Brow furrowed, my husband leans over a small counter in the kitchen of the Oval Room restaurant and methodically feeds dough through a pasta machine. The soft mixture streams out of the press as Josh runs it through his fingers, gauging its dryness. The kitchen's hot: Tiny beads of sweat appear on Josh's forehead as he stuffs his creation with a blend of chick peas and herbs. Head chef Paul Luna walks over. Uh oh. The dough's consistency is off and so Luna makes Josh start over. Forget the X Games, this is Extreme Cooking.
Josh regularly whips up mouth-watering dishes at home -- thinly-sliced chicken scallopine, rich filet au poivre or butternut squash lasagna. So I thought he might be able to stand the heat of a professional kitchen. Foodies who really want to test their mettle can head to the kitchens of area restaurants such as the Oval Room. The high-end downtown eatery has introduced this action-packed class, which allows one to three guests to prepare a three-course dinner for up to six people.
"What's the point if there's no one to cook for?" asks Luna. "What's the point if you can't experience a real kitchen, the lifestyle, the chaos, whether or not the chef is cursing?"
While Josh's table of guests waits, noshing on bread and sipping wine, he enters the tightly choreographed routine of a professional cook. He ties on an apron and starts working on his appetizers, while the kitchen's other cooks bake fresh bread, man the intensely hot grill and prepare meals for the restaurant's other guests.
Luna oversees the entire process, making sure diners who aren't part of the Extreme Cooking class are happy, teaching another couple taking the class how to kill a lobster by twisting it in half and offering Josh advice: "Wine makes you a much better cook." Luna was right: a crisp glass of pinot gris and Josh starts to relax.
Finally Josh and a waiter serve ravioli that meets Luna's approval, and guests are regaled with stories of his pasta travails as we sample the dish -- a rich curry-flavored concoction wrapped in pasta. Buoyed by positive reviews, Josh takes our entree orders and heads back into the kitchen to prepare a ginger and orange-glazed salmon dish -- another hit. Dessert requires a high-tech tool: a blow torch to caramelize a sugar crust for the creme brulee.
With the four-hour meal complete and his guests sated and tired, Josh admits he's had a blast. But cooking in a professional kitchen isn't a roller-coaster-ride type of thrill; it's a sweat-inducing, exhausting and ultimately rewarding experience for those who want to soak up the culinary wisdom of the pros. Josh reports that chefs cook at much higher temperatures and with much better pans than we use at home. And he also has a new salmon recipe to impress our future guests. But when it comes to ravioli, well, Josh would rather let someone else work the dough and instead spend a little extra money for fresh pasta at Eastern Market.
-- Kelly DiNardo