to myself, “I need to do this more often.” I knew the underlying intentions of my remark were a promise to myself, but the overarching theme was greater than that. Feeling so good after events like today’s are starting to make me realize the simple things in life really matter... and making time for them is far overdue.

1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed with your adventure and look forward to hearing about each episode. It's a huge undertaking and is one that will have a lifelong impact. Congratulations for making the commitment. I admire you and your dedication.