I’m sitting here playing my own devil’s advocate, asking why I pay to take cooking classes like the one I recently took at Rosa Jackson’s Les Petits Farcis in Nice. I mean I could take that money and buy a couple of new cookbooks and some neat kitchen gadgets. After all, I do know the basics, and some stuff that goes beyond. And what do you leave with, really, beyond a handful of new recipes?
Part of it is the cooking techniques. Yes, I know the basics, but every cook has little tricks that might not make it to a recipe, things that make the job easier or the results just a touch better. Rosa, for instance, covers her pots de crème with a sheet of parchment or foil before they go in the oven as it helps to keep the surfaces smooth. And she puts a napkin under the little custard pots so that they don’t move around in the pan. I have never thought to do that when baking things in ramekins. Of course, it works here because of the water in the pan (bain marie), used to keep the crèmes from heating too quickly. A dry napkin under the ramekins would be a fire hazard.
Then there’s the working with food that you might not normally cook. The first dish we made was Aubergine Oliviera, described by Rosa as “one of the most popular starters at the Old Town olive oil shop and restaurant Oliviera”. It consists of roasted eggplant mixed with yogurt, goat cheese, garlic, and lemon juice, and is served with roasted red pepper and lots of olive oil. We enjoyed it with slices of baguette. I had never cooked with eggplant before, my only experience of it having been a bad moussaka. And for some crazy reason, roasting vegetables has always seemed somewhat intimidating to me. Well, no more. It was crazy easy. The eggplants were placed on a cookie sheet, pierced with a knife tip to prevent exploding (another new tip for me), and put in the oven at 450° for about 45 minutes. We knew they were done when they were soft to the touch and started to char on the outside. Nothing intimidating at all!
Another food I had never used before was capers. Rosa asked if we knew what they were and none of us did. I had always associated them with something fishy, although I was pretty sure they weren’t fish. What they are is the edible bud of the flowering caper, a bush that grows in the Mediterranean. They are usually pickled or salted. Rosa had salted capers which we soaked for about fifteen minutes before adding them to the sauce which garnished our forkbeard fish (mostelle in French). Although capers are not seafood, maybe I was confused because they are often used in tartar sauce.
Coming out of the class with an increased comfort level with some new foods means that I’m more likely to use the new recipes I’ve got. And I will use those recipes. Rosa’s four course menu for the day was the Aubergine Oliviera as an appetizer, semi-salted white fish with garlic confit and olive-oil mashed potatoes for the main, a cheese course (which required of us nothing but appreciation), and lemon pots de crème with raspberry coulis for dessert. The preparation was straightforward, everything tasted great, and the menu worked well together. I’m hoping to use this menu the next time we have company for dinner—look out!
There’s value to learning the new techniques, working with new food and bringing home new recipes, but I think the greatest value in the class is the experience itself. To spend a day with others who enjoy learning more about cooking, taking turns with the chopping, grating, scraping and mixing; to share a glass with people from all over the world, connecting for a moment though you are not likely to meet again; to break bread with these people, enjoying the food and conversation—it’s truly a good way to spend a day, and one I recommend without reservation.
So to answer that little devil’s advocate smirking on my shoulder, the money is well spent on cooking classes like the ones Rosa offers at Les Petits Farcis. In the end, good food is about more than the practicality of being fed. It’s about savouring a moment and shared experiences and that’s exactly what this day of cooking together was.