Learning to Cook

I often walk by the corner of King & Spadina in Toronto gazing longingly into the Calphalon retail store at all of the high-end cookware that I’ll buy when I win the lottery or when I get married. Since I’ve gotten into cooking in the past few years, I’ve had a couple of friends tell me in passing that Calphalon does classes.  Well, thanks to gifting holidays and a very generous brother, I recently had a date with my Mom to take a hands-on cooking class to learn to make Vietnamese favorites!

First of all, the facility is gorgeous.  The teaching kitchen is open and very well designed with demo mirrors and video circuits placed strategically so everyone can see the instructor. Each of the 12 cooking stations is stocked with a huge variety of pots, pans and all the fancy knives you can dream of.  I have a classic Santoku style chef’s knife, and I have to say that one of the highlights of the class for me was chopping and dicing and playing around with other styles of knives, like the Nakiri style, to get a feel for them.

When we arrived the Chef Instructor Glenn White was cooking away in his teaching station. It turned out he had a craving for some tomato soup so he made enough for us too. Starting out the class with some home-made soup and fancy bruschetta was the warmest of welcomes!

calphalon

The menu and accompanying recipes for the day were emailed to us in advance and Glenn insisted that we leave our recipes to the side so that we could take a less studious, more hands-on and creative approach to learning.

The first recipe of the day was fresh rolls – my personal favorite Vietnamese dish. We started out by julienning the veggies, then soaked the rice papers and played with varieties and rolling styles to see which we liked best.  Clearly my knife skills course at Tosho Knives came in handy, because my julienned veggies looked pretty great, but I think I can use some more practice in the rolling department.

rolls

Next up was the classic Vietnamese Pho (pronounced “fuh”) with rare beef and chilli. Since I have a slight fear of cooking meat, this was the most informative part of the class for me. I finally learned how to sear a piece of steak, learned about the importance of cutting against the grain for tenderness, and how to tell by poking the outside of the steak whether the inside is cooked.

While we didn’t exactly learn to make a proper pho broth that can take up to 48 hours to prepare, we did learn to make a delicious soup that is flavourful and easy and which I have since replicated in my own kitchen (best hangover food ever!).

pho

The last dish of the day was by far my favorite: grilled lime-chili fish fillet.  We created a marinade for our striped bass fillet and then learned to cook it in a pan, frying it to get the skin to a perfect crisp.  We paired it with a flavorful mango chutney and it was probably one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had.

fish

The class was 3 hours in total and such a great way to spend the afternoon. Our Chef Glenn was engaging, friendly and fun.  These classes aren’t terribly cheap, but for $150, I most definitely learned a lot, ate well and took home enough leftovers for a couple more meals. On top of that, with any class you get a discount at the retail store, where I scored a sweet paring knife that I’ve been coveting for some time.

Calphalon has a range of demonstration,  hands-on, wine, and specialty classes with a packed schedule coming up. I’m particularly interested in their basic skills classes like “Sear, Sauté, Grill & Roast” and “Shellfish 101” to learn about cooking with meat and fish. Bon appetit!

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