For Christmas this year, my husband gave me a gift certificate to the cooking school CulinAerie in Washington, DC. The first class that I decided to take was a French cooking class based on Julia Child’s autobiography entitled My Life in France. CulinAerie opened about 14 months ago and is an amazing, sparkling-new facility that one can look into while standing outside on 14th street. There are rows of metal tables that seat 4 people — each spot is adorned with its own cooking utensils and ingredients that will be used for that particular class. Overhead, there are flat screen TVs that allow students to watch the instructor who is at the front of the class.
One of the chefs and owners of CulinAerie is Susan Holt. Ms. Holt is a classically trained chef from L’Academie in Maryland. She was also the former chef at French haute restaurant 1789 in Washington, DC. The classes are 3 hours long and in my opinion, are well worth the price of admission. Since the classes go from 6:30-9:30pm, Chef Holt had already prepared a dish for us to sit and eat while we listened and watched as she demonstrated how she prepared the dish.
The dish that Chef Holt had already prepared for us was stew of white beans and cabbage with duck confit.
She discussed how she had prepared the dish including how she had even prepared her own rendered duck fat to prepare the confit in. The purpose of storing the duck confit in rendered fat is obviously to give it an extreme boost of flavor. It’s also to prevent any bacteria from growing on the confit since there is no water or air that can get in. Chef Holt also let the students in on a tip about why food at many fine dining establishments taste so good — because the food, more often than not, is rendered in some sort of fat. As a result of this rendered fat, stew of white beans and duck confit was extremely flavorful and made me happy to be a carnivore.
The second dish that the students prepared was called Chicken Marengo and is actually a very old recipe — it happened to be Napoleon’s favorite dish. For all you chicken lovers who want a chicken dish that is new and exciting, but easy at the same time, this is the perfect dish. We used bone-in chicken breasts. Chef Holt explained that chicken with bones-in are so much more flavorful since they help to hold the flavors and juices in. She even commented that boneless chicken breasts are not in fact natural, since there’s a lot of prep that goes into actually getting the bones out and then putting the meat back together again (something to think about for all you die-hard boneless chicken breast fans). The best part about cooking this dish was the fact that the students got to eat it afterwards!
The last dish we made is called Reine de Saba or Queen Sheba cake. This cake is a chocolate cake with chocolate glaze made from butter, bittersweet chocolate, strong coffee, almond extract, etc… I’m not a huge chocolate fan. I like to eat chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, but never chocolate together. I never acquired that chocolate tooth like so many people have. However, this cake is remarkable! You can’t eat a lot of it because it is indeed rich, but just a few bites and you instantly will enter a food coma. We didn’t serve this cake with anything else, but I think it would be wonderful with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Even making the chocolate cake, but with a raspberry glaze would be mouthwatering as well.
CulinAeria is a wonderful place to take a cooking class. They offer numerous classes on different cooking techniques, cuisines, etc… You will leave extremely happy and full, but also more knowledgable about food. They even have a volunteer program — they need people who will help them prepare the ingredients and food, set up the tables, clear the tables, and even help the students out. In return for your services, you will get a free meal cooked by the chef after all the students have left, get the free recipes from that night’s class, and even get to listen to the Chef’s lecture. Free meals cooked by a renowned chef as well as free culinary knowledge from experts? Say no more… I’m in!