I LOVE cooking classes. As I've gotten older, my dream vacations have started to revolve around destinations where I can take exceptional cooking classes with professional instructors in spectacular settings. I've already had fabulous cooking experiences in Napa Valley, CA, Madrid and Paris. I'm a very lucky girl.
That said, I believe four elements make for a truly successful cooking class:
1) The class must be taught by someone with a tried and true culinary pedigree;
2) The class must be hands-on; forget this demonstration-only crap;
3) The class must be educational and informative;
4) The class must be engaging, if not altogether fun.
Quick sidebar: I've yet to take a cooking class in L.A., for no other reason than I haven't found any that truly interest me. That all changed in December when Mario Batali's Pizzeria Mozza – one of my absolutely fave local restaurants – announced its new-found "Scuola di Pizza," a cooking class taught by none other than Mozza maven Nancy Silverton and Executive Chef Matt Molina. When I got the email announcing their first class I announced to Bryan, "I HAVE TO GO TO THIS!" He took a bit of the wind out of my sails by asking one simple question: "How much is it?" I scanned down the page to see that a three-hour class was $150. Wow. He then asked if it was hands-on. I searched through the email and couldn't find an answer. His response was valid: "That's a lot of money to sit and watch someone cook for three hours."
Bryan had a very good point, so we decided I would forgo Mozza's inaugural class and see what the next email announcements held. Well, guess what? Three weeks later the next email arrived with a bright red section entitled, "IMPORTANT!" followed by two rules:
1. "Classes are demonstration only, there will be no hands-on participation."
2. "No alcoholic beverages will be served."
Clearly I'm not the only potential cooking-class attendee who believes that classes should be hands-on. And for God's sake, if people can't participate at least let them drink. While Nancy Silverton is one of my favorite chefs in the U.S., if not world, there's just something forgettable about observing and not being able to partake in the action. After all, like the Latin proverb says, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I will learn." Isn't that what learning to cook is all about?
So long story short, when my friend Christine asked me to go to a Cocktails and Appetizer cooking class at HipCooks, a Los Angeles-based cooking school that "feeds the minds, imaginations and tummies of hip Angelenos," I was interested but needed to do some background research. After reading through their site and checking out some of their class options – "My Big Fat Greek Cooking Class," "Dim Sum & then Sum" and "Thai One On," to name a few – HipCooks definitely seemed to throw the pretense out the window and appeal to true home cooks. Cooks, not chefs, who want to entertain family and friends in a fun and relaxed setting; throw together a fabulous meal for an unexpected guest; or learn the planning and organizational skills necessary to throw an unforgettable dinner party for 20 guests.
HipCooks' "Have FUN in the Kitchen" mantra seemed like something I could get behind, even if it was for one class. Heck, at the very least I'd have a great time with my friend and leave with a tummy full of appetizers and cocktails. That's a win-win situation in my book.
I reserved my spot in the class, which was taught last night. When I arrived at the HipCooks West L.A. location – they also have a downtown L.A. and Portland location – my first impression was one of warmth and comfort. Despite its cavernous square footage, the space was inviting, colorful and bright. The employees, busy prepping and organizing the evening's Mise en Place, greeted us with smiles, sign-in information and a choice of lemon-mint tea or ice water. To top it off, the aroma was incredible. I don't know what had been baking, but I wanted it. And I wanted it now.
As the class filled to its 12-person capacity, we put on our aprons and surrounded the demonstration table. After brief introductions of the instructors, assistants and "students," we were all set to begin.
The class was themed "Winter Cocktails & Appetizers," meaning we would be preparing two appetizers at the cooking station, then moving to the bar area to prepare the matching two cocktails. We did this three times for a total of six appetizers, six cocktails and one impromptu dessert.
The appetizer menu was diverse, if not fairly typical of cocktail party fare:
- Port-Glazed Walnuts
- Baked Baby Apples with Gorgonzola & Walnuts
- Pears wrapped with Sage, Manchego & Proscuitto
- Mushroom, Goat Cheese & Thyme Empanadas
- Pastry Cups with Caviar, Crème Fraiche & Chive
- Parmesan Crisps with Seared Filet, Watercress & Horseradish Cream
- Classic Sugar Cookies
The cocktail menu was fantastic, filled with a mix of classic and modern winter favorites:
- Rosemary Pomegranate Gin Fizz
- Holiday Dark and Stormy
- Spicy Mulled Wine
- Hot Apple Pie
- Creamy Winter Martini
Pastry Cups with Caviar, Crème Fraiche & Chive
The instructors were knowledgeable, down-to-earth and clear in their instruction. There was no need to take notes; all of the recipes would be emailed to us, in great detail, the following day. The class was paced well; just enough time was spent at each station enjoying the food, cocktails and conversation, but without a lull or lag time. Each student was able to get "hands on," wrapping and filling empanadas, mixing blue cheese for baked apples, flipping a pan full of port-glazed walnuts or creating one of the six signature cocktails.
Mushroom, Goat Cheese & Thyme Empanadas (pre-baked)
While the class certainly wasn't perfect – the filet should have been cut into smaller, more manageable bites and instructor committed a big-time culinary faux pas of extracting caviar with a metal spoon – everyone was involved, laughing, supporting their fellow students and overall enjoying the intimate atmosphere. The space felt like an extension of one's home, so much so that I could easily envision making each dish for my own hungry friends and family.
Parmesan Crisps with Seared Filet, Watercress & Horseradish Cream
Classic Sugar Cookies
Towards the end of class I'll admit I was losing interest but only because it was 10pm, I'm not a sugar cookie fan and I was fighting a cold. Other than those reasons that prove I'm an old fuddy-duddy, I loved the HipCooks class. I'll definitely be taking another one soon.
More info on HipCooks:
HipCooks West L.A.
2833 South Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034