Cooking class scores 'A' in Haute cuisine, spaghetti Bolognese, fun
I remember when I first came to college at the University of Florida my freshman year without much culinary knowledge at all. In fact, I am pushing my pride aside when I tell you I once had to call my mother -- an extremely experienced and amazing cook -- to ask how to boil an egg. There are so many rules and stipulations to cooking - at least to someone who is inexperienced. Now I can say I not only cook, but I also have and will continue to concoct some culinary masterpieces in my kitchen, my interest for this growing all the time. Cooking a dish for my mother and having her finish every bite of my healthy version of Pad Thai was how I knew I had made it.
As my interest grew and almost became cathartic, I wondered who else besides my mother and Pinterest I could learn from. I have been wanting to take a cooking class for some time, so when the head GLOBer himself, Mike Sanford, asked if I would like to take a cooking class at authentic Italian eatery, The Fat Tuscan Cafe, I was quick to step up.
This cozy Italian joint located inside a historic house built in 1908 and located in downtown Gainesville boasts making all its dishes inhouse and using the freshest ingredients. I have eaten there before, and the pasta is superb. The time and care put into each dish is truly noteworthy and exemplifies the bold flavors that The Fat Tuscan promotes highly.
I was not only pleased at the venue but at the class I would be attending, "Evening Class and Wine Tasting - Italian Cooking with Wine," where each course would involve cooking with wine." Personally, I love cooking with wine; sometimes I put it in the food too! A small joke.
I love that you can tell The Fat Tuscan was at one time a house. Each room is quaint and unique and allows diners different kinds of ambiance. Last time I was there, some live musicians serenaded me and my companion, which I loved.
The setup for the cooking class involved up to 15 "students" gathering inside a large room next to the staircase and kitchen inside The Fat Tuscan, and our host for the evening, Fat Tuscan owner, and Head Chef Michelle reeves, cooked each course and explained step by step what she was doing and why. Although I was a tad disappointed I wouldn't get to do any of the actual cooking myself, I was more than happy to grab a bottle of wine and have a personal chef for an evening while picking up a few tips.
The seats filled fast as we gathered at the tables, the back of the room housed a small cooking station complete with pre-prepped ingredients at the ready. Although Michelle, a native-born Italian, is typically the sole teacher, she had thrown out her back, so Fat Tuscan employee, Stephen Hans assisted with the cooking while Michelle explained the steps, which proved challenging since she couldn't be as hands on as usual. I quickly sparked conversation with a woman who sat across from me at the table; we were the first two to arrive and quickly bonded over desperately needing a glass of wine after a long day.
As we began, Chef Michelle made a few jokes and put everyone at ease. The smell of garlic immediately filled the room as soon as a clove hit a heated pot, and my attention quickly turned to the cooking station. I was all ears as Michelle explained that the appetizer would be a shrimp dish with tomato and artichoke in a white wine sauce. It was extremely tasty and light, the shrimp a tad al dente, which I liked. The sauce was so good I needed a crostini or two to aid in sopping up any remaining on my plate. Although a good dish, it was simple, which doesn't surprise me since people in a cooking class are usually very interested in learning new dishes, very inexperienced, or both.
The next dish was a salad and tasted as flavorful and refreshing as it sounded. Michelle had us taste the dressing she created, which included extra virgin olive oil, champagne, and Dijon mustard, which really popped in the tangy dressing.
This was another addicting sauce: Even on its own I was pleased, but it was even better drizzled over mixed greens, pear chunks, walnuts and shredded parmesan squares,. This was truly good to the last bite, although once again it was very simple. I make a dressing very similar to this regularly, as I have a mixed veggie/fruit salad almost every day.
Michelle advised us to not put our dressing on until right before the salad is served. Again, everything said was pretty elementary.
As the class went on, I conversed with everyone on my side of the table; we were laughing and sharing anecdotes. I felt badly since most of the time separate conversations were going on while Michelle was giving her tips and tricks, and there was more the feel of a private dinner party instead of a cooking class. By the time Michelle explained the steps for preparing the spaghetti Bolognese sauce, enough wine had been poured to make everyone all too friendly and talkative.
I barely heard any of the steps, although those that I heard, including taking care and time with each step of the sauce from browning the meat to caramelizing the sauce, were tips I already knew. A good Bolognese sauce, Michelle said, should really take a few hours to cook on the stove, but we only had about 30 minutes. She also put to bed the method of throwing spaghetti against the wall to test for doneness, as she said all that did was ruin the walls. After the plates of spaghetti Bolognese with fettucine noodles and a sprinkle of parmesan were delivered to the tables, I did not question her methods. The noodles were cooked perfectly and the meat sauce, comprised of ground beef, some ground sausage, and prosciutto, was ridiculously good.
Would I attend another class? Probably not for the cooking tips, all of which I knew and have used myself, but I WOULD attend for the amazing food and good company. I truly enjoyed myself from those respects, and it was great to meet new people. I would certainly go to the restaurant for the adorable atmosphere and great menu items and to check out the specials. There is also a beautiful patio with outdoor seating that should not be missed during cooler Gainesville months.