I've been to plenty of cooking classes and cooking demonstrations over the years, but none as enjoyable as the one I attended last week Quattro. Much of this is attributable to the genial Maurizio Ferrarese, executive chef at the Four Seasons' in-house restaurant and a natural teacher who blends humor and helpful guidance that will make even the least accomplished cook feel comfortable in kitchen.
Ferrarese has the grace and charm of an old-school TV chef -- the Graham Kerrs or the Emeril Lagasses of the days before shows like Cupcake Wars took over the Food Network -- with a practical side. This is important, after all, as you're going to be eating the food you're preparing and cooking. Ferrarese doesn't want you to poison yourself.
In the course of last week's class, Ferrarese took five of us into the massive kitchen at the Four Seasons -- spotless, brightly-lit, stainless steel surfaces gleaming, looking for all the world like a studio save for the bustling cooks and waitstaff all around -- and taught us how to make a three-course meal of osso bucco ravioli, burrata and tomato salad and an Italian chocolate and caramel flan.
We watched attentively as Ferrarese dumped five basic ingredients into a stand mixer and let the dough hook go to work on the flour, semolina, water, egg yolks and salt. A few short minutes later, the ochre-colored dough had already formed and Ferrarese began passing it through an extruder over and over again until each small ball of dough became a fine curtain.
After letting it rest overnight, Ferrarese said, you'd be ready to start making your pasta. Thankfully, he already had a few sheets ready for us to fill up with an osso bucco mixture he'd prepared. When one of the class members asked what animal osso bucco came from, Ferrarese jokingly replied: "From any animal! Even people have an osso bucco," he laughed, pointing to his own leg. "But it's probably not very good."
The laughs and the open questions were encouraged throughout the class. "You can ask me anything!" prodded the Italian-born chef. "Not just about ravioli!"
"How do I keep my beurre blanc from breaking?" I finally asked at one point. Ferrarese got a serious look on his face.
"Have you tried adding a few drops of water?" he responded. I hadn't, but made a mental note to try it out the next time I hated myself enough to try a beurre blanc again.
Following our successful pasta-making session, in which Ferrarese showed us how to make everything basic ravioli and fettuccine from the raw dough all the way to delicately curved cappatelli that resemble a Pope's hat, we turned to the burrata. Ferrarese taught the class how to heat mozzarella in a water bath until stretchy, then meld the pliable cheese into shape over a spoonful of stracciatella cheese before wrapping into a dumpling-like shape and letting it rest in warm, salty water.
The burrata cheese went onto some heirloom tomatoes along with basil, Maldon salt, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pepper for a salad that we all tore into once we were seated in Quattro's private dining room. The plate-glass windows on one dining room wall overlook the busy kitchen, and we watched both the sous chefs at work and Ferrarese as he cooked our ravioli for us on burners positioned squarely on the dining table itself.
To my surprise, all of our ravioli turned out perfectly -- even my own clumsy attempts. I had never felt more proud of my limited cooking skills than I did looking down at the little pockets in my bowl, each topped with a slice of shaved truffle and a delicate drizzle of cream sauce.
By the time dessert was served, most of us were too exhausted by our pasta-making endeavors to pay much attention, and I very nearly fell asleep in my bowl of flan -- a reminder that our chefs put in far more hot, exhausting work in a kitchen than my doughy writer's body could probably endure in an evening. Nevertheless, it was a thrill to experience even a sliver of that firsthand. Even if I hadn't walked away determined to make my own pasta at home (more on that to come...), that lesson was definitely driven home.
Cooking lessons at Quattro don't have to involve ravioli, though. They can be completely customized to your own interest, skill level and group size. Want to take a date to learn how to make pizza from an Italian chef? Ferrarese will teach you both. Want to treat a group of employees to a team-building session that tastes good too? Quattro can set that up for you. Classes can accommodate anywhere from two to 16 people.
Prices for the cooking classes range from $95 to $140 per person, depending on the food being prepared, and wine can also be purchased to enjoy during your lesson starting at $38 a bottle. (I strongly encourage this particular add-on, as it's how I cook at home anyway.) For more information or to set up your own class, call the Four Seasons' private dining manager Astrid Calderon at 713-652-6248.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.