I’m currently at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, a place I adore, to be their visiting cooking teacher for the week. And I’ve been thinking, why take cooking classes?
(Disclosure: my opinion of Rancho La Puerta might be slightly skewed by the fact that I get to stay for free in exchange for teaching, but I’m 99.9% sure I’d love it just as much if I paid to be here.)
I mean, these days you can learn pretty much anything you want on the internet. How to chop an onion. How to stretch pizza dough. How to make foolproof Hollandaise.
And you certainly don’t need to take cooking classes for the recipes. Twenty years ago, maybe. But now, they’re a dime a dozen. For better or worse.
So why bother with cooking classes? Two reasons.
1. The practice.
At home, you may practice getting a perfect sear on a fish fillet once a week, with perhaps four fillets at a time.
But in a cooking class with twenty or so students, if you work on the fish dish, you’ll likely be searing twenty pieces of it—with a pro at your side. You’ll do enough to get the first few clunkers out of your system and, by the time you get to the last few, you’ll be a natural.
Practice. That’s something you can’t get no matter how many videos you watch.
2. The asides.
What do I mean by the asides? Let me explain by telling you about one of the first cooking classes I ever took.
The topic was breads and quickbreads and the teacher was walking through the ingredient list for a banana muffin recipe. When he got to the walnuts, he said, “By the way, whenever you cook with nuts, toast them first.” It’ll give them a more roasty, toasty flavor, he explained, and a better, cruchier texture. And it’ll bring their oils to the surface, making those oils available to mix into and contribute to the rest of your dish.
It was a total aside. Completely tossed off.
But ever since then, with very few exceptions, I toast my nuts. I firmly believe it’s one of the things that makes, for example, The World’s Best Chocolate Cookies, from my café in Sausalito, a cut above.
Toasting nuts. Who knew? But it’s a small details that can make the difference between good food and great food—and I wouldn’t have known it had I not been in that class to hear that aside.
(When might I not toast nuts? One, if they’re going to get toasted by virtue of making the recipe—if there are walnuts sprinkled on top of a muffin, for example, they’ll get toasted in the course of baking. And two, if I particularly want the raw nut flavor. This would mostly be with almonds which, when raw, have a floral sort of sweetness that can be nice in, say, a pastry.)
3. They’re fun!
Okay, there’s another reason to take cooking classes, as hopefully is evident in these photos from my last trip to Rancho La Puerta.
Will having fun make you a better cook? I’m not sure. But it definitely can’t hurt.
Many, many thanks to Rancho La Puerta, everyone at La Cocina Que Canta, and all the guests who’ve joined me there, especially the ones from last October in these photos.