Pricey cooking classes turn culinary novices into pros

Let’s face it: We talk about our sports teams with pride, but our campus food is nothing to boast about.

Ridden with the likes of Taco Bell, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and other fast food restaurants, USC is not exactly a haven for food lovers. You can only take so much kung pao chicken and pizza before feeling physically sick and gastronomically tired.

How-to · At Zucca Ristorante, an Italian restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, cooking class students learn how to make pasta dough by hand. - Sophia Lee | Daily Trojan

How-to · At Zucca Ristorante, an Italian restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, cooking class students learn how to make pasta dough by hand. - Sophia Lee | Daily Trojan

And though Los Angeles is home to many renowned restaurants, for those of us who don’t own a car, it takes real motivation to brave the public transportation just to get a decent meal on a tight budget.

Fortunately, a day with an executive chef of an esteemed restaurant will get you whipping out gourmet dishes within your own kitchen in no time.

Select restaurants of the Patina Restaurant Group are offering private cooking classes on Saturday mornings. Each class costs $90 per person, and reservations are limited according to the space available in the kitchen. Although the classes are hosted by high-end restaurants, is the price truly worth it?

Zucca Ristorante, located in Downtown Los Angeles, does not usually open for service until 4 p.m., but the doors were wide open at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. A tall, broad-shouldered man greeted the class with a rather charming accent and introduced himself as Chef Lucio Bedon.

“You want to cook anything, tell me, and we can cook it, even if it’s not on the menu,” he said as he gave his students for the day a tour of the kitchen. “We have the whole kitchen, and all these ingredients are yours.”

We immediately spewed out a list of dishes we wanted, and Bedon did not bat an eye.

The next three hours were a flurry of activities. We learned to make fresh pasta by hand, and watched Bedon dimple up gnocchi dough in lightning speed. We watched the pasta chef fold pumpkin tortellonis into pieces of edible origami art, and then messed up several good tortellonis while trying to imitate his nimble fingers.

Next, we taste-tested different types of heirloom tomatoes, and made an insalata caprese — a fresh tomato salad dressed with herb-infused olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar and topped with a pillow of incredibly fresh and creamy Burrata cheese. After that we moved over to the stoves and spent a leisurely half-hour stirring toasted Arborio rice, onions, white wine, vegetable broth and roasted butternut squash in a big pot to make risotto. The outcome was a luscious, orange, sweet and savory bowl of ultimate food comfort.

By then we were swooning with a food coma, but Bedon was not done with us. He slapped out a whole Mediterranean sea bass, and prepared it two ways. Both were fried until the skin was charred and crispy, but one was doused with white wine, olives, grape tomatoes and fresh thyme; the other was placed over a thick creamy butternut squash sauce with brilliant droplets of green broccoli rabe pesto.

Despite all the high-end food and drink, the best thing about this cooking class was the simplicity and practicality of the whole experience.

You might have tried cooking something other than ramen once or twice. You might even have brushed across organic and sustainable foods from the farmers’ market around our campus. But being right there, next to a chef who clearly knows and loves what he is doing, you can’t help but be infected by the same passion and awareness for good and conscious food.

Bedon stressed the importance of self-confidence: “Cooking isn’t hard. You just have to convince yourself that you can do it.”

In the end, it isn’t just a few recipes you bring home to impress your friends. It’s a transformed attitude toward how food impacts an individual. You might not be whipping out tiramisu everyday, but you will never be able to look at a tomato the same way again.