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Monday, March 13, 2017

Get Schooled at Culinary Lab Cooking School!

So anyone who knows me knows that I not only love to eat, but I love to cook! I've taken classes at just about every place in Orange County (and even some in LA) that offers cooking classes. Some have been great and some have been not so great. What makes a stellar cooking class? IMHO it's 1) a good teacher who knows how to talk to the students in plain English not "chef" speak, 2) a well stocked facility with sufficient amenities to support the size of the class, and 3) practical recipes that appeal to different levels of cooking knowledge so that everyone will actually feel like they could successfully recreate them at home.  

Culinary Lab (CL) moved over to their new Tustin location in late 2016 and I'd heard nothing but positive things about their cooking classes. I was beyond thrilled to be invited to attend one of their classes, and felt even more lucky to attend a special event one with Chef Shachi as the guest teacher. I've actually taken a few cooking classes with Chef Shachi at her restaurant in Anaheim so I knew I couldn't lose either way, as she's a not just a fabulous Chef but a great teacher. The class I took with Chef Shachi was the first in Culinary Lab's series of local OC Chefs that they are featuring for the month of March.

The first thing that stood out upon walking into CL is how modern and updated the space is - with a gorgeous bar on one end and a very sleek modern teaching area taking up the majority of the classroom. This facility used to be a Mimi's Cafe Testing Kitchen and I'm guessing it didn't look like this before CL took it over! 

Adjacent to the classroom/bar area is the actual teaching kitchen. Laid out with modern stoves along one side and tables for the students on the other side. Everything was very well laid out and made for a great easy cooking experience.

Chef Shachi started the class with a brief intro and overview in the classroom and then we jumped right into hands-on cooking in the kitchen. Our menu consisted of four traditional Indian dishes which seemed to be just the right amount for a three hour cooking class. Right away, Chef Shachi got everyone involved showing us not just how to mix the ingredients together but starting with the basics of how to properly toast spices to get the right flavors in the recipes. 

Having taken a lot of cooking classes in the past, I know it can be tough for Chefs teaching home cooks as the skills are so varied amongst the students. She handled it really well by keeping those of us who were more experienced well engaged with the cooking while teaching some of the more beginner students a few basic skills (i.e. how to cut an onion) at a smaller table. Even so, I think everyone felt she gave us all the just the right amount of attention.

I also really appreciated how Chef taught us how to tell when things are done by touch, taste and smell. Too often in classes I've taken they focus on timing to tell you when something is done but experience has shown that's not always the best way to tell doneness. I found it really helpful that she made a point of making sure everyone got a chance to taste their food at various stages of doneness so they became familiar with how it should taste and smell at each point. 

All the food came out fabulous (as I knew it would!) and it was a nice touch that everyone got to also plate their dishes for presentation before we sat down to eat them in the classroom. Here are the four delicious dishes we made: 

Kadai Cauliflower
Mango & Cucumber Raita

Coconut Ginger Shrimp
Green Bean Sesame Salad

Overall, I found the class to be very engaging and well presented while also just a lot of fun! Although the class I took was taught by a guest Chef who doesn't teach there on a regular basis, everyone at CL from the Chef assistants to the staff in the reception area were extremely helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. 

I was very impressed with Culinary Lab as a whole and look forward to taking more classes in the future!

As I mentioned, in the month of March Culinary Lab is hosting some local OC Chefs as guest teachers. These are some serious names in the OC culinary scene folks! The remaining classes for this series are:
Saturday, March 18th: Chef Cathy Pavlos is doing a class on California Cuisine. Chef Cathy is a local OC rockstar with her wonderful restaurant Provenance in Newport Beach. She also owned and operated longtime favorite (but recently closed) Lucca Café in Irvine for many years.

Saturday, March 25th: Chef Jason Montelibano is doing a class on the very hot at the moment Filipino food! Chef Jason recently returned to the yummy Chapter One in the trendy downtown Santa Ana from which he had taken a break for a few years to cook at EATS Kitchen in Irvine. 
They both sound like amazing not-to-be-missed classes! You can find out more info about these classes, as well as all the other classes Culinary Lab offers on their website here:

Culinary Lab is located at 17231 E. 17th Street #B in Tustin. 714/788-3576

Professional Culinary Program
Although I took a class that is for the home chefs, I happened to get partnered with a student from the Professional Program who was taking this home chef class for fun. This worked out well for me as I was able to ask her quite a few questions about the program and I have to say it really sounds like a fabulous program that focuses on real world practical experience. Having more than a few Chef friends, I know that a top complaint about many culinary programs is not enough real world experience that can be applied to getting a job after graduation.  Apparently, in their short time in the OC, Culinary Lab has made it a priority to establish meaningful partnerships with some of the best restaurants in the county to get their people into paid internships and obtain that crucial real world experience. I'd highly recommend anyone thinking about going into the culinary field take a good look at Culinary Lab as they really seem to be one step ahead of other schools in this area.

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