A dozen of us donned aprons in Sur La Table’s kitchen to learn about cooking, Anthony-Bourdain-style. To my relief, there didn’t seem to be any finicky foodies.
To my surprise, there didn’t seem to be any Bourdain fans. When our instructor (I’ll call Sue, in case I inadvertently embarrass her) asked if we had read Kitchen Confidential, I think I was the only one who raised my hand. It was required reading in Sue’s culinary school, but she found the salty language kind of offensive.
Our recipes were:
- French Omelet
- Pommes Purée (Mashed Potatoes)*
- Rice Pilaf
- Fennel and Haricots Verts (Green Bean) Salad with segmented orange
- Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce
* From Les Halles Cookbook, page 245
Sue showed us how to easily peel and seed raw tomatoes and laboriously segment an orange, and introduced us to truffle oil and truffle salt.
She also explained where we’d deviate from Bourdain’s methods. We would not clarify butter, but use Ghee (100% same thing in a jar). We would not peel hot tomatoes or potatoes. She also increased the Pommes recipe to 9 potatoes instead of 6 because the recipe’s 2 cups of cream makes them soupy.
The dishes didn’t suffer.
Next, Sue demonstrated an omelet, and I don’t get what Bourdain finds so magical about that, although the fresh rosemary and basil were tasty touches. Folding it into thirds instead of halves seems a tossup, and Sue cracked her eggs on the side of a bowl, not on the table à la Jacques Pepin.
Then it became sort of a controlled free-for-all. After washing our hands, we paired off to make omelets, one at a time because there was one burner, and to help prep the other dishes.
My partner and I tackled the omelet first — a strategic blunder I’ll not repeat because it took us completely out of the action.
After eating the omelet, we joined the rice pilaf group, which had gotten bogged down chopping onions.
This dish was the night’s disappointment, thanks to not multiplying all the ingredients by 1.5, a curveball I missed while noodling with the omelet. It tasted OK, but too much broth and not enough rice resulted in mush.
Next, I watched someone toss blanched green beans with raw chopped fennel. Thrilling.
I never touched a knife myself, so no “Knife Basics” for me. Nor did I see anyone look like they were executing any new moves.
In the blink of an eye, there was nothing left to do but wander around the store while the dishes cooked.
When we returned, the food was plated and served to us. I’d have been just as happy if they’d shown us how pretty everything looked, thrown it down the disposal, and called it a night.
Instead, we ate mushy rice, chunky mashed potatoes, and spaghetti with a side of ice-cold green beans and fennel. Wine was an option. Bourdain’s right about one thing — alcohol helps.
So what did I learn, if not knife skills?
That raw fennel is as tasty and attractive as cauliflower. It needs more than Bourdain’s simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing to make it worth lifting a fork for. Much more.
That tomato sauce needs much longer cooking time than class allowed. I’d have pronounced that watery stuff an utter failure if I’d made it.
That I will never segment an orange. Fiber is good for you.
My actual participation: 1) cracking 2 eggs into a bowl and whisking them with milk, 2) swishing raw egg around a pan, then folding it into thirds, and 3) melting Ghee.
The recipes were “useless screwhead” level, and Sue circumvented Bourdain’s most pigheadedly old-school and time-consuming methods.
Did I add any new dishes or techniques to my culinary repertoire? No. But I’ll probably buy a peeling utensil.
I’m still optimistic. Next week is soups and stocks, which I’m most eager to learn about.
When I got home from class, I flipped on the Travel Channel and there was Bourdain, in Dubai, eating mush with his fingers. He probably would have loved our Rice Pilaf.