Creative Cooking

Put a Fork in Me, I'm at Well Done Cooking Classes

Oh, lawd. So I can't just be brilliant, toned, fit, witty, charming, book-smart, street-smart, warm, welcoming, friendly, super stylish aaaand great to your mother -- I gotta cook, too? Man alive.

But alas. I cave and put on my apron.

Like most people who learned to cook from their mothers, I didn't. She's super cute and all, but the two of us in the kitchen -- with her instructions and my lack of patience -- it can easily turn into a pro-violence War of the Worlds Part IV.

So, nope -- nothing homemade or familiar for me. I'm going professional and out of the box -- and I'm taking three other fabulous cooking-challenged ladies with me.

For our first cooking class, it's scallops, risotto and crème brûlée. And Well Done Cooking Classes is where it's at.

On a hot summer Saturday, we headed to an unassuming townhouse in the Heights for our evening Well Done Cooking Class -- "Three Course Dinner -- Scallops" -- each of us carrying a bottle of wine. As we walked in, Chef P.J. heartily welcomed us into the cozy, warm, refashioned living room, which now -- by way of a huge, oval-shaped granite island -- served as our collaborative chefs' table. Donning black and red aprons emblazoned with the names of famous chefs such as Ripert, Bourdain and Child, we took our bar stools, poured our wine and eagerly waited to be inspired.

First on the menu: Warm Rocket, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Salad

I don't normally like dishes with 16 words in the title. This is supposed to be food, not a dissertation. But when the ingredients are already chopped and prepped, this cooking thing becomes a cinch and the salad was made before I could say "bacon." (Can I get a "Chopper Preparer" at home, please? I would totally cook more than...never). We did sizzle a bit of the bacon in a skillet that was heavier than all our body weights combined and the aroma produced a sensation of sheer pleasure that only frying sliced pork can deliver.

Lesson Learned: If you choose excellent greens, like arugula, toss in a gourmet shredded cheese, drizzle balsamic vinegar and add a little bacon -- presto. You have created a salad masterpiece. Anything else thrown in is just a bonus.

Second on the chef's itinerary: Mixed Mushroom Risotto.

It takes 72 years to cook risotto. And you stir for every minute of it. Apparently, risotto needs to be babysat like a hyper child jumping off a sofa. One can't just leave risotto to cook on its own. Chef P.J. patiently explained that we needed to make sure the risotto maintained the right amount of water or stock throughout. Pro tip: Part the risotto sea in your saucepan and if the stock fills the gap, there's water aplenty. But if no water seeps in, it could use some added liquid flavor. Trying to see the pot half full, we decided that watching risotto cook gave us more time to drink the drinks and talk that girl talk.

Lesson Learned: Do not make risotto at home if you're like me. It is not worth it. Your arm will hurt and you will be bored to tears. Or, in a more likely scenario, you will start to watch TV, forget to stir that water and your risotto will be dehydrated or even burnt. Just make pasta or no carbs at all.

Third dish up: Pan Seared Scallops, Chives and Béarnaise.

I have never cooked any kind of seafood in my life, but these scallops came off as downright easy. Stick them on the pan, put them in a circle, turn them over and pick them right back up, all in less than five minutes. The beauty of cooking class is that we novices were able to add a little of our own style and taste to the instructions and recipe. It may be a faux pas, but we preferred our scallops charred and crusty and with a ton of black pepper. Well Done provided the béarnaise sauce, so I can't say we learned anything about saucy flavor, but I do feel a bit more confident to grill some seafood.

Lesson Learned: Don't be scared of things that come from the ocean. And if you like charred mollusks, you'd better like them rubbery, too. We might have overcooked our scallops a bit, but we still ate all 20 of them, lovingly and proudly.

And for the fourth course, dessert: Chocolate Crème Brûlée.

If any meal ends with firing up your own Chocolate Crème Brûlée, then salute your master chef and give him a gold star. With bittersweet chocolate, dark cocoa powder, coffee, brown sugar and heavy cream all gooey and mixed together, you can muck this up and it will still taste fantastic. With a blow torch in hand, I caramelized my bad boy and went to cocoa heaven.

All in all, our three-course meal turned out quite tasty. We got a high five on the risotto, a "less burn" on the scallops, salad "just right" and the brûlée deemed "brilliant." The service was excellent, we learned a little something and took home full recipes.

Did we giggle too loud? Yes. Did we get shushed by the cooking school nerd next to us? Yes. Was ours the best blue-ribbon risotto Well Done's ever helped create? Yes. Did we end up at Kung Fu Saloon to celebrate our newfound culinary skills? Absolutely.

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Sapna Patel
Contact: Sapna Patel