Under Your Nose: Chefs Share Secrets of Delicious Dishes in Classes

Posted July 9, 2008 at 5:24pm

Have you always wondered why food just tastes better at a restaurant than at home?

Now, at several area restaurants, you can learn the tricks of the culinary trade.

For example, how do restaurants get those perfect grill marks on your steak that make the dish look that much more savory?

If you were at a recent Equinox cooking class, you would have learned that restaurants flip meat only four times, changing the rotation of its placement on the grill no more than 60 degrees, according to chef Todd Gray, who led Equinox to win Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year at the RAMMYS last week. [IMGCAP(1)]

This and many other grilling techniques were the focus of Equinox’s “Thrill of the Grill, Solstice Style,” where guests learned how to make a three-course meal, including the barbecue salmon entree that has been on the menu since the day the restaurant opened nine years ago.

Many of the dishes taught are not served at the restaurant, but may be meals Gray is trying out to possibly be added to the menu.

He emphasizes that the classes should serve as “road maps” to participants.

“I want you to be able to go to the farmers’ market and be able to pick up an ingredient and improvise,” he told the class. “Summer grilling should be simple and easy.

“I always like to do things you can take out of here and re-create easily,” he said. “Maybe adapt a little.”

Throughout the two-hour class, Gray shared lots of stories. He’s very passionate about using produce from local farms and what he calls “eating with the flow of the seasons,” which he tries to do on the restaurant’s menu as much as possible.

Gray strayed off topic a few times, which was fine with the participants, who were able to enjoy an impromptu wine tasting — in which Gray demonstrated how to “nose a wine.”

Asked what kinds of salts they work with at the restaurant, Gray had his sous chef retrieve a dozen different salt boxes. Gray then explained their differences and passed many of them around to sample.

The classes are well worth the $100 — just for the food and wine costs alone. And to personally learn from the master chef, of course, takes everything up to another level. Gray also offers private cooking classes for up to six people at the bar at $150 per person.

At the chef’s next class, “Chillaxin’ in July,” this Saturday, students will enjoy the tastes of summer with treats such as tomato and watermelon gazpacho, Champagne and melon salad and, of course, Gray’s signature lump crab cakes. Or, try August’s “Farmer’s Market Celebration,” with dishes themed around local farmers’ specialties. (202-331-8118, equinoxrestaurant.com/calendar.php)

It’s a Guy Thing

Gentlemen, want to impress the ladies with your cooking prowess?

“We’re trying to teach guys how to be better for their girls,” said PS 7’s chef Peter Smith, who has teamed up with BeBetterGuys.com to host a series of man-centric cooking classes.

The classes, “designed to give guys an edge in the kitchen,” are hands-on lessons on everything from basic grilling techniques to how to flambé cocktails.

At a man-training session this Saturday, Smith is going to focus on charcuterie — a technique to house-cure meats, including different types of sausages — and meat rubs, possibly on pork ribs and pork shoulder.

“People all pitch in with the cooking, but it’s not like everyone has their own burners,” Smith said of the class, which is held in the restaurant’s kitchen and can accommodate as many as 25 students at a time. “The whole idea is to get the experience and techniques and then maybe they can do it on their own.”

Throughout the rest of the series, students will work with everything from pepperoni to prosciutto as Smith teaches recipes for innovative appetizers, how to use spice without overpowering and proper grilling techniques.

For $75, you learn your way around the kitchen, and also a mixology lesson, a three-course lunch and recipe cards for each dish.

Entertaining “isn’t just food all the time,” Smith said. “It makes the experience a little bit better.”

Unfortunately, if you’re not male, you can’t participate in these cooking classes. But fear not, Smith has teamed up with TasteDC in the past with open-enrollment classes, and he has even taught a group of Girl Scouts for their cooking merit badges.

And he said he would like to start teaching other classes on a more regular basis that everyone can attend. (202-742-8550; ps7restaurant.com)

All About the Steaks

After many requests from patrons asking how Morton’s makes its succulent, fire-grilled steaks, the restaurant decided to let the secret out — for a price.

Recently, the steakhouse started its own version of cooking classes at each of the six area Morton’s. Guests come in before the dinner service to learn a number of techniques and preparations right off the Morton’s menu.

Beyond the most popular option — obviously how to prepare a perfect steak — the chefs will teach other parts of the Morton’s menu so interested students can learn anything from grilling techniques to marinades and sauces to seafood and more.

Morton’s started looking into cooking classes early last year after the restaurant began getting frequent requests from guests interested in hosting classes for friends and colleagues. Since then, they have held classes for groups ranging from tenants in an apartment building to groups of girlfriends.

Classes are personalized experiences conducted by the executive chef and maitre’d of the particular Morton’s, and because they are a create-your-own-dinner experience, the classes are offered whenever a group calls and schedules one.

There are two D.C. locations, 1050 Connecticut Ave. NW and 3251 Prospect St. NW in Georgetown.

The classes are set in front of the open kitchen line, and Morton’s usually limits them to about 15 people.

Prices can include just the class or bar service with a full meal. Kate Tourville, the sales and marketing manager for the Arlington, Va., location, estimates that the average cost of the class is $100 per person and lasts about two hours. (mortons.com)

Etc., Etc., Etc.

Jeff Tunks’ Acadiana (202-408-8848; acadianarestaurant.com), Michel Richard’s Citronelle (202-625-2150; citronelledc .com) and Richard Sandoval’s Zengo (202-393-2929; modernmexican.com/zengodc) also have the occasional cooking class, but you’ll have to wait until the fall.

If you want to venture out of the city a bit, there are several more options.

Roberto Donna’s Arlington hot spot, Bebo Trattoria, has long waiting lists not only for dining room service but also for its frequent cooking classes hosted in the kitchen. The restaurant even holds a kids’ cooking class a couple of times a month. (703-412-5076; robertodonna.com/events/cooking.php)

Another, slightly farther away option is Rustico in Alexandria, Va., where you can make your own pizza with the restaurant’s signature food combinations (think Brussels sprouts or chocolate mole as toppings) and then finish off your lesson with a perfect beer pairing.

“The Food + Beer Experience” can be scheduled on your own time and is taught at the chef’s counter for you and up to four of your friends. (And don’t forget to grab a brew pop while you’re there!) (703-224-5051; rusticorestaurant.com)

Although they have a D.C. locale, Lebanese Taverna only offers classes at its Arlington location, but there are plenty of reasons to make the drive. The hands-on classes feature restaurant specialties — including cherry tomatoes stuffed with tabouleh, beef and lamb kafta harra, spiced rice and hallawat jobne (a Lebanese version of a dessert crepe) that will be on the menu for classes on Tuesday and July 23. (703-841-1562; lebanesetaverna.com)

A couple more great resources to scout out upcoming cooking events are at tastedc.com and thelistareyouonit.com.