By PK Greenfield
While the city is brimming with cafes, grab-n-go restaurants and food trucks, it’s time to take a cooking class. Trust me. Gather up your loved ones and get an apron. You don’t have to be brilliant like Julia Child, compete with Anthony Bourdain or dabble in a kitchen like Rachael Ray on TV. The only thing you need is the desire to learn and understanding that eating and nutrition are not only fundamental for good health, but also the nutrients for the soul.
Rustico Cooking is the brainchild of Micol Negrin and her husband, Dino. Their roster of cooking lessons are a must-do experience regardless of your level of culinary skills — they capture the spirit and flavors of the Mediterranean in midtown Manhattan. Every class is fun, informative and delicious.
Here is what you need to know.
I entered their state-of-the-art kitchen and handsome dining area near Bryant Park and joined a group of curious cooks ranging in age from early 20s to senior citizen. Several of the attendees were celebrating birthdays gifted by their partners while others were regulars who return to learn new techniques, recipes and/or simply enjoy the camaraderie of the inspirational classes that culminate with a family-style feast. You will not only learn how to make several dishes like homemade pasta and authentic sauces, but also the combinations of ingredients, tricks of the trade and proper kitchen utensils.
Rustico Cooking classes vary on a monthly basis and on this occasion we learned how to make Spaghetti Alla Chitarra with Mussels in Tomato Sauce. Everything was created from scratch and there was no need or room for intimidation, everyone in the class learned the process of making fresh pasta, the proper handling of seafood and the way to make a zesty and robust, red sauce (that actually turns orange when complete). It’s ‘all hands on deck’ according to Chef Negrin, while she indicates there are TV sets above head for observation. Watching the process helps when you are not stirring, kneading, grinding, whisking…
Our meal was accompanied with Roasted Broccoli with Garlic, Lemon and Chili. We boiled the vegetable first even though I prefer steaming to keep the crunch in the florets, but the flavors were simply delicious with a touch of heat from the chili pepper. Chef Negrin also gave us pointers on seasoning the broccoli after roasting and mentioned to try the recipe substituting this green veggie with Brussels sprouts.
The main entrée for this evening was Mediterranean Sea Bass (Branzino) with Pine Nuts, Olives and Artichokes. Moist, flaky and so tasty, the fish was baked to perfection and we learned how to time and coordinate everything as well as plate it for a beautiful presentation. The online syllabus gives details for each class so you know exactly what you will be preparing, serving and eating.
We also made a Fruit and Chocolate Filled Phyllo Pastry with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. It was served with a warm caramel sauce. In one word, delizioso. “My husband says this dessert is biblical,” said Negrin. The group agreed. The sweetness and textures tickled my taste buds.
It’s also noteworthy that this was the first time that I met someone who is allergic to cinnamon. The chef made sure that this student’s plate was prepared accordingly and separate from the others — they comply with everyone’s food allergies and dietary restrictions.
My suggestion is pick the class/meal that piques your curiosity and fits your palate. The experience is amazing; you’ll learn, you’ll enjoy and dinner comes with a glass or two of wine. Rustico Cooking is a fabulous idea for birthdays, date night or a gift to your favorite foodie. It’s also the perfect way to spend a day or evening away from your troubles. I guarantee you’ll leave the class in good spirits, sated and inspired.
Upcoming classes include: Pizza Workshop, Italian Cooking for Beginners, Ultimate Italian Seafood, Dinner in Venice, Flavors of Abruzzo, etc.
Call or visit their website for more information:
40 West 39th Street 3rd Floor
New York, NY
Photos: P.K. Greenfield and Dino De Angelis