Cooking Class

Cooking Class

Did you know that Caltech offers a cooking class? It’s called Cooking Basics and it’s taught by Caltech’s Director of Student Activities, Tom Mannion. Tom lives in a Caltech-owned house just off campus, and the class is held in a huge tent in his backyard. The class is only pass/fail, and it counts for credit towards your general institute requirements (but it doesn’t fill Core requirements).The class is held from 6:3opm-9:30pm on Thursday nights.

This class is something I’ve been planning to take since I arrived freshman year. Now that I’m in my final term at Caltech, this wasmy last chance to enroll, and I’m extremely sorry I didn’t do so earlier! It really is a comprehensive introductory cooking class: the first class covers knife skills (how to chop, how to take apart a raw chicken) and kitchen tools (what kinds of knives exist and when to use them). The second class, which we had last night, covers tastes and flavors. We had a taste-test of about 35 different foods with varying amounts of sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, and umami taste.

After we learned about the different tastes, and sampled some endive, bleu cheese, walnut, and apple hors d’oeuvres that the TAs had prepared for us to demonstrate mixing of tastes and flavors, we broke off into teams and had a competition to create a three-course meal out of the ingredients from our taste test. My team made a spinach, pear, and lime salad, chicken tacos, and a chocolate-covered pear dessert with habanero yogurt sauce. We did not win, but it was a really fun experience! Each plate was tiny, here is our “salad”:

After the competition, we made a few recipes to finish the class. We baked coffee cake, butterflied and fried chicken for chicken picatta, and poached some salmon.

To finish up the class, we ate everything we had cooked.

Next week’s class covers soups and sauces, and Tom claims that after learning to make four basic sauce bases next week, we’ll be able to cook pretty much anything from scratch. After that class, we focus on techniques and flavors found in different types of cooking, with Italian, Indian, Korean, Southern, and “Healthy” food nights. The class ends with a final exam: each team is given a cart of ingredients and prepares a multi-course meal “Iron Chef” style for Tom and the TAs to judge.

I highly recommend this class: not only am I learning an insane amount about cooking, but it’s also a great stress-relief from a regular week of Caltech work!