If you’re new around here, you may not know that I’m a very passionate foodie. I think that food can be art, community, culture, and sustenance all rolled into one. My mom is an incredible cook, and so I grew up with lots of homemade meals, massive holiday feasts, and random people at our dinner table. My dad – who is the lowest-maintenance person I’ve ever met – has an unexpected love for fine dining, and so on the rare occasion when we did go out, it was usually a special treat at a special place. Consequently, my younger brother and I aren’t picky or pretentious eaters. We love a greasy diner burger as much as we do a six-course French meal, and we both have our passions in the kitchen. (His is cooking, mine is . . . taste-testing).
All of this is to say: I know good food.
I’ve eaten my way through most of Baltimore’s foodie spots, but when I signed my mom and myself up for a cooking class at Schola, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would we each be responsible for cooking a full meal? Would we get grouped with strangers to prep a course? Would we be expected to know what we were doing, or would we have step-by-step instructions? Would the cost of the class be worth it, or should we have gone out somewhere and saved ourselves the trouble?
Well, let me just tell you: we cooked, we ate, we conquered, and we immediately signed up for another class.
Schola is located in Mt. Vernon (off of North Charles Street), in a to-die-for kitchen. Its charm is apparent from the moment you walk in the door, and gather in the entry with your fellow “classmates” for the evening. It’s also BYOB, which is very important to note. Show up with wine; Schola will supply the glasses and corkscrews, and by the time everyone has shuffled in and stowed their jackets, you’ll all be feeling a little bit more relaxed.
Your chef for the evening (Jerry Pellegrino or Amy von Lange; we had Jerry) will explain what you’re cooking; the significance of the dishes, techniques, cultures, or chefs whose cuisine you’re focusing on; and then will promptly get the party started.
We attended one of Schola’s “Classic Chefs” courses, and the classic chef whom we learned about was Paul Bocuse. For those of you playing along at home, Bocuse is arguably the world’s most highly-regarded chef, as his restaurant in Lyon has held 3 Michelin Stars for over 40 years, making it the longest-held three-star restaurant in the world. To top it off, the restaurant has never once altered its menu in all that time. Sometimes, you really don’t need to mess with a good thing!
Our class was tasked with creating an incredible menu: Gougère (a choux pastry made with cheese) to snack on; Bocuse’s famous Lobster Salad with Vegetables and Tomato Gelée; a main course of Roasted Tenderloin with Black Truffle Jus (TO DIE FOR!!!) and Lyonnaise Potatoes; and finally a Chocolate Tart, topped with Hazelnuts & Crème Anglaise. If this menu sounds like heaven on earth (it is!), you can experience it yourself at their January 26th class.
After the intro, Chef Pellegrino explained various tasks and let us all tackle pieces of them: searing the beef, chopping onions, mixing the vinaigrette, etc. People quickly jumped into action, and as the wine flowed and the kitchen began to smell mouth-wateringly delicious, the conversation began to flow, too.
Cooking with a bunch of strangers, and then sharing a meal together at a long, narrow table, proud of what you’ve accomplished through some casual teamwork and the impeccable supervision of a gregarious chef, is a great way to get to know people.
There were young people and old people; Baltimoreans and those who lived outside of the city or even across the country; couples, friends, and families; people who loved to cook and those who’d never held a knife.
And when we all sat down together after more than two hours of cooking, the food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten, the mood in the room was cozy and content, and many lingered even after the meal had ended, talking to people they’d never met before and were unlikely to see again.
I loved our experience at Schola because I love good food and our meal was fabulous, but I loved it more because I was able to watch a chef perfectly manage a room full of amateurs, in a way that was so effective, we not only enjoyed the prepping and cooking and eating – we enjoyed each other’s company.
In fact, I am firmly convinced that most disputes could be amicably resolved if we could get the opposing parties into a room and fill them up with good wine, better food, and meaningful conversations.
Good food is something that brings people together, lowers our guards, and fills our souls just as much as our stomachs.
So I hope to see you sometime at Schola (check out their full class schedule), getting your fill of good food and great people.