As a child, I despised going to the grocery store. Walking down over-lit aisles scouting for sales was not my idea of a fun Saturday morning. With time, the grocery store grew on me. But it wasn’t until I moved to Austin that I learned what it meant to be really excited to set foot in a supermarket.
The moment I walked through the doors of Central Market, I knew I was encountering a small corner of Mecca. The bulk bins towered. There were samples of fine cheese. I lost count of the number of mushroom varieties, and the bottles of kombucha shone like jewels in a refrigerated treasure chest!
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that–despite my love of this local grocery palace–it has taken me more than three years to investigate one of Central Market’s best offerings: its cooking school. So when I was offered the opportunity to take a class, I bit in with gusto.
Step 1: Separate the Intimidation Factor from the Fun
As a store, Central Market strives to bring a wide variety of food and wine to its customers. The cooking school celebrates this mission by sharing local food discoveries and trends with students.
While I was tickled at the chance to don a white apron and prance about an impressively-equipped commercial kitchen, I soon realized what I enjoyed most about my time in the cooking school was our instructor’s ability to make gourmet cooking approachable.
On this Thursday evening, my fellow students and I had chosen to tackle dirty rice’s Italian cousin, risotto. This exotic entree is often considered a tenaciously tricky and laborious dish. But as we stood over bubbling pots, with the guidance of Chef Brad Bowen, risotto transformed into something simple that just required some patience.
Step 2: Add Wine, Fine Cheese and New Friends
Aided by the liquid courage of specially-curated wine, and the ease of pre-measured ingredients divvied into small glass bowls, we worked as teams to stir and simmer all of our ingredients. Over the span of three hours, our intimate group was transformed from a bunch of rice-steaming amateurs to regal risotto makers.
We spent most of the time adding broth to our rice. We stirred and stirred, so arborio grains would sip up every bit of liquid and flavor we added. Bowen kept a calm eye on our simmering pots, while explaining each step of the recipe. He offered helpful tips and made sure we were tasting as we went along. Our tastebuds and teeth had to learn the flavor and consistency of a perfectly al dente risotto.
The final results were three delicious risottos, each with unique characteristics. One was slid into the oven after being covered in cream and topped with cheese to make a casserole. The other two were made over the stove with ingredients that rarely make my shopping list, like pancetta and porcini mushroom stock.
Because we worked as teams, there was a sense of camaraderie instead of competition. What had originally seemed like a mistake–showing up to a class alone–turned out to be an opportunity to meet new friends. We effortlessly bonded over our shared love of food. I do believe that cooking is a universal language, and this class proved it. Despite varied levels of ability and experience, the Central Market team made sure we all enjoyed ourselves.
Step 3: Devour
Although I consider myself an adventurous cook, I’ve always written off risotto as something better left for restaurant visits. Instead, I walked away from class feeling confident I could cook this dreamy dish at home and wow my dinner guests with an Italian dish that isn’t pasta!
On the drive home, stomach full of deliciously creamy rice, my mind raced with ideas for how to craft my own risotto creations. Maybe I could try rosé instead of white wine when deglazing the rice. Maybe shrimp instead of cured ham. Even though I only spent three concentrated hours cooking risotto, I felt like I could easily add it to my dinner party entree arsenal.
Cooking School for Everyone
Central Market Cooking School offers something for everyone. Regular as well as guest instructors keep the variety of classes interesting. They touch on the cuisine of almost every region in the world and every type of palate. There are opportunities to be taught by renowned chefs and restauranteurs. Plus, for those who enjoy fine food and its art, but don’t really want to get their hands dirty, some classes offer multi-course instructional meals that are hands-off.
Classes fill up quickly, so check Central Market’s online offerings. Bon appetit as you embark on your own culinary adventure!
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you ever taken a cooking class at Central Market Cooking School? What did you create?
Disclosure: I was invited to take a Central Market Cooking School class at no charge for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.