I’m a proud new graduate of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics classes at Sur La Table with all 10 fingers intact. What did I learn? Let’s see…
I’m sure Bourdain’s curriculum adhered to whatever specifications Sur La Table provided. Its dubious value for beginner cooks was not entirely his fault, but a byproduct of the SLT kitchen/classroom setup. (I’m not picking on SLT here; I understand they are typical.)
Tony has been concerned about the notion of “selling out” for quite a while. If he ever sees these posts, I hope I give him a little food for thought on how far he’s willing to go in putting his name on things that don’t really do him proud.
My misgivings about the classes began when I saw Sur La Table touting them online as being “based on” Medium Raw. I assumed it was a typo until our instructor, Sue, repeated it on the last night of class, adding that MR was Bourdain’s “latest novel.”
If you know anything about Medium Raw (a 2010 New York Times bestseller — not some obscure, hard-to-find book) you know how absurd/inaccurate those statements are. And you have to wonder about the functional illiterates at Sur La Table who hired Bourdain to devise cooking classes based on rants about the food industry rather than on his freaking COOKBOOK. (Bourdain, no dummy, actually used his cookbook in developing the classes, and most of SLT’s class handouts were excerpted verbatim from it.)
But let it serve as a warning to any future students to take course descriptions with a grain of salt and set your expectations low.
We were told Bobby Flay is about to join SLT’s stable of celebrity chefs endorsing classes with a Flay book giveaway, which could be knitting patterns for all it seems to matter to SLT.
The 3 Bourdain classes had broad themes: starches, liquids, and proteins. However, what was never established was any common thread between the dishes we made each night. They had virtually nothing to do with each other (except that chicken stock from week 2 ended up in steak peppercorn sauce in week 3). It seemed a hodge-podge of recipes.
Where I do fault Bourdain is in selecting dishes we couldn’t possibly complete during class time. Many were from his Les Halles Cookbook, but why? We were there to learn basics, not French bistro cooking.
This was my first experience with commercial cooking classes, and it was disappointing. For $175, the only dish I really “made” was an omelet. I contributed minimally to 3 others, and either watched bits of preparation or completely missed the rest until they ended up on a plate. Partly my fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time every week.
But I could have learned more spending an evening watching Julia Child DVDs.
I don’t think the classes will win Bourdain any new fans, but they drove a bit of traffic through Sur La Table.
This weekend, I’m going to try making chicken stock, and bits of technique I heard in class will undoubtedly bubble up if I’m ever fixing similar dishes (but fish stew, fuggeddaboudit!).
Maybe that’s all Kitchen Basics was meant to deliver.