Pro Culinary Sneak Peek at San Francisco Cooking School, and Recipe for Basil Mayonnaise

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Cooking is a huge part of my life– I write about food, cook daily at home and teach healthy cooking classes. So you might wonder why I would spend a precious afternoon off to take a cooking class.  Readers of this blog know that I always try to take a cooking class when I travel abroad, but I don’t often do so when I’m at home.  Well, just as in my job as a physician where we continue to update our knowledge through continuing medical education (CME) courses, there’s also (obviously) always more to learn about food and cooking.  So when I was invited recently with a group of other San Francisco Bay Area based food bloggers to take a class at San Francisco Cooking School, I jumped at the chance.  I’d been eyeing their classes for a while, but hadn’t yet taken any.  This is truly a cooking school for San Francisco, with a modern and innovative curriculum based not in the gelées and ice sculptures of more traditional cooking schools, but in the menus and techniques of local kitchens.  And I don’t mean just any generic California kitchen, but some of the hottest places in town, including Delfina, Flour + Water, Mourad, Tartine and more.  Basically, all of my favorite places.

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Our afternoon class was held in the gorgeous, light-filled main classroom which hosts the recreational programs and the professional pastry program.  Chef Kirsten Goldberg, who runs the Part-Time Professional Culinary Program, took us through an herb tasting, after which we split up into teams of two to prepare herb oils that we then whisked into herb mayonnaise.

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The herb tasting walked us through a variety of herbs, some of which I was less familiar with (savory and rau ram).  For each of them, we evaluated the aroma both before and after crushing a few leaves in our hands, and finished with a slow and mindful taste.  Think of what a better cook and more mindful eater you could be if you take this approach to all of your ingredients.

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Next, we made herb oils.  Such a simple technique (blending fresh herb leaves with neutral oil, then straining) with so many possible uses!  We then moved on to making mayonnaise.  This was only my second attempt at making fresh mayonnaise, and I am happy to report that my teammate Payal (from KeepThePeas.Blogspot.com) and I had great success.

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It took a bit more muscle that I anticipated to whisk the egg yolks and ever-so-slowly-drizzled-in herb oil into a beautiful emulsion, but it was deliciously worth it.  We finished by tasting our creations with a beautiful plate of vegetables and cocktail shrimp.

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What is different about the teaching philosophy at San Francisco Cooking School is that, like the best of any type of teaching, they teach the how and why, and not just rote memorization.  Jody Liano, the school’s founder, talked about a new approach of not producing “recipe robots” but the concept of “culinary intuition.”  This involves developing a palate, understanding the food science behind recipes, and learning from mistakes, including how to correct them.  So as part of the mayonnaise lesson, Chef Kirsten purposely broke the emulsion so that she could show us how to repair it.  This “see one, do one, teach one” hands-on approach is pretty much the same way we are taught in medical training (hopefully without too many mistakes).

Try out the recipes below (these are my transcriptions from class).  And if you’re in San Francisco and looking to hone your cooking skills (in addition to my healthy cooking classes at The Doctor’s Spicebox, of course), check out their class listings.  You might find me there.

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Basil-Parsley Oil

The teams made three herb oils– all with an Italian parsley base.  One group made a parsley-only oil; another chive-parsley; and I made this basil-parsley oil.  You could try with any herbs, really.  I’ll be experimenting.  I am thinking of using this as a base for salad dressings.

Ingredients

1 cup each packed basil and Italian parsley leaves

2 cups canola or other neutral oil

Technique

1.  Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

2.  Use a Chinois or fine mesh strainer and press solids until completely strained.

Herb Mayonnaise

Ingredients

Herb oil from recipe above

2 egg yolks

Juice of 1 lemon

a few pinches of salt, to taste

Technique

1. whisk egg yolks, lemon juice and salt together in a large bowl until creamy

2.  very slowly drizzle in the herb oil, whisking continuously, until emulsified (creamy appearing and thickened).  Continue until all of the oil is incorporated.  If it breaks (becomes liquid), use a clean bowl and whisk a new egg yolk.  Then slowly and gradually add back the broken mayonnaise (instead of oil) and whisk until you’ve got it right!

Special thanks to the San Francisco Cooking School for inviting me attend the Pro Culinary Sneak Peek. Even though the class was provided complimentary to me, I was not monetarily compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.