A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend an instructional dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, communal. I had heard about these instructional dinners, held monthly, and had some interest in attending, but was hesitant to pay the fee. I'm happy to report to you that the price of attending this dinner is more than worth it. In fact, for all I experienced that night, I'd say it's a steal.
The attendees took their place at the counter surrounding the kitchen area of the restaurant. As Chef Taylor Mason began the instruction, it was clear that he was interested in really teaching, not just showing off (as he very well could -- he's pretty awesome at what he does). He kept asking if we understood, looking for anyone who might seem like they had questions, which he encouraged. Other class attendees added to the conversation as well, which was helpful in clarifying things I hadn't realized needed clarification. Each person standing around that counter felt comfortable interacting and relating with the teacher, which, to me, indicates a well-run class.
From the application of using in-season vegetables, to the order of blending ingredients in cookie dough, and the temperature at which ingredients should be mixed as well as cooked: what we learned that night are tips I've since used several times in my own kitchen (Thanksgiving at my house was just that more delicious, thanks for asking). My family has noticed the difference, as have my neighbors with whom I've shared ginger cookies (whenever I can get them out the door before they're all gone).
What It Should Look Like
The dough should be stretchy and sticky; the vegetables crisp and browned; the sauce this color -- like this: [image not found. Go to the class next time to learn it, it's worth seeing how it should look when you attempt this in your own kitchen.]
"Where can I buy that?" "Which brand of salt do you use?" "Do you use that oven temperature for any cookie you bake, or just this recipe?" There were no 'secret family recipes' here. Everyone in attendance was there to learn, and ideas were freely shared. It was awesome, and I've already altered a few of the 'regulars' on my shopping list and in my kitchen accordingly.
Some cooking tips are simply a reality: " The first step in being a better cook is to become organized," we were told. But don't be intimidated by this kind of advice if you're not naturally an organized person. Chef Taylor leveled the playing field when, while making the soup, he said, "Even me -- I cook every day and [with this soup] it took six tries to get the seasoning." What a relief to hear a professional chef talk about how being in the kitchen is always an adventure, and that it's nothing to be afraid of: we can all create delicious dishes.
Roast Chicken with Velouté, Biscuits, and Roasted Root Vegetables
At the end of the instruction, I looked around the long communal table as we enjoyed our dinner. I saw couples out for a date, college students, women out with friends . . . people from all walks of life coming together for the love of food. I know that sounds cheesy, but I felt so welcomed among this group of strangers, knowing that we now shared some of the best cooking knowledge around.
I hope you'll attend the next instructional dinner at communal. Or, as we're shopping for others, perhaps you know someone for whom this would be a perfect gift (via gift card)? Trust me, it's worth it.
Ginger Cookie with Spiced, Braised Apples, Vanilla Ice Cream, and House-made Butterscotch
**Disclaimer: In exchange for writing this independently-voiced review, I was compensated the fee for the instructional dinner. Even so, the content and opinions in this post were not influenced by the compensation, and are solely my own.