By Jenny Peters
Most people who know me know that cooking is not my strong suit. It’s probably the reason I love dining out so much, especially at places (think the French Laundry in Yountville, CA) who serve complicated dishes that there is no way I would ever even consider tackling. One look at Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry Cookbook” was enough to send me running – most of those dishes are incredibly complicated and take hours and hours to prepare!
So when I was invited to try out Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom here in Los Angeles, I entered his Westside school (located just off Pico near Overland, at 2366 Pelham Avenue) with a bit of trepidation. I mean, I can chop up just about anything, making ceviche or salads like a pro (or so I thought), but beyond that, I am a bit shaky. Our evening session was Chef Eric Crowley’s Wine and Food Pairing Class ($90 per person), with the group making this menu:
Eggplant Fritters and Zucchini Fritters
Fennel-Dusted Pan-Seared Scallops with Grilled Mushrooms and Balsamic Vinegar Reduction
Homemade Pasta with Tomato and Kalamata Olive Tapenade Sauce
Sauteed Chicken Breast with Sunchokes, Garlic, Capers, Sundried Tomatoes and White Wine
Braised Lamb Stew with Wild Mushrooms, Garlic, Thyme, Parsley and Red Wine Vinegar
The company also offers a Master Chef 18-week course; a Master Baker 10-week course; a Culinary Basics 4-week course; and numerous single classes that cover all sorts of culinary topics, ranging from Chicken Connoisseur to Sushi Making.
As we strapped on our aprons (which we got to keep), draped a kitchen towel over a shoulder and entered the kitchen, we found a number of food-preparation stations set up. Chef Eric explained all the elements of the menu and what order we would prepare everything, so that we’d learn one of the key things about cooking – how to bring all the dishes to the table at the same time!
And it was here, early on in the 2.5-hour class, that I learned that I am actually not a good chopper. My one claim to cooking fame was dashed in an instant, as Chef Eric demonstrated the correct way to use a knife. “Keep the point of the knife on the cutting board,” he explained, “then always slice away from your body.”
Well, duh! Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? But that’s not the way I have spent my whole life chopping things up; it’s a miracle that I haven’t sliced myself open in the process at least once. It takes a bit of practice to change something you’ve done your whole life, but that’s the key thing I took away from this particular culinary adventure.
Along the way, we also learned how to make a perfectly fried fritter; the art of delicately searing scallops; and how to use a machine to create delicious homemade pasta. Who knew you just mixed up flour, salt and eggs, kneaded it for a while to create a dough, then ran it through a pasta machine? It’s easy to feel like an Italian capo when Chef Eric is there to give lessons! It actually made me want to hit a Williams-Sonoma for a machine of my own.
All along, Chef Eric and his partner (and wife) Jennie Crowley kept the class interested and engaged, with each person choosing what level of involvement he/she wanted to experience. Some (like me) stuck with the prepping, while others (like my brother Jeff Peters) stepped right up to the massive industrial gas stove and did the actual cooking. And best of all, the class culminated in all the dishes arriving at the table at exactly the right moment, so we could all enjoy a feast of our own making.
Did Chef Eric make me into a fanatic cook? Not quite. I’m still a restaurant maven, preferring to let others do the serious cooking for me. But ever since, as I chop up all the veggies for my work-at-home regular lunch of a big salad, I know better than to cut toward my body. Worth the price of admission, that.
Photos by Jenny Peters and Jeff Peters.