Get thee to a cooking class


Back at the end of August my wife and I managed to get a night out away from the kids to celebrate our anniversary. We chose to try out a new gastropub in Charlotte called The Liberty.

We read a solid review of the place in the Charlotte Observer and combed through its menu online plotting out our gastronomical feast in advance. Their menu features a number of “small plates” that are excellent for sharing and we planned to order several of them to sample diversity of their menu. The calamari was one of the best I’ve ever had and while the flavors in their pork belly sliders had so many moving parts it just worked.

One thing we noticed was that they held cooking classes once a month and as we were leaving I made a reservation to attend their “Love the Pig” class that was held this past Saturday. As I left the house to head out for class my wife joked that I should bring my knives with me.

Thankfully, I didn’t.

As I entered the restaurant I scanned the bar area that I was being directed towards and noticed a large group of people. There was a large table in the center of the room with mis en place ready and immediately I knew that something wasn’t right.

I stood there frozen wondering how they were going to accommodate all these people in the restaurant’s kitchen. Then there was the painful realization that it wasn’t going to be a hands on cooing class, but rather a local, more intimate version of watching the Food Network.

As I sheepishly wandered the room looking for an empty seat, I found a group of people kind enough to let me join their table. The pangs of guilt at being there without my wife began to wash over me and I fired off a text message to her apologizing my ignorance in advance for the experience I was about to have alone.

Over the next three and a half hours I had a front row seat to watch Chef Tom Condron do what he does best – create beautiful dishes using simple ingredients and inexpensive cuts of meat. We had the opportunity to sample a soup, two entree dishes and a dessert that, yes, featured pork and that were all paired with a wine chosen for that day’s menu.

As I finished the dessert course those pangs of guilt returned. However, The Liberty provided all in attendance with a complete list of recipes so that we could try our hand making them at home. I will most certainly be making the slow roasted pork belly with curried lentils, as well as the bittersweet chocolate and chorizo crostini.

The thought of chocolate and paper thin slices of smoked sausage doesn’t sound like a logical fit, but it was amazing. A terrific balance of salty and sweet.

Leaving The Liberty I scanned the list of remaining cooking classes with every intention of returning, this time with my wife and maybe even a small group of friends. I had an excellent time and loved the leisurely pace of the meal.

If you think about it, you can go out to a nice restaurant during dinner hours, be in and out in an hour and a c-note lighter with having only sampled what you ordered (and possibly what your date had). I paid $25 plus tax and tip for a three and a half hour experience, tried four different dishes paired and just as many different wines and got to meet some really nice new people.

I strongly encourage you to seek out restaurants in your area that offer cooking classes and try them out. These classes represent an incredible value for your dining dollar, plus you might go home with some inspiration to try something new in your kitchen.

We are already making plans to attend their Thanksgiving dinner class next month. Maybe I’ll try to bring my knives anyway.

Photo credit: ishane on Flickr

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About PJ Mullen

PJ Mullen is a dad, husband, amateur chef and prolific air drummer blogging about his life as a dad and anything else that is on his mind. Occasionally he blogs about being a dad in the kitchen at peaches en risotto and is a contributor over at Digital Dads.

Facebook comments:

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dennis-Pombier-III/100000110273257 Dennis Pombier III

    I probably should take a lot of cooking classes. I don’t think that being able to make at least 5 different types of Hamburger Helper qualifies me as a chef. It probably would be good for my family to eat some different stuff from time to time. What I have found though is that, eating better can be more expensive, and we are not just rolling in the money. If anybody has advise on this, I’d love it.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the eating better can be more expensive sentiment. Ever since I started my trek with the paleo diet I have saved gobs of money not eating out or processed foods. Plus I feel better and have lost over 15 pounds in 5 weeks. One of the dishes they served was a slow roasted pork belly with curried lentils. The ingredients for that meal can be had for about $10-15 depending on where you shop. A bag of lentils, which are high in protein, are like $4.00 and you’ll get 4-5 servings out of it. My absolute favorite thing to do is buy a whole pork loin at BJ’s. 12 pounds of meat for like $22. I strip of the fat and silverskin, portion it into 1.5 to 2 pounds roasts, vacuum seal up the bulk of them and braised them in a quick red gravy I make from crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, oil, an medium onion and garlic. I serve that up with a giant vat of spinach and I’ve got dinner for three (wife, toddler & I) for about $10. It can be done, but it can be a royal pain.

  • http://LifeofaNewDad otter321

    I was excited for you going to cooking class. So I was fooled as well. It sounds like a lot of fun, but nothing like that is happening in Arkansas. So many people around here are stuck in the food dark ages. No one is adventurous and into new things. It bothers me but I just carry on like the wannabe foodie that I am.

  • http://www.almightydad.com Keith Wilcox

    That sounds like a great idea! 25 bucks is really cheap for all that. A good restaurant can be more than that for just a halfway decent meal. Learning something along the way adds so much value.

  • http://www.almightydad.com Keith Wilcox

    I’d have to agree. Eating healthy can certainly be pricey, but it doesn’t have to be. I think the biggest way to save money on food is to learn to cook. Recently (thanks to several of your recipes) I’ve been trying to make my own meals, and I’ve gotta say that it’s a time investment, but it’s totally rewarding and actually cheaper than buying processed food. The trick, of course is to buy meat in discount packs and to store it properly. Dennis, you can also try designing your meals around items you find on sale. Our local supermarket always has some kind of meat on sale. Just buy the on sale stuff, and have a way to use it. My grandma was awesome at that. She’d come home with whatever she could find on sale and someone would ask “what are we eating?” She say “I don’t know, but I got this on sale so we’ll see!” LOL!

  • http://www.worldofweasels.com/ Weasel Momma

    What a great and inexpensive way to have a nice dinner out!

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    It was a little aggravating at first, but it turned out great. Still, I really want to cook with that guy.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    Yeah, it you think that if my wife was there we’d have spent about $60 and we did spend $110 for less on our anniversary it is a great value.

  • http://www.pjmullen.com/ PJ Mullen

    It was a lot of fun, just next time I have to actually bring the wife :)

  • http://www.mochadad.com mochadad

    Dude,
    Chocolate and chorizo? I’m so jealous.

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