Sunday, April 17, 2011
Vegan Gourmet Cooking Class at The Urban Element
In a few months, if all goes as planned, the Man of Science and I will be moving in with my parents. I get a lot of freaked out looks when I tell people this, but it's not really a big deal. As I've mentioned before, our house is being rebuilt this year and we'll have to live somewhere while that's happening, which means prevailing on the good will of my parents for approximately six months. My parents' home is more than big enough for the four of us (and our five pets), so that's not going to be an issue. I wonder, though, if my Dad feels slightly unnerved about being the only meat eater of the four humans. Seeing as I've committed to earning my keep through dinner preparation, he's unlikely to see much meat during our stay. I'm pretty sure it will be all right, though. He's a good sport.
Such a good sport, in fact, that he was delighted when I signed us both up for a vegan gourmet cooking class as my Christmas gift to him this year. I was pretty sure he'd like the gift, seeing as I knew he was a fan of the TV show The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave and it was none other than Chef Caroline who was teaching the vegan gourmet class. Plus, my Dad really loves to cook, vegetarian food or otherwise, and he is usually pretty excited about learning new recipes.
The Urban Element is a great space in Ottawa that hosts food-related events and cooking classes. It is in a building that used to be a fire station and the owners have kept a lot of that look in the building. It has a kitchen so well equipped it gives me heart palpitations (with a Wolf range that is pretty much my dream stove) and a big counter with stools to seat lots of people who are ready to eat.
The class was really well organized and the Urban Element staff (operator Barbara Legg and chef Stephen Pollock) were exceptionally helpful, friendly, and welcoming. I hardly ever mention my blog to people, but it came up during our go-around introductions (not to be braggy, but Chef Caroline brought it up and sung its praises *grin*) and both Barbara and Stephen were excited about it. Barbara even checked in to make sure that I got some good photos to post (I ended up taking 125 photos total! I edited them down to 60, and you can see them all here on Flickr if you so desire).
The evening started off with an amuse bouche of edamame hummous and corn chips to keep us fueled for the active class ahead. Chef Caroline introduced herself and gave us a run down of the recipes we were going to be learning. The list was as follows:
Wilted Spinach Salad with Orange-Maple Vinaigrette and Spiced Pepitas
White Bean and Garlic Soup
Tempeh Scallopini with a Creamy Mushroom Sauce (served over brown rice and quinoa)
Apple Ginger Crisp with Vanilla Cream
We all got print outs of the recipes and then were set loose in the kitchen to work on the creation of the meal. My Dad and I got assigned to dessert, which I requested because I was curious about the vanilla cream. My experience with vegan dessert creams has been mixed and I was looking forward to some pointers from a professional.
Chef Caroline and Chef Stephen circulated through the slightly chaotic kitchen while we cooked, answering questions and offering pointers. They were very accessible and helpful and I definitely felt like I was learning how to improve my kitchen skills as we went along. I really love hands-on classes. As much as I enjoyed studying English Literature in university, I think I would have actually been even happier if I'd learned to do something more active like cooking or horticulture. (Which is why I spend all my free time doing that stuff now!)
Once our actual cooking was finished, all the students got to sit down and drink wine while Chef Caroline and Chef Stephen plated all the dishes and served them to us. It felt kind of luxurious to get to do all the cooking, but to be excused from the drudgery of serving, clearing, and clean up.
Do I need to say that all the food was delicious? I think what impressed everyone the most was the tempeh scallopini. It was really rich and "meaty" and probably the most complicated of all the dishes to prepare. For my part, I was very happy with my vanilla cream, and my Dad was proud of his apple ginger crisp. So proud, in fact, he's already made it at home and my Mom's review of it was very positive.
I heartily recommend The Urban Element for anyone looking to up their skills in the kitchen. I love that they are a local business and that the whole environment is so well organized and warm and welcoming. I would definitely go again. Maybe they have a class that can teach me how to make bread that rises reliably every time. A girl can dream.