“It’s called a ‘chiffonade,’ the French word for ‘curl,'” he said.
Our instructor carefully rolled a fragrant bunch of mint leaves in his fingers while 18 of us gathered in close, clad with crisp, white aprons and attentive expressions. The greens surrendered to his skilled hands.
Fluidly, he took a big, sharp knife and began moving it over the herbs and across the cutting board like a see-saw. And out from under his fingers fell beautiful, bright green curls of mint.
He threw them into the Mediterranean Israel Couscous salad that we were assembling, next to some raisins and pine nuts and lemon zest.
“Okay,” he said. “Now you try!”
This was the rhythm of my first cooking class.
Our instructor would gather us around one of the three cooking stations for a demonstration of each dish. Hands buzzing, pan sizzling, knife dancing.
“Cut your vegetables into big pieces for grilling. That brings out the best flavor,” he’d say.
Or: “Here’s how to cut out the seedy core of a bell pepper in one swift motion.”
And: “Don’t flip your meat too soon. Let the heat do its work.”
He’d show us a tip, crack a joke, and then set us free to experience the process with our own hands.
I loved every moment of it.
I love to cook and bake, and this class was an expression of all the beauty that’s found in that process. There’s something about experiencing the rawness of hunger and appetite while working hard to fulfill that need with your own two hands. It feels ancient, somehow. It’s a practice as old as our species, a challenge every human has faced: Take the earth – the created, growing world – and find nourishment there.
Our class was a portrait of that process. Sensory, engaging, challenging, satisfying.
Wine was poured, and community was almost instantly formed. We tied our aprons and got familiar with the fancy utensils at our disposal.
My friend and I met our table of fellow chefs and got to know each other as we began to dice and mix.
One gal was the manager of ticket sales for the Denver Broncos. Another, a business analyst from Miami. Directly across the butcher block counter from us was a Lakewood couple – a lawyer, Ken, and a teacher, Beth – who were on a date night to celebrate their 33 years of marriage. We shook hands and then raised our glasses, toasting a night of cooking and eating.
Together, dancing between learning and trying, passing and stirring, we assembled baba ghanoush with warm, buttery pita, grilled vegetable salad, and a Mediterranean herb vinaigrette that tasted good with everything. The star of the show was the feta and spinach stuffed lamb burgers with lemon garlic aioli.
We pan-seared chicken breasts and chopped fresh herbs and zested at least half-a-dozen lemons. We sipped our wine and snacked on popcorn, saving our big appetites for all the beautiful dishes we’d get to eat when we were done cooking.
Since our menu was Mediterranean, olive oil and lemon zest went into absolutely everything. We tossed generous amounts of salt and pepper from little carafes into our pans. We crushed garlic and crumbled Feta cheese in our fingers. We tucked our tasters spoons into the bowls as often as we could.
A playlist of classic love songs from The Beach Boys and Natalie Cole and The Supremes played from speakers in the high ceilings. At one point, our whole class was singing and dancing at our stations: “Sugar pie honey bunch! You know that I love youuuuu…”
The beat continued. Sip, stir, flip, pass.
My favorite dish we made was the chicken: pan-seared, finished in the oven, and topped with heirloom cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta and toasted pistachios. Bright and tangy, it reminded me of the ocean, even though we were miles from it.
When we were getting ready to top the chicken with the pistachios, our instructor spoke up over a Barry Manalow song:
“When you’re toasting pistachios, or any nut, there is a very short window when you’ll achieve the perfect result. As soon as you can smell the nuts in the oven – as soon as they become fragrant – they’re ready to come out. Even 30 seconds more, and they can burn.”
A general nod of agreement and expressions of “good to know” circled the room, and then we were back to watching our chicken brown in the pan. Meanwhile, Ken was sneaking olives into his mouth as he chopped them and I went a little crazy on the olive oil (if that’s even a thing).
“More salt! More pepper! More lemon zest!”
Don’t mind if I do.
Over the course of a single evening, with classics crooning in the background, we all experienced the magic that happens when people and plates gather around a table.
When food and wine and learning and good music come together, strangers turn to friends almost automatically. We were so shy when we first assembled, but by the end of the night, we were talking about our families, our homes, our jobs, and the benefits of buying a nice lemon zester and a set of sharp knives. The gal that works for the Broncos was asking my friend for her favorite hiking trails and Denver restaurants. All of us insisted that Beth and Ken visit Little Man Ice Cream as part of their anniversary celebrations.
I think that’s really why I loved cooking class so much. The community of it.
The feeling that good people and good conversation are waiting to be found everywhere. The knowledge that everyone is seeking nourishment, seeking to feed their loved ones and their friends beautiful and healthy food, desiring more than anything to create space to be filled, body and soul.
These are the things that bring us together in kitchens and around tables.
It’s an ancient, beautiful practice; a new verse in the age-old song of hunger-meets-dinner. The ingredients are different each time, but the recipe is the same.
Meat. Vegetables. Herbs. Spices. A hot pan. A whirring oven.
A smile. A handshake. A shared space and shared joy. Space to rest and be fed.
At the end of our class, our team of instructors and sous chefs gathered all of our created dishes into a colorful buffet line and we all grabbed plates. We walked upstairs to the loft dining room above the kitchen school.
By candle light, we savored every lemony, herb-filled bite of our meal and chatted quietly, celebrating our hard work and just how delicious even simple foods can be. It was one of those meals I wanted to last forever. Every bite was somehow more delicious than the last.
The table – this particular table of chefs at my cooking class – reminded me that we’re all together in the pursuit of being filled. Our hunger brings us together. And the best thing is, we’ve been given the tools to meet that need for ourselves, and for one another.
A pot. A table. A bottle of wine.
Shared space. And time to savor the gifts of the ordinary.
Thank you, cooking class, for every bite. You were a gem.