When a friend who also happens to be a chef emails and asks if you'd like to drop by her cooking class the next day, where the main course is fried oyster po' boys, here's a hint:
The correct answer is yes.
My friend Danielle, aka Maryland-based Chef Danielle Turner, did this very thing a few weeks ago, and any schedule rearranging I had to do to get to L'Academie de Cuisine the next day in time to watch folks cook a four-course New Orleans-style meal was totally worth it. The menu included barbecue shrimp, the aforementioned po' boys, and hot beignets -- the triangular doughnuts made famous at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.
There is an art to cooking oysters, and Danielle is a great teacher.
I love to cook, but my overall indifference to details in life means I have to be reminded to do things like check oil temperatures and be very careful about exactly how long my oysters remain in the pan. However, it's totally worth it to pay attention when those bad boys are going to turn into this.
And then this:
Barbecue shrimp, Louisiana-style, is neither grilled nor does it include barbecue sauce. It's more like a spicy scampi, and trust me when I say you will want bread for any remaining sauce. If I had not been in polite company I may well have licked my plate.
And then, of course, dessert arrived.
Here are some beignets, before.
What that after picture does not show you is the warm, sugary goodness of that thing, or my eyes scanning the room for leftovers to wrap up in napkins and stick in my purse, because obviously I'm turning into my grandma.
It was an embarrassment of Louisianan riches, is what it was.
It was also a lot of fun. It was a small class, but the students were so excited to be there and to try their hand at all of the steps of each dish. They did all of the chopping and mixing, and a good bit of the frying, stirring, beignet folding, and, finally, eating.
I have taken one cooking class before, when a friend bought me the gift of an evening at Lebanese Taverna, a restaurant and market in D.C.'s Virginia suburbs. That was a lot of fun too, and she came with me, so we got to spend time together, too. But it's something I just haven't done again, for whatever reason, even though I put it on my list of food resolutions for this year. Danielle's class inspired me anew, because some of the hints I picked up from her I can immediately transfer to other dishes I make. I've known her for awhile, but I've never seen her in action, and I know a good teacher when I see one. Just watching her work helped to take some of my natural fear of mixing and kneading dough the "wrong way," for example.
Plus, po' boys. I'm no fool.
We are lucky to have a place like L'Academie de Cuisine in the D.C. area, where you can take a single recreational class like this one or go for a full-on professional degree. Cooking classes are also often offered through local recreation departments, some continuing education programs at community colleges, and even in retail spaces like Sur La Table.
Have you ever taken a cooking class? Would you like to try it?