This was the second class that I’ve taken at Natural Gourmet Institute. Both classes that I’ve taken are classes in which you get to do actual cooking, though NGI offers lecture classes and demonstration classes as well. I hadn’t taken any kind of cooking class since 8th grade home economics- so know that it’s never to late to start learning!
Today’s class was focused on seitan. We got to make it from scratch- that is, from actual flour. It was really cool, and it brought the technique I’ve read so many times to life. This was awesome, because I have a hard time visualizing the written word into something practical (imagination of fantasy worlds I’ve got down; but trying to translate something I’ve read word for word into something visually specific, not so much). I’m going to talk more about seitan in a future post, once I’ve had the opportunity to try a few batches out on my own.
You should know, I’ve made seitan many times from vital wheat gluten, so it’s not as if I didn’t have any clue; but mine’s always been fairly inconsistent. Even that which I’ve thought was pretty good (i.e., better than store bought) hasn’t been nearly as good as what I learned in this class.
Here’s what we made!
Pan-Seared Seitan Steak with Chimichurri • Seitan-Stuffed Squash Provençal • Seitan-Wrapped Burdock, Leek and Carrot Rolls • Spicy Seitan Puffs with Sweet and Sour Sauce • Eggplant and Seitan Falafel with Lemon-Tahini Sauce • Braised Chickpea Stew with Seitan Chorizo, Olives and Fennel.
Alternate view: Pan-Seared Seitan Steak with Chimichurri • Seitan-Stuffed Squash Provençal • Seitan-Wrapped Burdock, Leek and Carrot Rolls • Spicy Seitan Puffs with Sweet and Sour Sauce • Eggplant and Seitan Falafel with Lemon-Tahini Sauce • Braised Chickpea Stew with Seitan Chorizo, Olives and Fennel.
So what should you know when you take a cooking class?
- People will be of all different backgrounds. Even at a specifically vegan cooking class, there may be non-vegans there. At the first class I took, I was the only vegan in the room. It’s a great way for everyone to learn something new.
- On that note, people will have all different levels of skill and familiarity with what you’re making. It might be helpful to start with classes that cover the basics, first, if you’re not familiar with basic cooking techniques (for instance, if you don’t know what “finely dice” or “sauté” means, you might want to learn those first), but you don’t have to be familiar with a particular cuisine in order to take a class- including vegan cuisine.
- Think you know everything there is to know about the class topic? Think again. I thought I was mostly going to pick up some interesting new ways to serve seitan- and then I learned I’ve been making so many mistakes when it comes to what I thought I knew how to do!
- Though the class may have a specific focus, you’ll definitely be able to generalize those skills and techniques to other things you cook and create in the kitchen. I finally learned what I’ve been doing wrong all these years with pizza dough, yet the class was about seitan. 🙂
- Wear comfortable shoes! You’ll be on your feet for the vast majority of the class, if it’s a hands on class. You may not get to sit down at all until it’s time to eat at the end!
- Bring a pen or a pencil- you may want to take notes during the (brief) lecture part of the class. You may want to bring your own note pad as well, as the class handouts may get jumbled around while everyone is cooking.
- Take a good look through the menu at the beginning. In a class like what I took, where there were 6 different dishes, each “team” made only one of the dishes. The instructor did show the whole class the important points of different recipes, but if there’s something in particular you want to get experience with, you may want to be the first to volunteer.
- Don’t try to improvise on the recipe given, even if you are experienced in the kitchen. The point is for everyone to be able to make at home what was made in class, and if you’re bringing your own style, your classmates won’t be able to do that. Be fair! Plus, it’s a little rude in that kind of setting.
- It’s okay to go by yourself, though it would be equally nice to go with a friend or a loved one. If you’re alone, you’ll be paired up with someone else (usually the person next to/across from you), but don’t worry- it’s not like trying to find someone to dance with. 🙂
I’ve really enjoyed the classes that I’ve taken, and I’m learning a lot. I’m fortunate to live not far from such an awesome professional cooking school that offers classes to the public. These one evening or afternoon classes are great in that you don’t have to make a huge commitment, and you can travel in from a distance to do just one, and you probably won’t be alone in that. But remember, most communities offer cooking classes, too, so don’t miss out in all the fun!