Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Knife Skills, Thoughts and Commis in Oakland

Awhile ago, I started getting more serious about cooking. I began to notice that this was what I turned to, to relax. It's where I was doing my best thinking, chopping onions and mulling over whatever happened to be going on in my life at the time. It's also where I was having the most fun, and it's what I wanted to share with the people I loved. It's where my thoughts were more frequently turning to during the day . . . What recipe to try next? Which new technique to experiment with, and to hone? Which restaurant to try?

I tracked my obsession: sitting at a bars, craning my neck, trying to catch a glimpse into various kitchens to see what was going on in there.

I made my first loaf of bread. I made cheese. I perfected a chicken dish that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I slugged my way through four different chocolate chip cookie recipes (which, for sanity's sake were then foisted upon friends) in effort to find the ultimate cookie. I fell asleep with cookbooks open across my chest, and Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Saveur magazines strewn across the floor. I poured over other food blogs, watched cooking demonstrations on youtube. I was more than a little thankful at that point not to have cable, as I'm sure if I did, the Food Network would have been on almost constantly, and I would have found Mario Batali's appearance on Iron Chef America a compelling reason to never leave the house.
(No cable for me!)

I toyed with the idea of culinary school, but at an easy 60k for 2-3 years, it didn't seem like the best option. I considered a smaller program in Berkeley, but when I sat in on a class there, I quickly realized it wasn't the kind of program I was looking for.

So I decided to start small. I took a cooking class at a company in Berkeley called Kitchen on Fire. I started with their Spanish Seafood cooking class, which offered 5 recipes. Seafood is something I love, but tend to be intimidated by when cooking it myself. The class was fantastic. It was so much fun, and I was so excited to be doing something really hands-on. After sitting at a desk and staring at a computer for most of the day, it was more than a welcome relief.

Last night I took their knife skills class. I figured I'd better be sure my fundamental skills were correct if cooking is something I'm going to pursue any further. Turns out, I have a lot to practice. Anyone need some onions chopped? I dove through about 10 of them last night, along with 7 carrots, 8 celery stalks, 10 cloves of garlic, half a bunch of parsley, cilantro, mint, basil, 3 bell peppers and 4 zucchini.

I've never been the front row student, you know, the one who turns in a paper a day early, or arrives a good 20 minutes before class to go over the lesson plan. The person whose hand shoots up at the request for a volunteer. I've never been that girl. Until now. I pounced on that bag of onions. I had no qualms about speaking up, asking questions, asking for advice or a demonstration when needed. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it, or how excited I was.

I wish I had some pictures for you. It completely slipped my mind. But I can say that I'll be taking more classes there. They have a 12 week "Boot Camp" course that covers just about everything, starting with the knife skills, moving on to sauces and stocks, braising, bread, grilling, etc. I can hardly wait.
So who knows where this will go? If I had my way, I'd somehow be making my living off of this sort of thing, though I have no idea how. At some point, I'd love to do an internship in a kitchen, becoming an unpaid chopper of onions, and segmenter of citrus.

But until then, I'll continue with the classes, and I'll continue to sit at the bar of some great restaurants, trying to sneak peeks.
On that note, I did remember to bring my camera to the newly Michelin-starred Commis on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. Unfortunately, the pictures didn't turn out so well (and also, I hate to be that person who takes pictures of all their dishes in a restaurant, and I try to avoid it as much as possible) so I only have a couple to indicate the quality and beauty of what we ate. If you get a chance, I can't recommend this place enough. It was truly a great experience. If you go, I recommend splurging for the wine pairings.

Duck cooked sous vide with sour cherries, mustard greens & parsnip puree

Panna Cotta with berry gelee & Muscat pairing


  1. My work holiday "party" was a group cooking class at Kitchen on Fire and it was so much fun! The instructors were a ball of laughs. You should look into being an assistant there - much cheaper than actually taking the classes.

  2. You're a step ahead of me, Maya! That's my plan of action!

    Also, I love your blog! I cried laughing at the Conan/Robert Reich video!

  3. Best of luck, I hope you can figure out how to intertwine what you love, with what you do.