I think it’s fair to say that, in the last decade, food culture has exploded. While an appreciation for delicious food has always existed, with the proliferation of dining establishments, food bloggers, programs, and even networks entirely dedicated to showcasing food, culinary hedonism is now accessible to the masses 24/7. For me, food is life, food is love and food is art, and I am the first to admit that while I love eating food, learning about food, and watching food being prepared, I can’t cook! It seems like an irony, and while I’m a bit ashamed to admit this to you, I don’t think I’m alone. Rather, I believe that I am a part of a growing population of “foodies-who-can’t-cook.” Sure, I know all of the lingo and I can taste the difference between a Béchamel and an Alfredo sauce blindfolded, but as much as I can talk-the-talk, I can’t walk-the-walk. I can whip up a pretty delicious salad, make a mean grilled cheese, and sauté a chicken breast, but you won’t find me spending my weekends hoping my soufflé doesn’t collapse.
I’ve tried family recipes and cookbooks, but somehow seeing the lists of ingredients on the page and imaging all of dishes and small appliances I would need to use (and clean), is daunting. However, in the last year or so, I’ve made an effort to overcome my “fear” of the kitchen and have some fun while doing it. I’ve found that one of the most effective means of doing this is to take a cooking class, learning from the experts themselves.
In Kingston, you can take a full-time culinary arts program at St. Lawrence College, but for those who are not interested in making a career out of cooking, there are a few options.
The first is one of my favourite summer pastimes: the Local Food, Local Chef demos held in Market Square on Saturdays during July and August. Each week from 11:00-12:00 a local chef (usually from a downtown establishment) will teach you how to recreate one of their dishes at home using local ingredients that you can purchase just steps away at the Market. The demos are free and the best part is, that along with the recipe, for a $2 donation to you get to try a sample of what they make.
Year-round, you can try one of the classes Loblaw’s offers. The PC Cooking School runs programs out of both locations in Kingston and has a variety of classes for both adults and children, including “hands-on” options. There is a ton of variety to choose from and a full listing can be found on their website. Prices range from $15-50 and, I promise, you will never leave hungry! What is nice is that most classes are taught by local chefs; however, a caveat is that they must prepare the dishes using PC products. I have been to a few of their classes: (ones on Indian food, Italian food and BBQ meals) and they have all been a lot of fun, but some of the recipes have been a bit challenging.
By far my favourite cooking class experience has been at Pasta Genova. Pasta Genova, which I reviewed in March 2013, is a tiny, cash-only store on Wellington St. that specializes in fresh pastas and sauces, and also their famed cheese sticks and focaccia. Once a year, they offer about ten different cooking classes on different topics – from how to make your own sauce, pastas and pizza dough to easy Italian meals and homemade soups. The classes cost $40 and they fill up extremely fast (some even have a waiting list), so keep a close eye on their Facebook page for when they are posted.
Last month we went to their “sauce” class and it was truly special and intimate, like pulling up a chair to watch someone cook in their own kitchen; the owner, Virgil, was very welcoming and congenial, and more than happy to discuss anything food-related as well as fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of running a small business. The class was small (only 14 people) and we ate antipasto together, drank wine and watched as the owner prepared four different sauces. He then cooked up a big vat of pasta, which we devoured with the sauces he had made. It was a great way to learn the tricks of the trade and enjoy a fun, and delicious evening.
The best part of all of these classes/demos is that it has proven to me that cooking doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Each chef has stressed that recipes are guidelines and can be easily adapted to your tastes or what is in your pantry. I’m slowly transitioning from a “Foodie-who-can’t-cook” to a “Foodie-who-can-make-a-mess-in-the-kitchen,” but the important thing is – I’m having fun doing it! I encourage you all to try a cooking class!
Here’s an easy recipe from Pasta Genova:
Pesto alla Genovese
- 250g Basil Leaves (washed)
- 100g Pine Nuts
- 2 cups of pure or extra virgin olive oil
- 100g grated reggino cheese
- 50g grated romano cheese
- Place basil, pine nuts and ½ oil into a blender. Blend until pureed. Add rest of the oil and the cheese and blend until a smooth consistency (about 30 secs). Serve with your favourite pasta or spread it on a sandwich. Makes 1L.