I had my 2nd cooking class yesterday at Ecole Ritz Escoffier. It was abbreviated compared to my course on Saturday, but a great value at €55 and I feel like I learned a lot. It was more demonstration-based than my other class, but also hands-on enough. And while most of the class was conducted in French, which I’m proud to report I understood for the most part, they had another chef translate. Our class consisted of about 10 people, and all but three of us were French. The other two gentlemen were from Mississippi, where I learned that Viking has a cooking school. The Hopscotch may need to head south, it would seem!
Our menu was Saffron Risotto with Gambas & Parmesan Tiles. What on earth are gambas, you ask? Don’t worry– I asked my French friend the same thing at the lunch table. It looked like a steroidal shrimp, but evidently, it’s probably more closely identified as a crawfish. Where were the men from Mississippi on that one?
Risotto often scares the daylights out of people. Incidentally, it’s not that difficult, but does require attention. Before I get to that, though, I’ll tell you about our prep work. The nice thing about this course was that our chef focused a bit on knife skills at the start, and after beheading more sea creatures, she taught us the proper way to slice and dice onions. I was pretty elated because my longitudinal/latitudinal method for dicing onions was exactly the way she taught it. What I didn’t realize was that inserting the knife and pulling it towards you makes things ten times easier (instead of rocking forward and pushing down), and also reduces the amount of gases released, which results in onions making people cry. It was a tear-free endeavor.
After we got everything prepped, we moved over to the stove. Here, we sauteed red onions in olive oil, and salted them so they would sweat. After, we added in the dry, Arborio rice, and toasted it for a bit before adding a rather large jug of white wine (the pot was the size of a traditional paella pan). That reduced, and after, we ladled in chicken stock until it was absorbed, and then finished by seasoning it with salt, pepper, and saffron, and binding it with parmesan cheese. The entire process took about 20 minutes from raw Arborio rice to al dente risotto.
Quick tip: If you’re pressed for time and would like to have risotto at dinner, you can fast forward the cooking by making it earlier in the day. Count for eight minutes after the first ladle of stock, and remove it from the heat and let it cool down. This will result in carry-over cooking. To finish it just before you’re ready to serve it, put it back on the stove and add additional ladles of stock for six minutes. This means you’re only standing at the stove for six minutes before dinner instead of eighteen.
In the background, other students made parmesan tiles for the plating. I’ve made these before, and they’re a simple and elegant way to dress-up a plate of food. You simply spread grated parmesan cheese in thin clusters on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake it at 400F for about five minutes. Remove them from the oven, and before they cool, remove the tiles with a flat spatula and form them on something round, like a bottle of beer. As they cool, they’ll hold their shape, and they’re an edible accoutrement to any plate.
After we learned the proper way to plate our risotto (you eat with your eyes first), we were whisked into a cute little dining room where we nestled in and ate. There was red wine, white wine, sparkling water, and still, and for those caffeine-initiated people, coffee after. It was so much fun to chat in French with the rest of my class (minus the Mississippi men…they were at the other end of the table, so I represented the Francophile U.S.). All in all, the class lasted about 1.5 hours, and after chatting through lunch with an older French gentleman who received the class as a Christmas gift from his son, I said my goodbyes and purchased a gold whisk keychain from the school.
For a day, I was a student at the famous Ritz. Pretty glamorous, huh?
Ecole Ritz Escoffier
Ecole Ritz Escoffier
Next Stop: Cooking Class #3 at Chateaux Lavergne in Bordeaux Tomorrow