Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Cookology - a "Vegan Picnic"

INTRO


I am really excited about this post, although it is a bit late. I didn’t realize Brad’s Raw Challenge was this week! Oops! Two Saturday’s ago I had the privilege to attend what I believe was the very first vegan cooking class taught and hosted at Cookology

 If you have never heard of Cookology, it is a store-front located in the Dulles Towne Center that teaches and hosts different cooking classes for groups, birthday parties and even for business team-building. The classes they offer are widely ranged to accommodate every age group, special diets and every culinary adventure you can imagine. From local wine and food pairing, to French cooking, to date-nights, anyone and everyone can find a cooking class that fancies their taste buds.  And now, thanks to Cookology and Chef Kevin Carroll, "everyone" includes us vegans, rawsies, and gluten-free-ers too. 

SUMMARY 

 

The moment I received confirmation that vegan and raw food classes would soon become available, I stalked Cookology Online daily, anxiously wondering what dishes we would be whipping up. It didn’t take long for them to post and open the new classes and, in excitement, I immediately bought my ticket for the vegan class and shared the event to many in hopes that the class would be a full one.  I decided to skip the raw class since the dishes they were making were familiar to me; dishes I had made before. In all honesty, it was the same for the vegan picnic class minus one dish I was seriously intrigued by: BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwiches.  

When the day arrived, I was a bit anxious since this was my very first time attending a class at Cookology. I didn’t know WHAT to expect! After checking in, we were led to the back kitchen where a fully prepped chef’s working table awaited our arrival. We each chose a spot around the table and waited for further instruction.

 As I waited and took in my surroundings, I noticed a few things. First, there were only 8 of us – a smaller group than I was expecting, but a more intimate, personal setting which I actually quite prefer. Second, the setting with the kitchen table, bulk items and prepping tools provided a more professional atmosphere – different than the “let’s just have fun” atmosphere I was used too. Last, the presence of cutting boards, prep bowls, and knives meant this class was going to involve more personal prepping/cooking than any other class I have been to so far. I guess that’s what happens when you attend one too many raw food classes. All of this made me feel more like a chef than another cooking class participant. This made the experience something new and different which is exactly what I was looking for.



Once the chef introduced himself we started…and never stopped! We made dish, after dish, after dish, cleaning along the way. The class seemed a bit fast paced which meant I didn’t have too much time to take pictures. At first, I was a bit disappointed with the speed at which the class was going, but then I realized, that’s how it is in the real world! Actually, it’s faster than that! We were being taught firsthand how to prep, prepare and plate three dishes in under 2 hours while keeping our working spaces clean along the way.  Funny, because I do the same thing at home – prep, prepare and plate 2 lunches and a dinner in under two hours. I guess I AM a chef at home. :)
 
While it did seem fast paced, in the end, we had a chance to sit down, relax, and really appreciate and enjoy the food that we made. In this experience I also gained a brand new respect for Chefs in the real world. Time is seriously of the essence! 

So, interested to hear what we made!?

FOOD!!!

 

Well, we worked backwards. Life is too short to NOT enjoy dessert first, right!? So that’s what we made: Lemon Glazed Donuts…err well muffins that tasted similar to a lemon cake donuts. Donut pans weren’t available and in my experience, a pain in the butt to work with too. 

While we we’re making the donuts the chef pulled out one ingredient that made my friend and I gasp in horror: CRISCO! Yes, we were using Crisco! Even the chef knew we would react to the use of a hydrogenated oils but...he gave us a reason as to why he chose it: taste. Yes, only donuts taste like true donuts with Crisco and honestly, without it, our lemon donuts would have been just muffins. Taste, 1. Health, 0. I couldn’t blame him. Chef’s are trained to prepare foods based on taste and presentation and well, he did say this was a vegan class, not a health class. After all, vegan isn’t always healthy. I guess you gotta indulge sometimes…




After they baked and cooled down, we finished our donut muffins off with a deliciously sweet lemon glaze, which while making, I learned a new skill: how to tell when the consistency of your glaze is just perfect.

As stated before, the Crisco did make a difference. While they didn’t look anything like donuts, they did taste like a donut. The outside was crispy, the inside, moist and airy. The glaze, amazing! Sweetly tart and in my opinion, the star of this dish. This donut would have been just good without that glaze. With it, it was seriously mouthwatering and addictive. It was hard NOT to eat them all. Actually, I ate them all on the way home...so much for health!

Next we worked on our Baba Ghanoush – at first glance, an odd dish for a picnic themed course, but when you think picnic, you think dip so I guess that makes sense! If you never heard of baba ghanoush, it is simply a hummus made with roasted eggplants as opposed to chickpeas.




We set to work roasting our eggplant in the stove as opposed to over a grill and learned the same can be done for bell peppers as well. As we passed around the ingredients, our chef explained what some the ingredients were to some of the students who never had heard of things like tahini before. Points for a chef who knows his stuff. We quickly whipped this dip, topped it with bell peppers we had chopped on our own, set it aside to be eaten later with some already made flatbread, and we were on to the dish I was looking forward to most: the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sliders!



I’ll be honest, I was praying and oh so hoping we would learn how to make these babies with fresh Jackfruit. However, after receiving Jackfruit 101 from the Chef, I quickly learned that due to time, that was literally impossible. Fresh Jackfruit requires picking and boiling before it’s edible. We did however, get to see, smell and touch the Jackfruit which was pretty cool considering I had never really examined a fresh one before…only from the sidelines at the Asian market.I have had it to eat though, dried from the Philippines and new it tasted splendid!



So instead we used canned Jackfruit – a bit different in texture, but tastes the same. We gather our ingredients and to the hot plates we went to cook our pulled BBQ. After some heating up and simmering, we were ready to plate! We made three small BBQ sammies which we simply dressed, to the Chef's recommendation, with agave to bring out the flavors in the BBQ more.



Two hours. One Chef. Eight Students. Three Dishes. One happy picnic.

OVERALL REVIEW

 

Overall, this class definitely met my expectations for being their first vegan class. 

LIKES

I liked the change up in the pace and overall atmosphere. I loved the fact that the ingredients were in bulk as opposed to being separated into plastic dishes which saves on plastics as well as on time for those who have to prep the table. Passing around tools and ingredients did make things move a bit slower, but if it saves the planet, then I’m all for it. I loved the kitchen setting and our ability to pretty much make every recipe on our own from measuring, to chopping, to sautéing, etc. The recipes no doubt, were delicious. Most of all, I enjoyed being able to sit at the dinner table with my fellow classmates and enjoy the meal I just made. There are perks to making all your dishes first and then eating last as opposed to stuffing your face along the way. I have to say the class was worth the $65 dollars I paid and those who drove down from DC and Maryland agreed. If you can capture people who are willing to drive that far down, then the opportunities are limitless. 

IMPROVEMENTS

However…yes there is a however. I believe that in every business, constructive criticism is important. So, however, after chatting with my friend about the class, I do have a few suggestions for possible improvement.
  • While I enjoyed the pace, some may have preferred more time to dive deeper into the development of the dishes, specifically the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit dish. Of course, it takes time, multiple classes and feedback in order to determine what works best for their audience. Just something to think about early on. 
  • As I mentioned before, I found baba ghanoush dip to be an odd addition to the menu although I understood how it could fit. We, however, agreed that we would have preferred to have made something that would have complimented the sandwich more, say a slaw or a potato salad. No doubt, the dip was excellent and full of flavor, just an oddball in our opinion. Maybe we are a bit too conformed when it comes to our ideas about food themes :). That could be an issue. On the positive side, listening from others, a majority of students have never made baba ghanoush before, so they had learned something new which is the whole point of this cooking class. You don't want to learn to make a dish you already know how to make right!?
  • There was also an assumption that we would be making the flatbread to accompany the baba ghanoush, which I should have realized wouldn’t have worked due to time, but maybe some clarification on what exactly was going to be made that day would have toned expectations.  All it takes is simple rephrasing to fix that.
  • We do wish there was more time to play and experiment with the Jackfruit! Again time was our enemy!
  • Kudos for saving the planet with plastics, minus the aprons. However, the amount of paper towel we used was insane! A wet and dry towel for each of us would save money on paper towels and time as well with washing hands.
  • Lastly and most importantly, a little PR was needed at the end. Our chef was a great teacher but he did step away at the end. Maybe the assumption was that we wanted to be left alone to chat and eat after hearing him direct us around for the last two hours? Maybe. But it was quite the opposite. We wanted to continue the conversation with him. Ask him about his experience as a chef and as a former vegan. Ask him about the Jackfruit more. Ask him about other classes they offered. It would have been nice to have him in our presence as we enjoyed our meal. Keep us engaged from the time we walk in to the time we leave. Maybe have someone else as a "host" do that instead of the Chefs? Maybe time was once again to blame? We did have to ask for to go boxes and for the recipes, which we were informed would be e-mailed to us which I preferred. It saves paper AND you won’t lose it on the way home! 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

I definitely plan on attending any future vegan-friendly and/or raw classes they offer. I feel Cookology has the resources to really cater to this new audience of vegans and rawsies. Actually, I just paid for tickets to a Mommy and Me class with my 6 year-old daughter. None of the dishes are vegan so this momma won’t be eating, but at least I know my daughter will get the chance to do what she’s been dying to do. Cook! That’s the great thing about Cookology, they cater to all types of people! So check out their classes. You never know what you might find :)
I will keep you all posted when the next class is offered! I hope you will join us as we build a new community there!

Oh and let's not leave out the perks of driving all the way to Dulles Towne Center...SWEETZ BAKERY's amazing vegan cupcakes!!! Keep an eye out for a review post on these amazing treats!