Sunday, May 04, 2008

Cooking Up Dinner and a Date

Since this blog is called Cooking With The Single Guy, it just made sense for me to take part in a cooking class for singles. So when I got an invitation recently to be a guest at a cooking class and wine tasting from Parties That Cook, I was there in a Sex-And-The-City moment.

Parties That Cook was started by Bibby Gignilliat, a former marketing professional for Williams-Sonoma Inc. who left to follow her passion in cooking. She’s since taught cooking classes at places like Tante Marie’s Cooking School, HomeChef and Sur La Table. The company puts on cooking classes at locations around the Bay Area and can develop corporate-themed team building events for you and your co-workers.

The event I attended was the monthly cooking class dedicated for singles. A cooking class is probably one of the top 5 most often recommended places for singles to meet their future spouse. A little bit of eye contact, some spice here and there, and things can get hot in the kitchen, if you know what I mean. ;-)

The event took place this past Thursday night, and it was the first time Parties That Cook put on its singles class with Crushpad Winery for a combination cooking class and wine tasting. So it was called Cooking Crush for Singles Party. The Crushpad Winery happens to be on Third Street in the Dogpatch neighborhood, which I only discovered a couple of weeks ago. So it was back on the T-Line for me to head over to class.

When I arrived, people were already mingling and snacking on some chips and appetizers. The people at Crushpad were serving tasting of its 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which they had just taken out of the barrel that day. It was subtle in flavor but refreshing for a summer day.

Cooking stations were set up in the warehouse-like area of Crushpad Winery. This was also the first time I’ve heard about a winery in San Francisco. What’s unusual about Crushpad is you’re the winemaker. They produce customized wine based on your blending choices. So you come in, talk to their wine experts, pick your grapes and come back months later (depending on whether it’s red or white wine) and get your cases of boutique wine. (I later learned from a Crushpad employee at the event that the minimum order of customized wine is one barrel. Do you know how many bottles of wine come from one barrel? 300. Yep, that’s a lot of vino. So they often recommend that you pool together with a few friends to come up with your signature wine.)

About 40 people signed up for the cooking class, and the Parties That Cook people were smart enough to register an equal number of men and women. As you might have guessed, there was a waiting list for women who wanted to take the class, but not so much for the guys. I felt a bit guilty because I knew I was attending the class as an “observer” so I could feature the class on my blog. I equally felt guilty that there was 0 percent chance of me “hooking up” with any of the singles since I’m gay and as far as I could tell all the guys there were straight. Nevertheless, I foraged on with my wine glass in hand and camera on my side.

We started with a tour of the facilities by Stuart Ake of Crushpad. Then we did a tasting of two white wines that were still in their infancy. The wine was taken out of its barrel that day. One was a 2006 Chardonnay aged in a fresh oak barrel and the other was aged in an older oak barrel that had lost most of its “oak-ness” for a more neutral flavor. This was also an opportunity for everyone to mingle and talk about the wine, and more.

I chatted with a few people about why they took the class, and many of them came because of a friend’s suggestion. A few of them were veterans of singles cooking classes while a few of them were newbies. I also felt the crowd was a nice mix of ages. But like most singles events, the sexes seemed to stay close with each other and there were very few mixing in the beginning. But there were more bottles of wine to open, so you never know.

We finally got to cooking and started with a demonstration of basic cooking techniques from Chef Mat, who is one of the lead chefs at Parties That Cook. He went over the different recipes that we were going to be making and then split the room into boys and girls for the count off so we could break into teams. Each team would be making one appetizer.

I was in team 6 and we were in charge of making tiny chorizo tortillas bites. On my team were Ed, Erin, Tiryns and Ms. A (she didn’t want to give her full name because she’s in the dating protection program). We all started to prep our ingredients, which meant a lot of chopping. There were actually more people than was really necessary to make the recipe, so I mostly took photos and drank pinot noir and basically became a nuisance to my teammates.

I’m pretty sure my chatting with them was the reason we didn’t realize we needed to turn on our table-top burner to start cooking because it eventually took a long time for us to render the potatoes tender for our Spanish tortilla.

Eventually, the other teams were done making their appetizers and they were proudly parading them around the room for everyone to taste. I liked the minced beef in lettuce cups and the mini salmon croque monsieur. But there were also cornbread tartlets, pita pockets and quesadilla to try. By the time our little tortillas were done from the oven, I think most people were full.

As everyone tasted each other’s food, the conversation flowed more freely like the wine. The mingling went into full steam. Because I felt guilty throwing the dynamics off for the evening, I tried to play matchmaker with a few of my new friends, pointing them to whom I think would be right for them. I can’t say I was successful, but at least I tried my little cupid-butt off.

In the end, I don’t know if I felt like I did much cooking. I don’t know if the recipes were too simple or there were too many of us to really do any hands-on cooking, but the cooking portion really seemed to zip by. The entire event lasted three hours, but half of that time was spent tasting wine and mingling.

I spotted a few people exchanging business cards at the end of the night, so who knows if I was witnessing a match in action. Like my new friend Ms. A says, if you don’t find a match, at least you can meet some good friends who enjoy food and wine. Now that’s a match made in heaven.

Addressing the group is Stuart Ake, left, of Crushpad, and Bibbly Gignilliat of Parties That Cook.

Someone's really working out some aggression on the lamb. Actually, this is Ben (another Ben!) who's hamming it up for the camera.

Erin is sauteeing onions for our Spanish chorizo tortillas. Eventually we added in the potatoes and Erin had to step aside to multiple people who kept coming by to check to see if the potatoes were tender.

Here's our tortilla bites finally out from the oven! Don't they look cute?

For upcoming events and cooking classes at Parties That Cook, check its Web site. They also have regular cooking blog that you can read here. If you want to make your own wine, you can learn more about Crushpad here.


Anonymous said...

Great recap, Ben. You know what was funny was that I was more interested in the romance aspect than the food, but I guess that was the point of the class. -- David

Anonymous said...

Chef ben, what a fun sounding event! I briefly looked at crushpad, but the price was seemed like a serious commitment. I laughed about the concept of dating protection program too! was the food good, did you learn any good new recipes?

Single Guy Ben said...

David, I thought if I focused too much on the romance, then this would be a whole different blog. ;-)

Foodhoe, most of what was made were actually pretty good. And I think they were so simple that any singles could make for a dinner date. I think the salmon sandwiches were my favorite, but I'm interested in trying to make the salsa dip for the quesadilla. They had tomatillo which I've never cooked with.

Chocolaty Lifestyle said...

I've never heard about cooking clases for singles! Anyway - nice blog and great pictures! :)