Bourdain Teaches Cats to Cook

By Karen

Upscale kitchenware chain Sur La Table is offering classes called Kitchen Basics, which one online advert claimed were inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s latest book, Medium Raw. That’s either nonsense or a recipe for disaster,so I checked with my unimpeachable source to learn if there really is any Bourdain connection.

Yes, Tony did, indeed, develop the syllabus for Kitchen Basics, and all students receive a complimentary copy of Medium Raw. (The Les Halles Cookbook would have made more sense, since some of the recipes are used, but it’s much pricier.)

Visiting Sur La Table over the weekend, I was astounded to discover that it’s one of only 2 Virginia locations (the other is Arlington) holding Tony’s classes.

I signed up for all 3 of the weekly sessions, beginning Monday, January 17.

This is the closest I’ll ever get to sharing a kitchen with Bourdain, and I believe I’m the perfect guinea pig to show Tony whether or not he’s really capable of training what he calls “useless screwheads.” I can’t peel anything with a knife without wasting half of it, the only spice I use with confidence is oregano, and I have a chicken-skin phobia. And the last time I cooked in a classroom was Home Ec in 8th grade, executing cookie recipes I’ve since forgotten.

I plan to post my unvarnished experiences here each subsequent Wednesday, beginning January 19. That gives me a day to process whatever I learn and to visit an emergency room, if necessary.

What I’m wondering right now is… if I survive Bourdain’s bootcamp, will it turn me into a foodie and give me an insatiable urge to spend the rest of 2011 cooking my way through his cookbook?

On other fronts…

Tony talked to The Joplin (Missouri) Globe while he was there in December filming the upcoming Ozarks episode of No Reservations. It sounds like we’re in for arm-wrestling and squirrel-eating.

Young & Hungry predicts what’s out in 2010 and in for 2011, and Bourdain makes the list. It seems he commandeered his Twitter account in the nick of time.

And a talented Bourdain fan named Edonohand wrote an extremely well-done fable for the “Yuletide Fanfic Exchange” called, No Reservations: Narnia.


17 Responses to Bourdain Teaches Cats to Cook

  1. adele says:

    Can’t wait for tales of your culinary odyssey – take your camera. When I think of Medium Raw, I remember that AB talked about making the perfect omelet after sex and being able to roast a chicken. Will Sur La Table supply the sex, after which you’ll make the omelet?

  2. MorganLF says:

    I’m jealous and the price is reasonable. There are no classes being held near me or I’d go. I will be following closely your experiences and hopefully gain some tips.

    For the record, I loathe dried oregano; have come to terms with the fact that I’m just not a roast chicken person.
    Has your “unimpeachable source” indicated if any authentic Italian dishes will be included in the syllabus?

  3. catsworking says:

    Morgan, last week when I asked the question about the classes, I really had no intention of ever taking them, nor thought they’d ever be offered around here. I went to Sur La Table looking for a knife sharpener (& found they are cheaper in Bed, Bath & Beyond) and saw the sign for the classes. (PS: I NEVER put oregano on chicken. It’s more of a pizza/pasta/salad dressing thing for me. And I love it on grilled cheese. Really kicks it up a notch.)

    I got the movie Julie & Julia for Christmas and had just watched it again. I KNOW that’s what influenced me. I’ve also been watching The French Chef (which was why I was looking for the knife sharpener).

    There was a block of Kitchen Basics that begins this week, but it had a short waiting list for sessions #1 and #3 (not soups & sauces, go figure), and they couldn’t tell me if the curriculum is cumulative (I assume it is — if you don’t learn to chop in week #1, you’re probably screwed later), so I played it safe and signed up for the next block.

    The more I think about it, the more nervous I get. The website says it’s for beginners, but I fear I’ll be among foodies just looking to show off. And I don’t know how long the classes are. Session #3 seems to entail a lot of serious cooking.

    I just keep telling myself, if Julia Child could get through Le Cordon Bleu, I can certainly survive Sur La Table.

  4. adele says:

    The only Illinois classes are in Naperville, which is about 40 miles west and a little south of Chicago. My biggest culinary deficits are knife skills, and I doubt anyone could teach me that, what with my being left-handed, and my inability to make pastry — I can make souffles but not a decent pie crust.

    As I’ve said before, roast chicken is my “go to” meal, and then you have the carcass for stock. I just found a recipe for a roast chicken and farro salad, which sounds very good and very healthy.

  5. zappa says:

    I’ve taken several classes at Sur La Table by me (Pentagon City Arlington) While the classes I took were basic and not too heavily populated by foodie show-offs,I still managed to be the worst in the class .As far as sex,I did have a moment when I trussed my pork loin..bad,naughty pork loin!!

    Zappa’s mom

  6. MorganLF says:

    As for knife sharpener I would be interested what your instructor recommends. On Tony’s advice I bought Global knives. I have an electric sharpener but it does not give that really well honed edge. A harpening steel is really nt for sharpening it keeps the knife in shape. So the real way is a sharpening stone with mineral oil and I have no clue!!!

    I own Julie & Julia and have seen it 5 times. I got goose bumps when I saw her kitchen in the Smithsonian. Soldier on and try to keep your fingetips attached!

  7. catsworking says:

    Morgan, I noticed in the movie that they only had a velvet rope in front of the doorways of Julia’s kitchen at the Smithsonian so you could really get a good feel for it. I deleted all the pictures I took of it in November because there were reflections off the bullet-proof glass, or whatever barrier is really on all the doorways to keep people from touching/stealing anything.

    I have a set of cheap Henckels knives, but they’re still the best ones I’ve ever owned and I love the chef’s knife. I was looking for a steel until I realized that it would probably ruin that knife, although I’ve got a Chinese cleaver it might improve. I got inspired watching an episode of The French Chef where she talked about caring for knives, but she said she had, I think, a carbon blade that would rust, and she honed it on a sharpening steel.

    Believe it or not, my stupid CAN OPENER has 2 slots in the back that are supposed to be for electric knife sharpening. I stuck a knife in there once and nicked the hell out of it.

    After taking these classes and learning what’s what, I may very well invest in a really good chef’s knife.

    ZM, I’m worried about this class because Bourdain’s name is attached. I’m afraid it will attract a different animal than the typical clueless cook like me. I think I’ll bring my copy of the Les Halles Cookbook so any stuck-up foodies I encounter will see that I’ve got it and I’m not afraid to use it!

    I do remember that I did a respectable job of baking cookies in 8th grade, but we were all clueless in those days.

  8. zappa says:

    Heehee.perhaps the Bourdain influenced class will include a recipe for”brownies”


  9. adele says:

    ZM, I assume you mean brownies with “human catnip.” I still want to know if Sur La Table will supply the sex, after which the perfect omelet will be made. I’m sure AB would want that.

  10. catsworking says:

    I peeked into the classroom, which is behind a big glass wall in the back of the store, and it reminded me of a morgue, with long steel tables. I don’t think there will be any sex going on there.

    I am curious to find out what we’re told about cracking eggs. Wasn’t it Jacques Pepin who made the omelet on No Res? I remember him saying that eggs should always be cracked on a flat surface, not the side of a bowl or pan, so I started trying to do that. Always ended up with sticky egg white all over the counter or the stove. I get the point that you may be less likely to break the yoke that way, but otherwise it seems like bullshit. When I crack on the side of the pan, I almost never break the yoke.

  11. adele says:

    I’m with you on the egg cracking. I tried to use Jacques Pepin’s method, too, with limited success. Last night, not only did I have egg white on the counter, but I managed to break a yolk. Ina Garten says to always break ggs into a separate bowl, lest there be a bit of shell in there. That makes some sense, but I’ve occasionally been separating eggs, and I’ll get not only a touch of shell, but once in a while I break a yolk. I watch Nigella cracking eggs on the counter then separating them using just her hands, and I’m in awe.

    The funny thing is, I’m known as a good cook; I’m good at combining flavors, and people love to come to dinner, but apparently I severely lack fine motor skills.

    I guess it was too much to hope that Sur La Table would supply omelets AND sex.

  12. catsworking says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard the “separate bowl” advice, too. Great if somebody else is washing the dishes.

    What’s always stuck with me is how Audrey Hepburn learned to crack eggs at that French culinary school she attended in Sabrina when she was trying to forget William Holden. They cracked the eggs on the side of a bowl and dumped them with ONE HAND. I practiced that and now I can do it myself.

    I separate eggs by pouring them back and forth between the shells. Is that how Nigella does it? I don’t know any other method.

  13. adele says:

    Perhaps one must be in Paris trying to forget a great love in order to do the one-handed egg crack.

    Nigella actually cracks the eggs, cups the yolk in her hand and lets the white pour through into a bowl, then puts the yolks in another bowl.

    I look forward to you brimming with culinary knowledge and confidence after your Sur La Table graduation.

  14. catsworking says:

    Adele, Nigella separates eggs WITH HER HANDS while preaching separate bowls? How silly is that? She’s already got her cooties all over them, so what’s with the reluctance to stick her finger in and remove a bit of shell?

    I really fear that Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics are going to turn me from the lovable, uncouth galley slob I am today into an insufferable foodie brimming with all sorts of culinary wisdom. I won’t be able to live with myself.

  15. adele says:

    Ina Garten is the separate bowls person; Nigella just lets her rip (I assume she washes her hands –religiously.I don’t think you’ll become insufferable. I suspect all the recipes will be pretty basic,and you’ll pick up some techniques. Having watched AB make Boeuf Bourginon and having read his recipe, I must say, that though hers has more steps, Julia’s is really superior — same with her Coq au Vin — it’s somewhat of a time commitment, it’s doable and the results are fabulous.

  16. zappa says:

    I’m hungry…

  17. catsworking says:

    Oops, I got my celebrity chefs mixed up. So many ways to crack an egg!

    Julia Child made her boeuf bourguignon in the very first episode ever of The French Chef and she made it look relatively easy. Making Bourdain’s version will be the highlight of session 3 of his Kitchen Basics class, I’m sure.

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