Somewhere between 15 and 20 years ago, dpaul and I took a knife skills class at a now-defunct cookware store in Laurel Village. We were young, gainfully but not extravagantly employed, inexperienced in the kitchen, and were looking to up our game. Our appetite for cooking had been whet by Cook Express, a service that provided prepped ingredients that enabled you to make a restaurant-worthy meal in just minutes. It taught us plenty about the act of cooking, but nothing about the art of prep.
By the end of the three-hour class, we had learned how to chop, dice, mince and julienne vegetables, and dpaul took on butchering a chicken. (I was still pescatarian at the time, and just watched in horror and awe. I have since learned how to do this myself.) Those three hours gave us the basic skills we needed to cook everything from that point on; if we didn't know how to do it after that class, we were confident enough in what we knew to learn how.
Today I was invited to attend a knife skills class at the San Francisco Cooking School, a new-ish place up on Van Ness. With a board of luminary chefs from most of the restaurants that leap to mind when you think of fine dining in this town, SFCS's program is equal parts skill-building for home cooks as well as professional training for people looking to break into the cheffing biz in both culinary arts and pastry arts. Due to said luminary chefs, graduates of their pro program generally manage to land some plum externships in the city. We all donned our robes and manned a station.
How many food bloggers can you name?
Director Jodi Liano greeted us, giving us the lowdown on the school, and introducing chef David Groff, who heads up the recreational program, and who would be teaching us how to wield big pointy objects.
And so it was that we set about chopping, dicing and julienning vegetables to make a mise en place for minestrone. I'm sure you'd like to get a comprehensive pictorial on how to do that, wouldn't you? Well, too bad. My hands were too busy chopping, dicing and julienning.
At the end, chef Groff made a rustic pesto to dollop into the minestrone, starting with a garlic paste, which you make by finely mincing the garlic, then sprinkling with a heavy pinch of kosher salt and smearing under the blade of the knife. Add basil, pine nuts and a snowing of parmesan, and chop as much or as little as you please.
A good slug of extra virgin olive oil, and voilà.
Time for soup.
SFCS doesn't just teach cooking; they also have moderated talks with local chefs like tonight's panel on the 21st century pastry chef.
The big takeaway? That class we took nearly two decades ago worked. I still know how to prep veggies. So, if you do not feel confident with a knife, please please take a class. It's three hours that will change the rest of your life.