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My first time taking a cooking class, and I get to go to two in one month! Last Thursday night I made my way to the West Village to the Miette Culinary Studio. I laughed as I ascended the stairs of the very same townhouse that houses the bar Down the Hatch, the kind of place that you feel too old to be in at 22. What a surprise to see the quaint countryside setting waiting for me on the 3rd floor.

Our instructor for the evening was Chef Paul Vandewoude, formerly of Tartine, who led us through a class sponsored by Saveur Magazine, “An Evening of French Classics”. The menu for the evening (including plenty of red wine):

Gougeres: those uber-yummy little cheesy French popovers
Gratin Dauphinois: the classic potato gratin
Poussin Vallee d’Auge: roasted baby chickens in an apple & brandy sauce w/ cippolini onions
Souffle au Chocolat: mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Saveur had provided the class with recipe booklets, which Chef Paul only half followed. That made me happy. At a cooking class, I want to be taught by a real Chef who knows how he thinks something should be done, rather than learn recipes that were dictated to me by some people in a magazine’s board room. The secret to the Gougeres? Half water, half milk, not all milk as so many recipes would tell you. Here we are taking turns using a pastry bag to make the little treats.

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My one disappointment with the evening was the lack of hands-on experience we got with each dish. The class simply wasn’t long enough to allow every student to assist with each recipe, and get the chance to feast at night’s end. For example, I had nothing to do with the gratin you see here going into the convection oven, and I really wanted a chance to try slicing the potatoes on a mandolin, a kitchen tool I have always been scared to use.

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I really can’t complain though, because we did feast. Here is what happens to a tableful of food when you excuse yourself to use the restroom at the wrong moment…

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Before we feasted, however, Chef Paul split us into teams to compete in assembling the star of the night’s efforts, a chocolate souffle. I’ll admit, I have never attempted a souffle of any kind before, and neither had my teammates…but guess who won??? The souffle closest in the pic is mine…

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Chef Paul confided in us that he knew who the winner would be before the souffles ever hit the oven. How did he know? Was it the confident gleam in my eye that is the hallmark of a true chef? No, it was the fact that my team was the only one who properly sugared their souffle dishes before pouring in the tasty chocolate. The souffle, we learned, needs a ladder of sugar in the bowl so it can literally climb up and rise to a beautiful finish.

I enjoyed this culinary evening as a gift from Signature Days, a company which sells really cool “event gifts” like hot air ballooning, private DJing instruction, and etiquette coaching, to name a few. Readers who are interested can use the discount code 10CS for 10% off the Miette cooking classes, or any other Signature Days event, through 12/31/08.

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