To my mind, community occurs when people come together around shared values. All the better if the gathering is real-life rather than virtual, and if those values relate to health, nourishment, and respect for our precious planet.
I’d say I managed to create a little community on Saturday night with my debut cooking class. When we sat down, two hours after the cooking had begun, it was not only to enjoy the food, but also to relish the sense of accomplishment in creating a feast completely from scratch and using high quality fresh ingredients from the greater New York foodshed.
The journey that led me to this day started a long time ago, with me working as an apprentice on a small family farm in Central Virginia for the 2008 growing season and gaining a hands-on appreciation for the vital role that diversified farms play in maintaining healthy soil that supports so many productive plants that can feed so many people. It continued with my sustainability work in the institutional food service sector, and more recently working as an assistant/sous chef at a recreational cooking school here in Manhattan. Through it all I’ve come to realize that cooking can serve as a bridge between agriculture and health. And when done in a group setting, it’s terrific fun to boot.
I hosted Saturday’s workshop at a kitchen space that I rented uptown in my neighborhood, and 12 friends + friends of friends were kind enough to be my student guinea pigs. The entire experience was wonderful, even starting that morning with visiting the farmers market to purchase all of the ingredients. I casually mentioned to a few of the vendors from whom I was buying that this food was being used in a cooking class, and one of them started peppering me with questions about how often I taught, whether I had a website, etc. I’m looking forward to giving him a full report next time I’m at the market!
- Cheese and crackers appetizer
- Sweet potato gnocchi with a sage brown butter sauce
- Kale and carrot salad (my original plan was a brussels sprouts and carrot slaw, but I pivoted to kale when I got to the market and realized brussels sprouts were no longer available at this point in the year)
- Apple crostata
Ingredients were sourced for this class from the year-round Inwood Greenmarket:
- Cheese: Consider Bardwell Farm, West Pawlet, VT
- Carrots, kale: Nolasco Farm, Allamuchy-Panther Valley, NJ
- Apples, sweet potatoes: Samascott Orchards, Kinderhook, NY
I started out by having everyone create the crostata (a rustic open-faced pie, basically) crust.
From-scratch dough was a first for just about everyone in the class, I believe!
While the dough was resting, we made the filling, then rolled out the dough and added the filling, finishing it off with an egg wash and a sprinkle of sugar.
With the crostata squared away in the oven, we got to work on the kale salad.
I had everyone whisk the dressing directly in their salad mixing bowls, and then we added in the other ingredients.
Next up: the gnocchi — a first for folks, as well.
After a slight delay (fixable, thankfully!) with the sweet potato, I demoed how to mix in the flour, create the dough, and roll it out in order to cut it into gnocchi pieces. After my demo I turned it over to the class, which required everyone to get their hands dirty and literally play with their food. The kitchen probably got exponentially messier during this part of the class but it was pretty amazing to see everything really start to coalesce at this time, especially as the crostata came out of the oven and the salad sat patiently off to the side.
Finally it was time to make the brown butter sauce and get those gnocchi cooking.
People set the table while I dished everything out.
All that was left was for me to make a toast, for everyone to take pictures of the spread, and for us to dig in.
I can’t wait for the next one. Details will be announced on here once a date and location are set.