As an Italian there are two things that I get really excited about: football and cooking. Being so far away from home, it’s been difficult to keep up with the former, but my recent experience with The Fine Food & Dining Society taught me that University doesn’t necessarily equal bad food –quite the opposite, in fact. On Wednesday night I went to my first cooking lesson, ready to wheedle out the secrets of French cuisine. After years spent drooling over crepes and tartiflettes up in the mountains, it was about time that I learnt something about the more refined aspects of French traditional cuisine.
And I did. Over the course of a two hours (and some) lesson, I considerably deepened my French cooking knowledge and even peeked into Canadian culinary heritage.
The class atmosphere was warm and welcoming and it was immediately clear that I was among people who shared my interest for cooking and, as I would discover later on, eating. The teachers, Jacana Bresson and Laurence Levy, proved themselves very capable, overcoming the practical difficulties presented by the venue to offer us a great culinary voyage.
I have to confess that at first things were a bit confusing. Since we started preparing many dishes at once, it wasn’t always easy to discern what went with what, especially since my fellow pupils and I were sitting outside the kitchen. But Jocana and Laurence picked up on the problem quickly and within the first hour they had started to come out of the kitchen to show us the most important steps in the recipes and to involve us in the preparation itself. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to cook much. In my case it was probably for the better, since my complete ineptitude with everything other than pasta would have led to major damage to the kitchen furniture, but the best way to learn how to cook a dish is to cook it, and doing it under the supervision of our teachers would have surely produced an amazing result. To be fair, this lack of practical cooking was simply a consequence of the limited dimension of the cooking area –we simply couldn’t all fit inside the kitchen at the same time.
Nevertheless, we learned a lot. I personally loved getting to know something about Canadian cuisine –it’s not something you hear much about in Europe and it was a nice discovery: warm and sweet. It reminded me of home. The two dishes Laurence introduced us to were simple yet flavourful, a perfect illustration of the fact that you don’t need to be fancy to make good food. The Poutine’s taste was strong enough to be tasty but not overwhelming, and the Pouding Chômeur is the kind of dish you want to have after a very bad day: sweet and syrupy enough to cheer you up. “It’s good for your mind” Jacana pointed out –and it is.
If you can be good and fancy, however, nobody will cry foul! The Fine Food & Dining Society succeeded in presenting us with a fairly comprehensive choice of French dishes, ranging from main courses of meat and fish to sides and appetizers. I found the Parmesan & Gruyere soufflé particularly satisfying both in texture and flavour, the Quiche Lorraine was delicate, the Red Wine sauce simply delicious –it brought out the steak’s flavour without overshadowing it and it’s definitely a recipe I’m going to try at home. Both the Coq au Vin and the Sole Meuniére made my taste buds sing –and I’m not even a fan of fish. Even the Gratin Dauphinois, although missing the crust my mountain-self loves so much, still tasted good. While we tasted all these amazing dishes, we all had the chance to chat with the various members of the committee. Everybody was very helpful and enthusiastic; it’s not hard to understand why this society has gained such a big following in such a brief time. I was mildly disappointed when time prevented us from tasting the Chocolate Soufflé –the dough was rich and yummy, and I bet the dessert would have been outstanding. Two hours is probably not enough for a menu as ambitious as this one, and I certainly wouldn’t have minded staying for a third.
All in all, this cooking lesson was a very positive experience that I recommend to everyone. Kudos.
The Fine Food & Dining Society hosts cooking classes on a variety of themes most every Wednesday in the St Andrews Episcopal Church. They also host a myriad of other food-related events. See what they’ve got going on via Facebook or their website.
Photo credits: Ilaria Re