Last year for Christmas, my husband surprised me with a unique gift: A cooking course with Monica Galetti at Cactus Kitchens. You may know her from Masterchef: The Professionals or Le Gavroche (although she’s left now to pursue her own venture). I have to say I was surprised. I didn’t even know such a thing existed! (He then quickly pointed out that he bought himself a space in the course as well because he didn’t want to be left out). It was a pretty exciting gift. He even wrote a fake event into the calendar so I wouldn’t plan anything else on that day. Such a clever husband. They also sent it with a Christmas cracker with some chocolate inside.
Of course, I had to wait two months until I got to actually do it, so I was slightly dying inside when the day came around. When we arrived, we got to do a small tour of the venue. Apparently they film some weekend cooking show there as well (Saturday Kitchen perhaps?). I wasn’t too familiar with that, I just wanted to get to the food.
When we arrived, we got to have some coffee, tea and pastries. The cooking course was set up to do a three-course meal. It was split into four parts. The first part was set up to prepare things to be cooked later. Then after you cooked each course, you got to go to the dining area and eat it (with wine)! The cooking area was up in the attic area of the building and the dining area was downstairs. Each part started with Monica showing us what we needed to do to prep some of the food, then we would go back to our stations to make it. The break in between each session gave the staff time to clean up after us (so that was kind of nice). They also gave us some amazing soup between the prep section and the section to make the first course.
First course was squid with a rice puree. We had to prep the squid (completely! including taking off the membrane, removing the ink sacs and cartilage… turned out to be really easy, but some people were a bit squeamish about it), make the rice puree, chop the peppers. We pretty much cooked the dish from start to finish! Some other classes I’ve attended, they do a lot of the work for you, but not here! My husband and I had different ways of plating up the food, and you can decide which you think looks best. And it tasted lovely. (Plus I have the recipe so I can make it again if I choose.) They were also not stingy with the wine which was a great plus as it made me feel like I was helping balance out the cost by drinking my way through the course. (Some people were a bit more timid and worried about cooking while drunk. My partner and I like to walk on the wild side.)
The main course was pan-roasted venison. I had never done it this way, and I was eager to give it a try. You basically cook it in pan with a lot of butter to sear the outside and finish it in the oven. We served it with pan-roasted salsify which was another ingredient I hadn’t used before. We also made sweet potato puree and wilted spinach, and we used almonds to garnish. Again, my partner and I had two different ideas for plating up and you can decide which you like best. Monica also decided she needed to clean up my plate as I had dripped a few of the pan drippings on the side of it. It felt a bit like being on Masterchef (okay no not really), but it was a kind of funny moment to capture on film. The food was great again, and I definitely have used the sweet potato recipe since then as it’s simple and tasty. There was more wine, and we weren’t afraid to indulge.
Finally onto dessert! Monica is a huge fan of peanut butter, so we made peanut butter chocolate fondants. The recipe makes more than one, so we got to take the filling home for later use. I made fondants for a few days afterwards because of it. We also made banana “ice cream” which was basically frozen, ripe bananas blended with creme fraiche. (which didn’t work as well at home as my blender isn’t as good as the one they had at the venue…I really need a thermomix). We served it with roasted peanuts. Again the two of us had different opinions on plating, but I’m sure I won this plating competition. The fondants were tasty, and again plenty of wine was served.
Finally, while we were sitting around enjoying tea or coffee, Monica came into the room and gave us a Q&A session. We talked a lot about her family, judging Masterchef, Le Gavroche and her plans for the future. She was also selling her cookbook, and we made sure to get a copy that she signed to us (which prompted her to tell me I needed to be nicer to my husband…). We also got a mini bar of chocolate to take home with us (some people didn’t want them, so we may have taken a few extra).
I have to say this was one of the most amazing gifts I’ve received. It was a great day out with plenty of fun, food and wine (three of my favorite things). I also learned quite a bit about cooking. Nothing was too complicated, but I did get to learn about food I’ve not made before. Apparently, if you want to really splash out, you can get a class with Michel Roux, Jr. as well. I’m sure I’d want to do that course to if I could, but I may have to just enjoy my Monica experience for now.