The One About the First Cooking Class.

Benjamin bought me a series of cooking classes for my birthday (which was way back in May) and I have just gotten around to scheduling them recently.  I took one on Saturday at Barbrix, a restaurant in Silver Lake with a frequently-changing menu that reflects fresh seasonal food.

I have two more cooking classes to go – one with (Hot Tamale/Ciudad/Border Grill/Street) chef Susan Feniger, yet to be scheduled, and one with Chef Gordon Ramsay in November.  Yes, I am a little bit afraid of this one.

The Barbrix class on Saturday was with Chef Don Dickman, and the class was called “You say Tomato.”  What I learned was that it was more of a chef’s tasting than a class – a dozen of us sat at the bar and watched Chef Don whip up some wonderfully diverse tomato creations, which we devoured with gusto.  He also told us about what happens near Valencia, Spain, on the last Wednesday of August of each year – the world’s largest food fight!  It’s called La Tomatina.  Only tomatoes, and the tomatoes have to be crushed.  And it’s only from 11 am to 1 pm.  You can’t be late for siesta, you know.  I am inspired – this is now on my bucket list.

Fresh, seasonal heirloom tomatoes!

The class began with a fresh bloody mary – how can you go wrong with this?!  Chef Don took Black Cherokee tomatoes, an heirloom variety, and whizzed them up in a blender, added horseradish, salt & pepper, tabasco sauce, celery salt and some fresh lime juice, and ladled it over iced vodka.  What a way to start the day!

We tasted various varieties of tomatoes with different olive oils, some from Spain, some from Italy.  He served one with a delicious burrata mozzarella and a 12-year aged balsamic.  Delightful.  He made a tasty fresh salad with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, red onions, oil-cured black olives, chopped parsley and cilantro, and toasted pita bits, all tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, and dressed in a Greek yogurt lemon herb dressing.  Simple and fabulous.

He put Campbell’s to shame with a tomato soup that you would die for.  Andy Warhol painted the can – let me see if I can paint you a real tomato soup.  Also tremendously simple – he threw some onions and garlic into a pot and let them saute for a bit, and then peeled and seeded several pounds of fresh tomatoes.  He coarsely chopped them and threw them into the pot, added some day-old bread that he had dried a bit in the oven, and let the whole thing cook down with a bit of water.   Then he ran the mixture through a food mill (if you don’t have one, a China cap will do – and we learned that a Chinois is the finest mesh of China cap, but all China caps are not Chinoises!) and put the smooth mixture back onto the fire for a few minutes.  He served it with a few pinches of fresh chopped basil and a small handful of parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil.  It was really fabulous.

Chef Don made what he called a tomato crostata – it was basically a pie crust (made in front of us, of course!) spread with a fontina and quark (you could substitute ricotta) mixture with fresh thyme, and topped with thinly sliced tomatoes, all baked for about 45 minutes until the folded-over, egg-washed crust was golden.

Tomato Crostata

The three-hour class took four hours – there were two more dishes I haven’t even told you about!  And Chef Don made it all look very simple.  I’m sure these dishes will take me a bit longer but I have definitely added them to my repertoire.  Let’s see – when is our next dinner party?

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