Review Kari Persad
I recently had the pleasure of taking two (2) cooking classes (Vietnamese Street Food and Traditional Korean I) at the Open Kitchen and I wanted to share my experience. Open Kitchen is located on Don Gaspar Avenue and offers a range of culinary activities from cooking classes, private dining events as well as themed Take to Go meals.
These were the first cooking classes that I have done since COVID changed the world and I was hesitant to step out of my bubble but the lure of hands-on classes in Vietnamese and Korean food was too much to pass up.
In terms of the safety protocols, you are required to provide either a vaccination record or negative PCR test and temperatures are taken upon arrival. You are required to wear masks except when eating or drinking and frequent hand washing is encouraged. Participants are placed into groups of 2 or 4 as these are hands-on classes requiring everyone to prep ingredients and participate in cooking the meal.
To summarize the experience the Chef Instructor for the day welcomes participants, provides the housekeeping details, and will run through the order dishes will be prepared and clarify any questions on the handouts. They will demonstrate each dish from prep to cooking, answer questions and provide a background or brief history and tips. Each group returns to their prep table where trays containing ingredients and materials would have been organized, portioned, and sorted by dish. Each group has an assigned instructor who fields questions, helps with any prep or cooking issues. The instructors and support staff are really engaging and welcoming which was great for me since I did the class solo but also because I did not complete my registration for the Korean cooking class but turned up for class convinced I did, lol. They kindly accommodated me without any qualms or questions for which I am deeply grateful. I know not everyone is comfortable taking a class alone but, in that space, there was a camaraderie between participants, the instructor and support staff that made exploring a new cuisine fun, approachable and not intimidating.
The menu for the Vietnamese Street Food was Goi Cuon Tom (Rice Paper rolls with Poached Shrimp), Goi Muc Nuong (Grilled Calamari Grapefruit salad), Nem Lui Hue (Grilled minced pork and beef on lemongrass skewers ) and Banh Tieu (Hollow Donuts with Sesame Sprinkles ). I have tried making rice paper rolls previously but in class I got introduced to the rice paper water bowl which helps speed up the process but also prevents over saturation and the rice paper rolls are perfect. These rolls were filled with a combination of fresh herbs like cilantro, mint and thai basil, along with vermicelli noodles and poached shrimp. These rolls are the perfect summer dish, refreshingly light and herbaceous served with a lovely peanut sauce. Calamari is something I have never really tackled after a failed experiment of fried calamari which turned out like rubber bands. However, the chef’s tips on scouring and cooking temperatures have given me some confidence to try it solo soon. This salad is a perfect dance of smokey brine from the grilled calamari, refreshing crunch of cucumber, fresh herbs all coated in a lime vinaigrette which is accented by the grapefruit. The main entree of the class, the pork and beef skewers were a combination of the minced proteins molded onto lemongrass stalk and grilled. If you have ever tried to create kebabs out of minced meat , it can be tricky and learning that the meat needs to be fairly cold and cupping and rotating ensures a successful kebab. These were super tasty, smoky chargrilled meat reminiscent of gyro meat when it is perfectly crisp and browned on the exterior while still moist and perfectly perfumed with the lemongrass flavor. The finale to our Vietnamese cooking was hollow donuts with sesame seeds kneaded into the dough and then fried. Close your eyes and imagine a perfectly fried round beignet with a firm chewy exterior and soft pillowy interior with a nutty base topped off with cinnamon sugar (a class addition) and that encapsulates what we made. Please note there is no attached picture because I ate mine, just out of the fryer and it was delicious. Krispy Creme or Dunkin’ you all need to get on this one lol , seriously.
The menu for the Korean cooking class was Japchae (Stir fried Sweet Potato Noodles ), Pajeon (Savory pancake) and Tteobokki (Sweet and Spicy Rice Cake ). I have gotten sweet potato noodles at Albertsons before, however, my noodles always seemed to clump together. One of the key points the chef shared was tossing the noodles in sesame oil after boiling and it clicked, which is why mine clumped. Japchae is similar to lo mein but the sweet potato noodle texture is firmer and chewier than flour based noodles. Imagine noodles, tossed with vegetables coated in a sweet , savory and spicy soy flavored sauce. Pajeon was the dish I was most excited to try because I love variations on savory pancakes. This is one recipe that I know I am going to make often because I love that you can use different odds and ends to pull together a great meal quickly, you know those “clean out the fridge” dishes? This dish is basically a pancake base flavored with vegetables, meat and served with a spicy soy dipping sauce. The last dish we prepared was Tteokbokki which is probably the most unique dish I have ever tasted. Imagine a tangy sweet and spicy stew flavored with anchovies, onions and chewy rice cake (dumplings) with a cheesy topping . It honestly sounds crazy but it all works to give that warming comfort feeling that we all crave during winter time touching on all of the taste buds.
I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot of techniques, tips and the personal feedback was invaluable. “Googling and Youtube “ recipes does not give me the same connection and understanding of new cuisines like classes. Open Kitchen is offering classes for Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Italian until the end of March. I hope this encourages you if you were considering cooking classes (public or private) or even if you want to sample these flavors through the Take to Go meal options. As for me, I got an Open Kitchen Passport which gets stamped every time I take a class, now all I have to do is remember to click the final registration button and I should be all set!