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Tuesday, November 8, 2011: Finding Your “Inner Chef” at Hipcooks

I’m a cooking class slut. Okay, that’s pretty dramatic. But, I just love them. You just never know what great little tip you’ll walk out with, what techniques you’ll end up adopting, what new ingredient will become your new passion.

So, I was eager to check out Hipcooks, a new cooking school that opened in North Park in September. It’s one of a chain of five cooking schools first launched in L.A. in 2004. Manager Tristan Blash, a self-taught cook…opened the San Diego school, located on 30th St. just north of University, a couple of months ago.

And it is certainly hip. And urban. Cool colors, sleek modern furnishings. The latest appliances. Yet, surprisingly, there are no built-in stovetops. Instead there are portable propane burners that turn a demo island into a hands-on class in moments.

You also won’t find any measuring tools or recipes (although recipes are e-mailed later to participants) in class. “My hope is that my students become, or stay, relaxed in the kitchen,” says Tristan. “That they learn to trust their instincts when it comes to cooking. By ‘banning’ measuring implements and instead tasting and using the senses to determine how much of this and that goes into a dish, people learn to trust their own likes and dislikes. They depend less on following the recipe line by line.”

The idea, she says, is to, “play, create. You may mess up, so learn from that and start over. You leave class believing that you know more about cooking and creating than you thought — and that the final product is up to you, not the chef that wrote the recipe.”

The three-hour+ class I took was all about soup making, with seven soups — watercress, carrot ginger, potato leek, butternut squash sage, Moroccan lentil with prunes and cinnamon, corn chowder with tarragon and sundried tomatoes, and creamy mushroom with thyme and sherry — on the menu. Prepped veggies and herbs were strategically placed on the island, where there were also about 10 round solid wood cutting boards and Wusthof chef’s knives marking each place. The class of about a dozen was launched with what was essentially a knife skills mini-class as Tristan first demonstrated how to hone a knife, then different ways to approach slicing, dicing, and chopping.

Tristan Blash

We got tips for cleaning leeks (peel away the green little by little to get the most out of the vegetable, chop, then wash to get out all the grit). And a fascinating, if noisy, tip for stripping the paper off garlic cloves: put them in a metal bowl, place another metal bowl the same size over the rim to make what looks like a ball (the two rims should meet) and then shake. The motion will release the peel off the garlic cloves. It’ll also freak out dogs, cats, and small children — but all for the common good, right?

We were divided into teams to work on each soup: four in the first half of the class, followed by partaking of the finished soups, followed by making the next three. As mentioned, there was no measuring. So with Tristan explaining why we were doing what we were doing, it was a handful of this, a pile of that, some spoonfuls of stock, dashes of wine, herbs to taste. Cook it down. Then ladle it into the Vitamix. Get a little whirring action going and then start tasting and adjusting the seasonings and consistency.

Then there was a very pretty table, set family-style, so we could dine in plain view of people walking on 30th St. We filled it up after serving ourselves with the carrot ginger (a bright stunner); the hearty potato leek with layers of flavor thanks to white wine, thyme, and lemon; and a thick and woodsy butternut squash soup punctuated with white beans. Then on to the next batch. From what I could tell, my fellow students were having a lot of fun and learning a lot.

Title: To Market, To Market with San Diego Foodstuff | Address: sandiegofoodstuff.com

Author: Caron Golden | From: Tierrasanta | Blogging since: September 2007

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