Last week, along with other members of the press, I took part in a cooking and wine-pairing class at Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom in west L.A. Eric Jacques Crowley is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, who apprenticed at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in Europe before going on to supervising event catering for the Patina Restaurant Group. He’s been teaching both professional and recreational cooking since 1999 and he’s a gifted and very patient teacher. With constant encouragement of “great job” and “that looks terrific,” he makes his students feel they’re ready to apply for the job of sous chef at Spago, even if all they’ve done is chop a few mushrooms or sear a couple of scallops.
Those are pretty much the chores I took on during the three-hour class and dinner. The menu included eggplant and zucchini fritters, fennel-dusted pan-seared scallops with grilled wild mushrooms, homemade pasta with tomato and olive tapenade sauce, a braised lamb stew and sautéed chicken breasts with sunchokes.
There were ten of us amateurs sharing kitchen duties, along with Chef Eric’s very talented staff. By the time we sat down to enjoy our repast, we had all gotten to know each other a bit and learned a few tricks along the way. My favorite: to peel a large quantity of garlic (for, say, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic), simply remove the outer tissue from a head or two (you can do this by smashing the clove against a work surface). Grab two metal bowls. Place the garlic heads in one, invert the other to form a lid, and shake the bowls up and down like crazy for 15 seconds or so. (You can also use a sealed Tupperware container in place of the bowls.) Uncover the bowl and-voila-perfectly peeled garlic cloves.
Chef Eric teaches dozens of team-building cooking classes every year for clients like American Express, Honda, IBM, MTV and Merrill Lynch. The classes can be completely customized, with gluten-free or vegan menus, Iron Chef type competitions or lessons in preparing hors d’oeuvres with an emphasis on pouring wine. I can attest it’s a delicious way to mingle with colleagues old and new.
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