The extensive list of cooking classes that appears on Page 10 of this week's Food Section prompts a few words in praise of cooking teachers.
Done properly, it's hard work. There is a lot of planning and preparation the students never see and it is no mean feat to cook and lecture at the same time. I know. I once directed cooking school.
It's more than five years now, but memories of long evenings making stocks haven't faded, nor has the recollection of frantically typing and copying recipes, the store-by-store search for provisions or the loud voice that would interrupt - seemingly as soon as you had chopped the first onion - to ask, "Can I freeze it now?"
Having only recently returned from the kitchens of France, it was something of a shock (and an enormous benefit for future writings) to learn how tentative were the American cooks I encountered - how dependent on convenience products, how willing to put their faith in gadgets and gimmicky cooking tools.
I planned my own teaching around two conceots I still believe: that a person should master basic cooking techniques through recipes, not be taught a series of unrelated dishes, and that extensive tastings and comparison can awaken the sensitive palate required of a fine cook. Therefore, the basic course we offered was a two-part, 12 lesson "Techniques of French Cooking." France was chosen because I'd studied and worked there, because it is the most codified cuisine and because it attracted students.
Other classes were offered, in Chinese and Central-European cooking, in pastries and bread-making, for buffets and menu presentations. There were cooking lessons linked to dinners as well. But the techniques course, with demonstrations of subjects such as stocks and soups, cold sauces, hot sauces and fish cookery, drew the most students.
I had two advantages over many who teach in this field. The first was two talented colleagues, Carol Mason and Susan Holland, both off whom have gone on to teach and cater very successfully. I seldom had to work alone, which meant demonstrations flowed more smoothly, and the rapport among us helped involve the students. The second helped, too. The school was assoicated with the wine club Les Amis du Vin, so even at morning classes a glass or two would go a long way toward relaxing the students - not to mention the teachers - and stimulating discussion.
In a demonstration of, say, success, I would try to show how the technique of making a brown sauce or a butter based sauce became a building block, allowing the cook to construct whole families of sauces merely by changing ingredients. Then we would taste the finished products. Students would compare the hand-beaten hollandaise, the blender bollandaise and "hollandaise" out a jar. The final judgement was theirs. My feeling was that no one should go to the effort of making bollandaise by hand unless convinced the taste and texture produced by that method are superior. Witout such conviction few would bother to do it more than once.
Participation classes (where students cook instead of watch a teacher cook) require a considerable investment in equipment and more instructors. We did not offer them, though students were invited to come up to fold, roll or stir at appropriate times.
The most difficult task for the teachers, assuming the basic skill exists, is to plan a demonstration so everything is completed within the alloted time (a rare occurence in my case). There should be a minimum of dead time and as little boring repetition as possible. The tarte has to be prepared early, then other tasks must fill in the time until it is done. The proper slicing of one onion can be fascinating to watch. The other two had better be prepared ahead, though, or yawns and distracted chatter will result. In addition, if there are to be sufficient samples for the group, it often means making food before class as well as during the demonstration.
It was fun, of course. One day, a comment from the audience made ne laugh and hundreds of freeze-dried chives leapt from the can I was holding into the air. Some questions were amusing, others thought-provoking. There was tension - how to keep blood from a cut finger from dripping into an omelet that couldn't be abandoned. The school's first public souffle I described later as "a tasty flop." There was pleasure, too, when students returned a week later to report they really had made puff pastry, when they would make use of advice about products and equipment and when a demonstration went very well.
In fact, I still do demonstrations now and then. I miss them. And I enjoy visiting cooking classes.
The following are several recipes taught at classes of what was called, with great imagination, L'Ecole de Cuisine.
RAGOUT OF VEAL (6 servings) 2 pounds stew veal (cut from the shoulder or neck) 3 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon oil 2 medium onions, sliced 2 tablespoons flour 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 rib celery 4 or 5 sprigs parsley 1 cup dry white wine 1 cup beef stock or bouillon 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 shallots, minced (optional) 2 teaspoons tomato paste Salt, freshly fround pepper
Trim veal into fairly unifrom cubes if the butcher has not done so. Pat dry with paper towels. Heat butter and oil in a Dutch oven or another heavy pot with a tight-fitting cover. Brown the meat carefully on all sides. While it is browning, make a bouqet grani by tying in cheese cloth the bay leaf, thyme, celery and parsley.
Add the onions when the meat is browned. Cook until softened without browning them. Sprinkle on the flour. Cook it for at least a minute, stirring to prevent burning. Add the wine, stock, garlic and shallots. Scrape with a wooden spoon to free particles of meat from the bottom of the pot. Add the bouquet garni, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Stir in. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, checking occasionally to be sure liquid doesn't boil.
Transfer meat to a platter. Skim surface grease from the sauce and strain it if you wish. Adjust seasoning to taste, pour over meat and seve with bolied or mashed potatoes or rice. A similar regout, made with lamb, is served with white beans.
SAUTEED CARROTS AND TURNIPS (6 to 8 servings) 1 pound carrots 1 pound turnips 4 tablespoon butter 2 tablespoons sugar Salt and pepper
Peel carrots and turnips and cut into 2 inch pieces. Shape the pieces by rounding off the edges. Cook the vegetables in salted water until tender but still firm (12 to 15 minutes). Plunge into cold water, drain and set aside until 10 minutes before serving. Melt butter in a frying pan and heat until sputters. Add vegetables and toss to coat with butter. Dust them with sugar, toss and dust again until vegetables are heated through and take on a light glaze. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
ORANGES CYRANO (6 servings) 6 oranges 6 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 envelope unflavoured gelation 2 ounces orange-flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier 1 cup heavy vream, whipped
Cut around each orange with a sharp knife to remove the top quarter. Cut away the pulp and use a vegetable peeler to cut the orange-colored zest from these tops. With a spoon dig out the pulp from the shells without tearing them. Squeeze the pulp through a strainer to extract the juice. (There should be about 2 cups). Add sugar, adjusting amount to taste, and mix well. Soften gelatin in 2 tablespoons orange juice.
Place zest, softened gelatin and about 1/3 cup orange juice in a saucepan. Heat and stir until gelatin dissolves. Strain liquid back into remaining juice in a metal bowl. Add liqueur and place bowl over ice and water in another bowl. Stir gently until orange mixture chills and thickens. Fold 3/4 of the whipped cream into the orange mixture, then spoon it into the orange shells, leaving them nearly full.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When ready to serve pipe or spoon remaining whipped cream atop each orange.
TROUT POACHED IN RED WINE (6 servongs) 6 trout, gutted but with heads and tails, or sole fillers 2 carrots, sliced in rounds 1 medium onion, thinly sliced 2 shallots, thinly sliced (optional) 8 to 10 peppercorns, cracked bouquet garnie (made of 1 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 8 to 10 cracked peppercorns, 4 to 5 sprigs parsley) 1 tablespoon salt 3 cups (1 bottle) dry red wine (California burgundy or zinfandel will do)
Use a fish poacher, non-aluminum casserole or high-sided frying pan. In it place all ingredients execpt the fish. Add 2 to 3 cups water to provide enough liquid to cover the fish. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes. This liquid, called a court bouillon, may be used at once or cooled and reheated at meal time.
With the bouillon at a simmer, add the fish. Cook trout 5 to 7 minutes, sole 4 to 5 minutes, without turning. Serve with beurre blanc.
BEURRE BLANC SAUCE (About 1 cup) 6 shallots, thinly sliced (no substitutes) 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar Salt, white pepper 6 ounces (1 1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut in 10 to 12 pieces
Place shallots, vinegar, salt and a dash of white pepper in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until vinegar boils and begind to evaporate. Add the butter chunks, one or two at a time, and stir constantly on and off the heat with a whisk until a cream-like sauce is created. The butter must not liquify. Off the heat, taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and, if desired, several drops of vinegar.
This sauce should be served at once, but will keep over hot, but not boiling water for 10 minutes or so.