Knifing Through

In my ongoing efforts to casually improve my culinary prowess, I began trying out the local culinary classes this past weekend, as sponsored by Julia's Christmas gift. The first endeavor was Sur La Table (located in Pentagon City), a national chain that has stores in 14 states. The front of the house has an incredible array of cooking gadgets, fine quality kitchen needs and some highly knowledgeable and friendly foodie helpers working there to whet your kitchen taste buds at every turn. This came in especially handy since students of our class received a 15 percent off coupon for anything we purchased that day (and 10 percent off for the following week). While this generous coupon was mostly intended to entice us to spend inordinate sums of money on the highest quality knives, which were touted in the class, needless to say I took advantage while still restraining myself. I only spent like $100 until Julia showed up to meet me and we tacked on another $75. Julia and I agreed that the array far surpassed even Williams-Sonoma stores in quality and quantity.

But the class itself was the real fun. While a clerical error almost prevented me from ever entering the kitchen and wielding a knife, instructor Luke Taylor smoothed everything over and got me into the very full class. Taylor immediately started the class, with his charismatic, patient and humor-filled style that really suited itself to a bunch of folks who loved to cook but needed professional culinary honing. He was very skillful, not only with knives but also with teaching. Sur La Table is lucky to have an anchor instructor as good as he. His assistant Whitney, also of last name Taylor (coincidence?) as she informed me, was very capable, despite being a little less relaxed than Luke.

After learning the all-important proper knife grasp (pictured right) and how to place our hands and cutting board, we were set to go. We motored through various cuts (he left the proper French names to the take-home packet) of the potato, carrot, celery, onion, pepper, grapefruit supreme, and observed his demonstrations of garlic, ginger, coconut, avocado and more. Mixed in were lots of tips, including info about types of knives, how knives are made, brands, care and which knives you really need in your collection. Only four to start: so he claims, a chef’s, a serrated, a paring and a boning. I actually found that my knives were better than I thought since they included all the relevant knives and are forged rather than stamped. I still had to indulge in a couple of the uber-sharp Kyocera ceramic-edged knives.

In all I had a lot of fun and success. I even started forming the chef's blister/callous in the correct area of my hand from holding the knife properly. As I knew from my days of playing cello, not all calluses are bad, some are essential to mastery of the craft. I got to talk to some new people and experience my first taste of culinary instruction. Sur La Table, while national in organization, is still very personable and inviting in nature on an individual level. For 70 (of Julia’s) bucks and 2 hours on a Sunday, I couldn't have been happier. And I'll be happy to head back soon for another session. Of course, if I am even more wowed by my next class at DC's CulinAerie in 4 weeks, then maybe I'll have to re-alter my bearings, but for now Sur La Table will be hard for me to resist in the future. That is, unless I go to REAL culinary school.

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