Williams-Sonoma Cooking School: A New Option in the Cooking Class Realm

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Chef Vlad orienting students before instruction began.

Recently I was invited to attend a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma‘s Union Square location on Post Street in San Francisco. There’s no question that founder Chuck Williams changed the way Americans cook today. His vision of importing French cookware to his original Sonoma shop in 1956 and selling them to home cooks revolutionized how we interpret and enjoy food.

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Individual cooking stations equipped with Meile oven, induction cooktop, and an enviable amount of W-S cookware.

Just a few weeks in to this new concept, the classes really personalizes the cooking experience. They also provide attendees the opportunity to not only sit and enjoy demos from one of the resident or guest chefs, but also allow attendees to work with Williams-Sonoma products at mini kitchen stations equipped with Miele appliances. Currently, classes are held at three of their storefronts: San Francisco’s Union Square, Chicago’s Lincoln Park, and Sydney’s Bondi Junction Station.

Upon arrival, everyone gets a crisp white chef’s coat, apron, and kitchen towel. Once properly dressed, we all gathered around the expansive marble island and listened to Chef Vladimir Niza talk about our menu. Chef Vlad is in charge of the company’s culinary programs including the new curriculum and has extensive experience and education in the culinary and nutrition field. Classically trained with degrees in nutritional science, he’s the perfect balance of charismatic European chef and scientist. Chef Aaron Clarke oversees the Union Square program and is personable and knowledgeable counterpoint to Chef Vlad’s demeanor. Needless to say, I felt in good company.

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Chef Vlad sprinkling fresh truffles on top of our first course, Jerusalem Artichoke Soup.

Chef Vlad prepared our first course, a puree of Jerusalem Artichokes with Truffles and Jerusalem Artichoke Chips, and demonstrated why every one that can afford a Vitamix should own one. Wow, no fine sieve required, with this baby. A silky smooth soup with a 60-second whirl.

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Working at our individual station, preparing our main course.

The main course was demo-ed by Chef Vlad and after watching him prepare it, we paired up and headed to our stations. The dish, Pan-Fried Fillet of Wild Salmon with Spinach and Watercress and a Wasabi Cream, was technical enough to please those with some cooking knowledge, yet not overly challenging for those with only basic skills. Besides both chefs, there were plenty of W-S assistants on hand to check our progress and answer questions. The highlight for me? Working on a commercial-grade induction stovetop. Me want one. Badly.

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My cooking partner, cookbook author and food blogger Amy Sherman, in charge of the salmon.

Really, though, how many times have you visited a high-end cookware shop, picked up a knife or pan, and not followed through with the purchase, in part, because you are unsure how effective the tool will be to you once you get home? These classes really are an opportunity to test cookware, knives, and other kitchen accouterments before purchasing. Appliance showrooms allow prospective buyers to take a $5,000 oven for a test drive, so why not try out that $100 sauté skillet before you buy? Genius. If this flies, it will snuff the showroom talk, no doubt. Yes, you might be able to purchase similar products at a slightly cheaper price elsewhere, but if it ends up sitting in a drawer, then you’re out that money either way.

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Pan-Fried Fillet of Wild Salmon with Spinach and Watercress and Wasabi Cream

If all of the dishes are this carefully selected, then W-S will have no problem filling seats. The recipe was decadent and elegant without being overly fussy or technical. Impeccable ingredients were sourced locally and on par with what you would find at a nicer SF restaurant, which is another factor that really sets this program apart.

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Poached Pears with Raspberry Sorbet and Almond-Cookie Crumble. Talked so much it began to melt. Still delicious!

Chef Vlad prepared dessert while we all went back to our seats to marvel at each other’s plates. We all ate very well that day.

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Chef Aaron, Chef Vlad, and Star (101.3) Mornings DJs Marcus D and Sandy.

Class topics range from basics like Essential Knife Skills to advanced techniques like Butchery & Cooking: Nose to Tail. Classes also vary in length, theme, and season. Check out the calendar here. You can sign up for a two-hour DIY Workshop or enroll in a 5-day intensive.

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Chef Aaron putting the finishing touches on the soup.

Williams-Sonoma was kind enough to forward the soup recipe. Enjoy!

Jerusalem artichoke soup

Jerusalem artichokes are wonderfully nutritious and versatile. This simple soup is the perfect way to enjoy them on a cold day. Serves 6.

Ingredients:

1 lb. Jerusalem Artichokes, peeled and chopped

1 Medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 Tbsp. Unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. Peanut oil

1 quart whole milk

salt, pepper

Method:

On a low heat, sweat the onion for 5 minutes in the butter and peanut oil. Add the artichoke, sweat for a further 3 minutes. Cover with milk then simmer gently for 20 minutes. When cooked, the artichokes should be totally soft. Puree in a blender until fine. Add a little more milk if the soup is too thick and season to taste.

Serve with a little chopped parsley and croutons. Or, add a small amount of finely chopped truffles, drizzle with truffle oil, and garnish with a few deep-fried Jerusalem artichoke chips.

Caldo Verde Soup

A couple weekends ago we escaped to Sonoma and enjoyed a night away at Ramekins Inn. This lovely property, part of the Ramekins Culinary School and Events Center, is the perfect type of property. Small enough to be considered an inn, yet not too intimate where you trip over other guests at breakfast. Our room, #5, was very large and well-appointed with a luxurious king-size bed, high-quality linens, oversized rustic furniture, and a huge bathroom with a walk-in tile shower. When we arrived we were greeted by staff and promptly served a glass of wine. We received a quick tour of the property, including the upstairs lounge that serves continental breakfast (and was within steps of our room).

That evening we ventured down the road to a lovely Portuguese restaurant, LaSalette, and had a delicious meal. On that particularly cold evening, the blaze from the wood-burning oven in the kitchen and the warmth from the Caldo Verde soup that we ordered, was the perfect way to end our day in Sonoma.

This is my version of this popular Portuguese soup. The above image is from the web, courtesy of Eating Club Vancouver. After checking the web for images, I found this one to resemble my recipe the best.

Caldo Verde

Typically, kale is used, but I had green Swiss chard on hand and used it instead. Feel free to swap greens, but understand that some are more pungent than others. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days. Serves 6-8.

1 linguica link (about 6 to 7 oz.) sliced thinly

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 lbs. red or white potatoes, peeled and cubed in small pieces

7 cups chicken stock

1 bunch Italian parsley, stemmed and chopped

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

4 cups finely sliced Swiss chard or Tuscan kale

1. In a large soup pot, add the linguica and olive oil and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or until sausage is lightly browned. Remove sausage slices from pot and set aside. Add garlic and onion to olive oil in pot and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally until onion is opaque, about 3-4 minutes. Add potatoes and about 1 cup of the stock, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon or similar type of utensil to remove the browned bits. Add remaining stock and bring to a slow boil.

2. Add parsley, red pepper flakes, paprika and thyme and stir to incorporate. Simmer soup, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes until potatoes are tender. Remove pot from stove and puree with an immersion blender. (Or, puree in a standing blender in batches; return pureed soup to pot.)

3. Add Swiss chard or kale and linguica to soup and simmer on low for about 15 minutes until greens are tender. Ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately.

Rainy Day Clam Chowder

I’m posting another soup recipe. Blame it on the weather. Blame it on the soon-to-expire half gallon of organic milk I have in the fridge. I used to make clam chowder often since it’s my hubby’s favorite soup, but confess it’s been a few years since the last batch. He’s grown accustomed to ordering it when we’re out and never grows tired trying some restaurant’s version. This recipe isn’t as thick and creamy as many versions found at mainstream restaurants. It’s a bit more refined, but with a lot of flavor. I’m not using fresh clams because I’m not feeling particularly adventurous today, and don’t mind admitting that I sometimes take shortcuts when I cook. Try it sometime. It’s quite liberating.

Rainy Day Clam Chowder

For a vegetarian version, simply remove the bacon. This soup serves 4 and can easily be doubled.

2 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and steamed in the microwave

1/3 lb. bacon

5 Tbsp. butter

1/2 onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, pressed or minced

3 Tbsp. flour

1/4 cup white wine

2 6.5 oz. cans of chopped clams in juice

2 cups fat-free milk

1/2 tsp. dried thyme or 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1. Steam potatoes in microwave until tender when pierced; remove and set aside to cool.

2. Cook bacon in a skillet; remove and set aside to cool.

3. In a medium-size stock pot , add 2 Tbsp. butter and sauté onion, celery, and garlic under medium heat until very tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. While onion mixture is cooking, chop potatoes and bacon in a small dice and place in a bowl. Remove onion mixture from pot and spoon into bowl with potatoes and bacon.

4. Return stock pot to stove and under medium heat melt remaining 3 Tbsp. butter; add flour and stir constantly until mixture turns to a smooth paste. Continue to cook roux for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Measure wine and strain out clam juice from cans into measuring cup with wine. Slowly add wine-clam juice mixture to roux, stirring constantly until liquid thickens. Stir in milk. Add clams and ingredients from bowl to soup. Season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tunisian Turkey Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomatoes

What do you get when you combine a recently purchased tube of harissa paste with turkey broth from a leftover turkey carcass? Yep, Tunisian Turkey Soup. I’m not sure if turkey is a popular poultry in this North African country, but all of the other ingredients in this spicy soup are. I’ll just pretend that Thanksgiving isn’t just an American holiday, but a global one as well.

Tunisian Turkey Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomatoes

The amount of harissa used in this recipe doesn’t deliver very much heat, but rather a smoky flavor to the soup. If you like your food more spicy, feel free to add more harissa paste, 1/4 tsp. at a time. Don’t worry about this delicious paste sitting in your fridge. Use it anywhere you like a little heat such as in a spicy tomato sauce with pasta, a chilled cocktail sauce served with poached prawns or raw oysters, gazpacho, scrambled eggs with chorizo…you get the idea.

2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 12 oz.)

2 large beefsteak tomatoes, cored and sliced horizontally in fourths

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 medium onion, peeled

2 medium carrots, peeled

2 garlic cloves, pressed

8 cups turkey broth

1 tsp. harissa paste

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1/2 tsp. salt

1 small cinnamon stick

1 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed

1 cup shredded cooked turkey meat

Cilantro

1. On a large sheet pan, toss squash and tomato slices in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and spread evenly. Roast in a 400° oven for 15 minutes, or until mixture is nicely browned on all sides.

2. While squash and tomatoes are roasting, add coriander and cumin seed to a small skillet and toast on med-high heat for a few minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant. Remove from skillet and crush with a mortar and pestle until finely ground; set aside.

3. Finely chop onion (1 cup) and carrot (1 cup) and sauté in a medium-size stock pot with 1 Tbsp. olive oil for about 7 minutes over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, add garlic, and squash-tomato mixture. Add 1 1/2 tsp. spice mixture, reserving remaining for later use, broth, both pastes, salt, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer soup, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

4. Remove cinnamon stick and puree soup with an immersion blender or ladle soup in a standing blender or food processor, in batches, and process until pureed. Return soup to pot and add garbanzos and turkey and continue cooking over medium-low heat for another 15 minutes. Ladle soup in bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro. Season with additional salt and/or harissa to taste.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

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Here in the Bay Area we’ve had our usual June gloom weather and no matter how many sips of tropical cocktails I have, the gray sky always wins out. So I decided to make a big pot of soup today. Every Greek I know grew up eating lentil soup during lent. For the casual Greek Orthodox observer, that could mean once a year. For others more devout, it could be a weekly meal. Most families, though, enjoy it throughout the year as a quick and hearty meal. I love it but am the only one in my household who cares for it.

In fact, I love lentils of all shapes and sizes. Pebble-looking French lentils, black beluga lentils, red and yellow lentils—even the lowly brown lentil used to make a traditional Lenten Greek Lentil Soup—are in my dry goods drawer waiting to get a turn on the stove. I decided to make a red lentil soup today, adding Indian curry to the mix in the hopes that my curry loving, lentil hating husband would have a bowl. I convinced him to give the above bowl of soup a try. His remark: “The flavors are really good, but it would REALLY be good with some sausage”. Want any more? “No thanks. Still tastes like lentil soup.” I can’t guarantee that my recipe will convert a lentil hater, but there’s no harm in trying, especially with this recipe.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

Split red lentils cook very quickly and can turn to mush if you aren’t careful. Split red lentils can be found at specialty, Italian, and Indian markets.

2 cups split red lentils

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 small onion)

1 cup finely chopped carrots (about 3 small carrots)

1 cup finely chopped red new potatoes (about 3 small to medium potatoes)

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

2 Tbsp. finely chopped jalapeno

1 15 oz. can chopped tomato in their juice

6 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarian version)

1 cup water

2 tsp. curry powder

1 dried bay leaf

Cilantro

Sour Cream

1. Rinse lentils in a stainer; set aside to drain.

2. Place medium stockpot over high heat, add oil, onion, carrots, and potatoes. Reduce heat to medium and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeno, tomatoes, and lentils; stir to combine. Increase heat to high and add broth, water, curry powder, and bay leaf.

3. When soup comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf and discard.

4. Serve soup with a garnish of chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt.