Mildred Pierce is a restaurant which serves one of the best brunches in Toronto. We don't go there very often because the menu doesn't vary much, and they only serve brunch on Sundays. But the food is delicious. Thus, when theengineer suggested taking their brunch class, I was easily swayed into adding a trip to Mildred Pierce's adjunct cooking school, The Cookworks, into my schedule. Also, this is my last currently-schedule cooking class.
The school is located right next door to the restaurant, in an equally airy, spacious space, with large cupboards and a sideboard beautifully laid out with all of our raw ingredients. Twelve of us gathered around a long table/counter for freshly baked scones and muffins, with coffee and fresh orange juice. It was delicious, a very good way to blunt our appetites in preparation for a few hours of cooking and an absolutely enormous feast afterwards. Donna Dooher, co-owner of the restaurant and our head instructor, began the class with a round of introductions - names and what kind of cooks we are - which set the tone for a convivial class. Donna introduced her three assistants as well, including the restaurant's current apprentice. They take on apprentices so that people interested in cooking can decide if it's a career they want to pursue. Everyone was friendly and helpful, including my fellow classmates.
The class began with a group lesson in cooking eggs. I've had real problems poaching eggs, so it was helpful to have yet more advice on the subject. (Cook the egg in shallow water so the yolk stays on top and can be watched - easier to tell if it's still runny that way. Also, eggs can be poached in advance, and kept in an ice water bath for a day or so - reheat in simmering water.) We went through fried eggs and omelettes as well. theengineer made a very tasty omelette.
Unlike the other classes I've taken, every group made a different dish. We all received all of the recipes and briefly went through them together at the beginning before splitting up into pairs and drawing for what dish we were going to do. We drew "Corned Beef Hash" and were assigned to the appropriate work station. Each station was set up for making a particular dish, with a small, portable gas stove for every station that needed it, and a portable, professional deep fryer for ours. There was plenty of staff to give advice all along the way, and coach us on cooking temperatures and knife technique. (I received compliments on my newly-acquired knife techniques, I'm happy to report!)
Corned Beef Hash largely consisted of chopping things up. Most of the ingredients were cooked together in olive oil, with the potatoes deep-fryed at the end. Another team was assigned the chipotle sauce which went with our dish, and the whole dish came together nicely at the end. I learned the classic French method of garlic preparation: cut the cloves in half, and remove the inner core (it peels out), which is what makes garlic bitter; then take a generous pinch of salt and sprinkle it over the garlic; using a large chef's knife on its side, crush the garlic while moving the knife in circles; this will eventually produce thoroughly crushed garlic paste.
We were encouraged to wander, to check out everyone else's work, although we were too busy for most of the class to do so. There was more orange juice and water for us to top up our glasses.
After the better part of two hours of cooking, we just about all finished on time, give or take the group poaching eggs. A long table was laid out in white linens for us, with elegant arrangements of tulips. While our confections were plated and a buffet line constructed, another staff member poured us glasses of champagne and orange juice. The staff also served us the dishes we'd just made, an enormous variety of tasty, fat-and-cream intensive brunch foods. And it was good! We did well! The only real food mishap was with the rather salty waffles - but that turned out to be the fault of the staff at some point; the bowl labeled "Sugar" actually contained salt. We ate and socialized and compared other cooking class experiences while stuffing ourselves food.
Our cooking fest and feast including Chicken and Waffles with Blueberry Peppercorn Chutney and Dijon Cream Sauce; Red Pepper and Basil Strata; Mini Huevos Monty with Tomato Salsa and Avocado Crème Fraiche; Corned Beef Hash with a Chipotle Rouille; Baked Eggs with Gorgonzola, Spinache, and Creamy Lemon Polenta; Lobster Pot Pie; The Veda (poached eggs, salmon, croissant, bearnaise sauce); and the only lightweight dish in the entire meal, Fennel and Celery Root Salad with Orange Vinaigrette. At the end of the class, Donna autographed copies of her Out to Brunch cookbook for each of us, and said goodbye to each of us by name. We said goodbye to each other, having spent parts of the previous three hours bonding over eggs and food.
The Cookworks is strong on amenities, helpful staff, and teamwork. It's the best of the cooking classes I've been to thus far for the sheer variety of amazing food to eat together at the end, and offered the nicest drinks and nibbles to consume while cooking. I learned a fair amount but, except for the egg lessons, what I came away with was more diffuse, less focused, than the other classes. I wasn't a part of cooking most of the dishes, although I have the recipes for everything we ate - and a great deal more in the cookbook. I loved the sense of space the place offered, the professionally-equipped version of a cooking school in a private home. If you want to learn something about cooking, but really, what you're after is the food at the end, this would be an excellent choice - especially if you're not on a diet.