Emma Freud explores some of the finest cooking classes in New York, and while learning to make chocolate cake, sushi and picnic food, she discovers her competitive side...
This week in New York over 100 different cooking classes are taking place. These are social evening events and numbers have more than doubled in the past decade. Starting at around $50 a head, New Yorkers get to meet a charismatic chef, cook and eat a meal, drink wine, acquire new skills and make new friends. It beats yet another pizza ’n’ Netflix. I settled on four different lessons to give you an idea of what’s being taught on this side of the pond.
Tailgating is an impromptu communal picnic that happens in the car parks of sporting events. You party all afternoon, sharing food and drink from your car boot, and by the time the match starts, you’re on first-name terms with the entire audience. My upbeat lesson at Taste Buds Kitchen started with a group introduction, before being taught how to create homemade tortilla chips (easy), caramelised onion dip (disgusting), cheese-stuffed-dates wrapped in bacon (cheesy) and paprika-stuffed-chicken wrapped in bacon (bacony).
Maybe it was the party atmosphere, or maybe the beer, but I bonded strongly with the young couple on my station. I will never forget the two rules of American picnics – if in doubt, stuff it with cheese; if still in doubt, wrap it in bacon.
In Haven’s Kitchen, an immaculate school at the back of an industrial-chic café in Chelsea, was Candice – a passionate, instinctive chef who walked us through the celebration foods from her part of China – flatbreads stuffed with Chinese chives, pork dumplings and spiced sea bass. Unlimited Prosecco was included in the price. Everybody took on a different kitchen task, like some sort of big family who miraculously don’t argue with each other. In the end, we sat down at a long table to enjoy the authentic Chinese feast we’d created, with yet more wine… I think a few people might have left with different partners.
I took a class at Taste Buds Kitchen with six people from a media tech company, all in their twenties. First, we made dim sum dumplings – they were so simple that I almost asked for my money back, but then I remembered that’s the sign of good teaching.
We also tackled sushi. I have to report I got a bit competitive, insulting my neighbours’ temaki rolls and dissing the other team’s rice skills – chef pointed out it wasn’t a competition and therefore I didn’t win. But the following night I made proper sushi at home for my children and they ate it even though it contained vegetables. A miracle.
In the kitchen of Momofuku’s Milk Bar in Brooklyn, the secret to making their legendary cakes was revealed. We took three discs of fudge-enriched chocolate sponge cake, soaked each of them in Ovaltine milk, covered them in chocolate malt icing, sprinkled them with malted white chocolate crumbs, overlaid them with toasted marshmallow and drizzled them with malted chocolate ganache. Then we assembled the whole lot into a cake tower which had a total of 18 layers of sweetness. The cakes were epic, the crowd was hip – we were the only people there without beards.
Lessons in home cooking have graduated from domestic science to an unexpected leisure activity. In general I ate, drank and laughed more than I was expecting. As a visitor to New York, it’s also a gorgeous way to see what makes Americans tick – FYI, it’s mostly bacon. And it was timely as next month I am hosting a supper club, turning my kitchen into a restaurant for one night and cooking dinner for eight paying strangers. Will report back…
Try your own 'tailgate' food fest with Emma's bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed, smoky BBQ meatballs.
What are your cooking class experiences? Do you have any favourite tried and tested classes? Let us know in the comments section below...