Then: At 5:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, I was rattled from my sleep with an idea. The sit-up-straight-out-of-bed kind of idea. Instead of setting up shop at one French cooking school, what if I hopped around the European continent and sampled from a variety of courses in different cities and countries? That's how Culinary Hopscotch was born. Follow me on an epicurean tour of cooking schools in countries around Europe and beyond. I'll be traveling and cooking for about three months, so if you're curious about where I'm headed, just ask. Otherwise, I'll be updating my whereabouts in the Twitter section on the right. The culinary crusade starts on January 29, 2010, and I'll be doing it all in a carry-on.

Now: We live in Portland, a culinary capital in its own right. I man the stove chez nous and plan our meals weekly on a colorful pad from Anthropologie. Things have changed a bit from the old school days of Culinary Hopscotch, but it makes sense (to me) to keep it alive. Look for posts on restaurants we visit, culinary happenings in the news, what's on the menu in our kitchen, and more!

Been There, Cooked That

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A New Take on an Old Favorite: Fish and Chips Hold the Deep-Fry

Scene: Sloane Square, a rather posh part of London, where life is bustling around me. Range Rovers and Bentleys are dodging black cabs and double-decker red buses, whole Hugo Boss and Tiffany oversee things, half expecting their drivers to stop mid-roundabout and drop in. Although comical (the same Lamborghini has circled the square about four times), it's a welcome respite after Oxford Circus, perhaps the most abhorred place of all by London dwellers. Today has been a bit of an oddball adventure.

I woke up with nothing to do in a city where there is everything to do. Feeling a bit uncertain, I remembered something I was hoping to accomplish while in London: take another Ateliers des Chefs class. The first one I took with them was in Paris last year, and it was a fantastic and affordable experience. I had my sights set on checking out the London studio, but with their strict one-month in advance booking policy, I'd forgotten all about it. I hopped on the phone with them, they had room for one more, and I had something to do today.

So what is Ateliers des Chefs, you ask? Quite simply, it's a different version of Sur La Table. There are gadgets and Le Creuset for sale intermixed with those learning to cook. And one of their most genius cooking classes, in my opinion, is called Cook, Eat, Run. Instead of pony'ing up a bunch of money for a subpar lunch while at work (or in my case, in a touristy cross-section of London), you can actually take a cooking class, eat what you have made, and do it all for £15 and in under an hour. True story.

What we created today reminded me of a jazzed up version of fish and chips. There wasn't a deep fryer in sight, however, so if that's what you're after, I'd suppose you'd be quite disappointed with this menu. The food was tremendous though and it literally only took the 30 minutes that the class called for (look out Rachel Ray).

We started with a quick demo on chopping, which I think was more than half the class had bargained for. I don't consider myself an expert by any stretch, but some of these people looked dumfounded and afraid. Knives and apprehension: always a good combo. Alas, I took over for our table of five and held court with the knife and chopping board. We chopped up a shallot, mint, parsley, and a bit of lettuce; it was hardly rocket science.

Shortly thereafter, we sweated the shallot in some butter until it was sufficiently brown. The instructor added a splash of water to slow up the cooking process because the cast iron pans were quite hot, a technique I hadn't thought to do before. After that, we added in diced pancetta and the room was instantly enveloped in a smokey, bacon'y perfume. In went a good clip of peas, followed by the herbs, and perhaps a cup or so of chicken stock. It bubbled away for a bit and then we removed it from the heat to prep our frying pans for the fish.

You always want to start fish with the skin side down in a flaming hot pan that's been prepped with a bit of olive oil. When it starts to ripple, it is ready. In went the cod for maybe three minutes, we took them off the heat and flipped them gently, and then cooked them for about three more minutes before finishing them in the oven at 200 C. In my estimation, the entire start-to-finish cooking process took about 10 minutes total for the fish, and the pea and pancetta mixture about the same.

Meanwhile, some of the less adventurous boiled potatoes in the background and adjusted their seasonings. I stirred away while listening in amazement, firstly to some classmates who didn't understand what sea salt was, and then a brief argument between the chef and a couple who were confused about why we weren't all getting to cook each thing.  Ahem, the class was 30 to be blunt, $hit needed to get done. They ended up being in my group, so I regaled them with where I'm from, sprinkled in a bit of food knowledge for them, their moods improved, we plated up our food, ate, and out we were in about 45 minutes prep-to-mouth.

It never ceases to amaze me that there is a takeaway from each of these cooking classes I take. Today, it was just how much some people need that carrot dangled in front of them when it comes to cooking. I guess it does pay to drag your children into the kitchen when they're small and give them the tasks that you don't want. I'm sure Sheila had me wielding a knife, and most certainly a potato peeler, at the age of four. Tomorrow, I'm venturing to Notting Hill for another class on Spanish tapas. Small plates, big learning...brilliant.

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