Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nothing New at the New School of Cooking

$75, and one so-called Chicken Fundamentals class at the New School of Cooking in Culver City, and I can't tell ya much I didn't already know about cooking said bird. Sure, now I know the difference between a poussin (baby) and a capon (old rooster), but I did not "learn how to cut up a whole bird and how to debone breasts" as the class description promised. I got to watch our instructor do it once, quickly, but there was no actual practice. Instead, our class of 14 got paired up, each pair was assigned one of a handful of different recipes, handed a tray with our ingredients, and told to go to it. We did get a brief description of each cooking technique before starting (grilling, frying, sauteing, roasting and braising), but only the most basic gloss. The two instructors walked around the kitchen area as we cooked, ready to give advice, but seemed most interested in making sure we all finished our recipes in the time allotted for class.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. This was the most expensive of the cooking classes I've taken in LA (I've also taken classes at Be Gourmet and HipCooks), and ostensibly one of the most professional schools, yet it was the worst "class" I've had. Really, it was just cooking in a nice kitchen with nifty equipment, not learning. The recipes were all decent, and I actually really liked what I made (sauteed chicken with snowpeas and shitakes), but nothing I couldn't have picked up from a cookbook or magazine.

In an attempt to feel I'd gotten my money's worth, tonight I used a recipe from the class at home: Grilled Chicken with Mediterranean Herb Paste. Verdict? Lots o' work for not much reward. The recipe will work best if your grill isn't too hot, and if you have a long-handled basting brush (otherwise you risk your arm hair). Personally, I'd prefer a marinade with these flavors for the grill, otherwise I'd use the paste as an under-skin rub when roasting a chicken, substituting butter for the olive oil.

Mediterranean Herb Paste
enough for 8-10 pieces of chicken (mix of thighs, legs, breasts)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
handful of sage leaves
2 tsp. fresh rosemary
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 small bunch parsley, trimmed
zest of two lemons
1/2 c. olive oil
salt and pepper

Whir all ingredients in food processor or blender. According to class instructions, baste onto chicken 5 minutes before chicken is ready to come off the grill, so the paste doesn't burn (hence lower temp and long brush). According to me, add some lemon juice to the mixture and turn it into a marinade, brushing the larger pieces of herbs off the chicken before putting it on the grill. Or, sub butter for the olive oil and use as an under-skin rub for a roasted bird.


Terila said...


I had exactly the same experience at New School of Cooking. I took an Indian cooking class with Neelam Batra whose classes I have taken elsewhere.

I got there early thinking I would snag a seat in the front. As it turned out that idea was totally irrelevant. Ms. Batra gave a short intro and we were divided into 6 teams of 4. We had a tray with ingredients and printed recipes.

Some people in the class did not know how too cook or follow a recipe. Some embellished their recipes so that they did not resemble the one printed.

At the end I realize I had I learned very, very little. I came away disappointed in the extreme ... with recipes I could have bought at the bookstore.

Sadly, most cooking schools in LA are going the "participation" route and are no longer doing "demonstration" classes which I prefer.


petra said...

That sounds horrible. Are you going to let them know how you feel? I was going to take a knife skills class with the sounds of it I should find one elsewhere.
Have a nice cool Monday.

Erin S. said...

Terila--I'm both relieved/disappointed to hear that someone else has had a bad experience with the New School. I was hoping my class was just a one-off. I will say that others in my class mentioned a wok class there that they really liked.

petra--I took knife skills at Be Gourmet and both learned a lot and had fun. The classes are very small, held in the instructor's kitchen. You get lots of hands-on time and are close enough to closely observe his technique.

Jessica said...

What a bummer. Thanks for sharing. My husband has been wanting to find a cooking class as a belated birthday present, especially a knife skills one, and other than Sur La Table and New School I've been at a loss. I'll stay away from New School stuff based on your experience. Any word on the SLT classes?

Tokyoastrogirl said...

I feel your pain. I took the entire Pro I course and was disappointed. They constantly ran out of ingredients and we almost ALWAYS got out early. An hour early. We never got to debone a chicken either. It's hilarious that they call it Professional I because no one could work professionaly after only that course. I sat with people who barely knew how to boil water. Ugh! Anyway, don't waste any more of your money there.

Shannie said...

Erin or Terila, I'm in Hollywood and enjoyed Neelam Batra's class, but felt echo everyone's experience. Are there other places you would recommend for one off ethnic learning experiences that were better? I was considering a Thai, roasting, or curry course but really want to learn not simply "make and eat"...thanks! Shannie

Erin S. said...

jessica--no experience with Sur La Table. Like I mentioned in another comment, I did like the Be Gourmet class, though it's very low-key.

tokyoastrogirl--what a disappointment! I'm really sorry you had such a bad experience.

shannie--The HipCooks classes held at the Brewery downtown have some various ethnic sessions. I took one class there and didn't like the teacher much (fascist in a kindergarten teacher sort of way), but I know they have multiple instructors know. One other thing I didn't like was that we had to do our own dishes while the instructor sat around with her friends and drank wine. I don't mind picking up after myself, but I thought that was a bit much.

Terila said...

Shannie ...

I have noticed that all of the cooking venues ... or maybe I should say most of them have moved to a "participation mode" which makes the kind of experiences we've been having inevitable.

It used to be that all the schools, Montana Mercantile, Sur la Table, Gelson's and others had only "demonstration classes".

I have a reservation for a class at Chef's Inc. in a couple of weeks with Neela Paniz but again it is the wrong kind of class. I told the woman there about my hestitation about the class type. But she claims people like participating. I may well cancel.

Our converations woudl suggest otherwise.

Teri in LA

Helena said...


I'm Helena, the woman at Chefs, Inc. that Terila spoke with (she emailed me the link).

Sorry to hear that so many of you had a bad experience at New School of Cooking. Well, let me tell you that all cooking schools are not created equal!

We, at Chefs, Inc. love to give demonstration classes. I was surprised when Terila told me that some people prefer demo classes. Everytime we have attempted to run a demonstration class, we never get any response. Meanwhile, our other classes sell out.

We would like to invite you to form your own demonstration class and take it here at Chefs, Inc. We can run the class with 10 people, and that way you can even choose what items you would like to have demonstrated.

Please visit our website and see what Chefs, Inc. is all about.

Hope to hear from you all soon.


Terila said...


While it would be nice to get a group of 10 together I hardly think that all 10 of us have the same idea of what type of cuisine and what time of day or night that the class should be held. So, I suspect that that is not a serious option.

I have been taking cooking classes in LA for decades and been a part of sell out classes at most of them. Granted, I am not likely to take a class unless it is a so-called "celebrity chef" (Diana Kennedy and Patricia Wells come to mind ... or at least a local chef (like Neela Paniz or Neelam Batra for Indian food). I find it hard to plunk down $70.00 for a staff member demonstrating a class anywhere.

I know when I first called Chef's Inc. (which I have never attended) I was told that people do not like demonstration classes. But I would love to know if 12 recipes are in the participation class, how do you "LEARN" the other 11 recipes that you are not cooking personally?

BTW, as I told Helena on the phone, I cancelled the class with Ms. Paniz for one reason primarily ... that I could not get anyone to cover for me at the office.

Thanks for your input.

(I will post this above at the new location. Hope that is okay)

Teri in LA

Anonymous said...

Ah, nothing like the herbacious scent of burnt arm hair to add zing to a grilled dish.

-Chino Wayne

Anonymous said...

I actually had a fantastic experience at the New School of Cooking.

If it's participation, then sometimes you get out what you put it. Take advantage of the instructors walking around, ask questions. If she went too fast while deboning the chicken, ask her to show you again, or at least describe the process more slowly. I didn't hesitate to talk with the instructors and I quickly discovered just how knowledgable and cool they were.

A bit more demo/lecture at the top of the class would be good, but I've taken classes at a couple of other schools in LA and they were a joke.

I haven't tried Be Gourmet, but I would definitely recommend the New School.

~ Andrew

Anonymous said...

I also have taken classes at the New School and had nothing but really great experiences. In fact I took the professional program several years ago and have been working as a personal chef ever since. I am eternally greatful for the New School for allowing me to find the career of my dreams.

I am surprised that so many people are into demonstration classes. I find that I learn much more when actually doing, rather than watching. I guess that is a matter of personal preference.

I would certainly recommend the New School to anyone.

Anonymous said...

I mean, "grateful." Just because I can cook, doesn't mean I can spell.

andrea said...

I am one class away from finishing the Pro I class at new school, and mostly I have loved it!

I have never taken a single class there, only this one series, and like most schools I think an awful lot depends on who's teaching. (not to mention who is in your class)

I am crazy about my teacher and I think the assistant in my class is just the perfect amount of involved. Personally, I am terribly disappointed when the instructor or assistant demonstrates something without letting us do it alone. When our assistant was absent and we had a "sub" we were all aghast that she braided the dough on one team's Challah. We were indignant that she didn't just coach them on how to do it.

My class happens to have a quantity of very able cooks, so maybe that is why we always wanted to do everything ourselves.

It's a shame you had such a bad experience there. I can't wait to take my next class.

Oh one more thing. In response to the post which said "It's hilarious that they call it Professional I because no one could work professionaly after only that course." That is partly true, because the course is kind of cursory. You simply cannot cover what pro schools do in 6 full months going to class once a week.

However, during an internship this summer at one of the most highly rated restaurants in LA, more than one of the Chefs told me they wished they had just gone to a bare bones class and started interning right away. Cooking schools cost about $40,000 as opposed to New School's pro I which cost me $2400.