New cooking class offers participants lessons in fine dining inside Georgia chef’s kitchen
There are a million different ways to teach someone to boil an egg. Cooking classes come in different flavors — there are boozy demonstration classes, hands-on, flour-under-the-nails classes, cooking school intensive classes. In heritage food-heavy regions like Northern New Mexico, classes can often be focused on teaching people to properly prepare the local cuisine. Now, Santa Fean Nick Peña and his company, Food Tour New Mexico, which has been taking tourists and locals alike on the rounds of Santa Fe and Albuquerque’s restaurant scene, are offering a new cooking class.
The Food Tour New Mexico cooking classes let you inside the kitchen of a high-end restaurant, where only up to a dozen people gather around the cutting board and learn, family-style, how to prepare something like they’d get at that restaurant. The classes are hands-on with some demonstration, and participants get to dine on the results. The menus, as at any fine dining establishment, will be seasonal and vary day to day. The classes officially opened to the public last week, and although Peña plans on branching out across Northern New Mexico, currently they are all held at Georgia, 225 Johnson St. downtown, under the tutelage of chef Leroy Alvarado.
“We’re leaving it up to the chef to create various menus, so the menus will change from class to class,” Peña says.
The classes at Georgia have three themes: Wednesdays are for “New American” food, which at one of the first classes last week included a menu of beef tenderloin with grilled asparagus, sous-vide mashed potatoes and nitrogen ice cream — good old American comfort food with a fine linen napkin. Thursdays and Saturdays are for “Contemporary New Mexican Cuisine,” tamales or enchiladas et al. with a unique spin to them. And Fridays are for the adventurous, “World Fusion,” an as-yet-to-be-determined parameter.
“It’s his opportunity to really have fun with the class,” Peña says. “You don’t know what he’s going to do.”
Because participants will learn to cook from a fine dining chef in a professional kitchen, they’ll get a hands-on primer in many of the techniques and tricks of haute cuisine that usually have a veneer of unapproachable culinary school magic about them. Sous-vide cooking, for example, is a method utilized in most high-end restaurants by which food is placed in food-grade plastic bags and immersed in a water bath that is kept at a predetermined temperature for hours, which produces those perfectly done steaks, bewilderingly moist chicken breasts and confusingly succulent chops that at home always turn out undercooked inside and dry on the outside. Sous-vide cooking can be intimidating for the uninitiated, but at this point it’s how most of your cuts of meat over a certain price point are prepared, because efficiency and consistency are everything in a high-end joint. The same can be said of nitrogen ice cream, in which frozen liquid nitrogen is added to liquid ice cream base to make ice cream instantly, tableside, a fun restaurant trick that could be equally fun at a home dinner party.
The classes also involve a wine pairing element (and a wine-drinking element). Participants (all 21 and older) will be greeted upon arrival by Georgia’s bar manager, Mark Kimble, with a half glass of wine each, because as Julia Child herself knew, every good meal begins with a little tipple by the chef. Kimble will present a bit of a wine-pairing lesson (and another half-glass of wine) to go with the meal as well.
And while the actual food is cooking, there will be a “cocktail intermission” (something that should be used to break up more events, like the opera or particularly long movies), during which guests will learn to prepare a culinary cocktail as well.
Chefs can develop a veneer of unapproachability, like maestros or artists, but for Peña, actually putting the class together was a fairly easy sell to chef Alvarado.
“What we’re finding is a lot of chefs want to do things like this,” Peña says. “They just don’t have time to organize it. … I think the chefs are like any creative person — I know in art school I always did things well when it came to projects, but there were things I kind of wanted to expand on. Talking to these chefs, they have a lot of fun providing amazing meals for people, but in terms of sharing concepts and spreading their wings, for example, they don’t always get to do that during service every night.”
The classes run from about 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., typically slow hours for fine dining restaurants.
“It’s more like a later lunch or early dinner type thing,” Peña says. “We may try to move it, but so far it seems to be OK. It’s definitely kind of an odd time to eat but it’s nice at the same time because they have the whole restaurant to themselves, and being able to work in an actual restaurant kitchen is the most exciting part for a lot of people.”
The classes are $99 per person, which includes the alcohol, which adds up to about two drinks during the class.
Peña hopes to expand this class to at least one more Santa Fe restaurant, Albuquerque and Taos, bringing the restaurants he meets with in even closer contact with their enthusiastic diners — including himself.
“Nobody really knows this about me, but I love to cook,” Peña says. “I’m always learning as much as possible. I’m not a classically trained chef, I just pretend I am.”
IF YOU GO