For a friends birthday this year TT#1 and I were invited to join her and her husband for an at-home cooking class at a chef’s house! The four of us often exchange restaurant stories and cooking ideas but none of us have any professional cooking experience. This was a perfect opportunity to put down a few bottles of wine while learning knife skills…don’t worry most of the wine came after the chopping!
In advance of the class we had a chance to decide what exactly we wanted to learn how to cook. Everything was completely customizable which was a really cool aspect of this adventure. Chef Alisa Sattler of Chef 4 a Day helped us choose a European-themed menu, as the four of us didn’t have much experience cooking this kind of cuisine.
Chef Alisa, EdD, Certified Culinary Educator by the American Culinary Federation, has approximately 20 years of experience in the culinary arts from teaching to working at several Chicago restaurants. Her resume includes being the assistant Dean of the Culinary Arts program at the Illinois Institute of Art, she’s taught culinary classes at The Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, Kendall College and Sur La Table in Chicago.
We arrived at Chef Alisa’s Lincoln Square apartment and wasted no time getting started; cooking a full four-course meal can take some time. We learned that our menu would include:
- Sausage Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- Moules Marinière and Seared Tuna with Pepper Cous Cous
- Veal Paillard with Wild Mushroom Jus and Roquefort Chutney
- Minted Seasonal Fruit Salad with Balsamic-Port Glace and Fresh Pomegranate
There was a lot of chopping to be done so each of us was assigned to a cutting board and a chopping task, some of us cried during this…it was all the onions and shallots. TT#1 worked especially hard on his knife skills as he does a majority of the chopping in the kitchen when we cook together. I worked hard on trying not to chop off a tip of my finger, which I have successfully done in the past. Chef Alisa showed us how to make a “claw” while chopping to prevent this sort of accident from occurring.
During other prep work I learned the following things:
- Blanching and then putting the vegetable or fruit into an ice bath, both helps retain the color of the fruit or vegetable and stops the cooking immediately.
- There is a difference between a full glace and a demi-glace. Demi, means half the reduction time.
- Mushrooms cook similarly to spinach in the sense that both reduce dramatically when steamed, cooked, or added to a sauce.
- The amount of prep work that goes into a four-course dinner is a lot more than I thought. The actual cooking or baking time is usually just a small amount of time that goes into preparing a meal.
Finally after much prepping, cooking, and baking our meal was finally ready to eat. We started off with the cabbage rolls and the mussels. Of these first two dishes I really loved the mussels with cous cous. The cous cous was a bit larger than the kind I was used to quick cooking from a box and tasted a whole lot better as well. The little cous cous spheres were almost like little pasta pieces and when dressed with the vinaigrette we made, it was irresistible. I had to remind myself that we still had the veal and fruit salad to go.
One of my favorite things about the cooking class was how we learned to create layers of flavor, which really stood out in the veal dish. The sauteed veal sat on top of a wild mushroom jus, and on top of the veal we layered on one of my new favorite condiments, a Roquefort apricot-chutney that we also had helped to prepare. The fruit salad was the perfect light end to the meal. I’ve created balsamic reductions before, but never thought about adding port wine to it as well. The port really added a sweeter aspect to the reduction and blended perfectly with the mint and fresh pops of pomegranate. This is definitely a no-bake dessert I could make myself in the coming summer months for picnics, barbeques and more.
At the end of the class and meal we got another pleasant surprise, we were allowed to take home all of the leftovers! I was especially looking forward to repurposing the Roquefort apricot-chutney and I knew that TT#1 was pleased that he’d be able to bring the cabbage rolls for lunch the coming work-week. I was also pleased to learn that the glace was coming with us as well and Chef Alisa suggested that it tasted great on vanilla ice cream!
(Roquefort chutney below)
Overall I was really satisfied with the cooking experience. I learned a lot, but it wasn’t so much work that it was exhausting and took the fun out of the experience. I would definitely plan something with Chef Alisa again in the future. Her classes run at a reasonable $40 per person for a three-hour Class for one to six people. This also includes the full cost of all food products, cooking supplies, utensils, knives, and cutting boards. Recipe templates are also provided to take home.