A Taste of Saint Vincent

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking my first ever cooking class … or, more exactly, the first cooking class I’ve ever paid for.  I am lucky enough to have had the free, in-home course of watching my mother, my grandmothers, my aunt, of being encouraged to cook at an early age.  And of course there was high school, which gave me Miss Davis’ French class and the dramatic comedy of making éclairs, Madeleines, Beef Burgundy and a somewhat smushy and misshapen bûche de Noël … and Mrs. Mueller’s Home Ec class in which I learned to make my family-holiday-favorite Lasagne!

I love cooking, but I’ve never taken a “real” class.  When I studied in France, one of my friends took a course — and practiced his new skills by making fabulous dinners for us — but I was church-mouse poor in Paris, and extra classes weren’t an option.

And then last year, Center for Family Life, one of the agencies we work with in Sunset Park started Emigré Gourmet, a cooking collective.  The group has grown beyond what’s shown on the website, adding a South Indian and Mexican cook to the group.  In increase awareness of the collective, the women started offering cooking classes, and yesterday’s class with Sandra Shallow is the first I’ve been able to attend.  The classes are wonderfully small — only six students — so we all get very up-close and personal attention, and everyone gets their hands into the work.

Our class: a mother and daughter, an Australian chef, gorgeous Nigerian-born actress Adepero Oduye, a Japanese artist, and me.  Our menu: curry chicken, rice and beans, vegetable roti and tropical salad.  I forgot about my camera during the first part of the class, but then …

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Working with the other students, getting to share stories about our own cooking and family food histories, getting to work in the home-like environment of the Emigré Gourmet space at Center … it was a wonderful experience with lots of laughter, delicious aromas and a shared meal at the end that was so much for delicious for having prepared it ourselves.

Today I’m trying out the rice and beans, substituting pigeon peas for kidney beans.  I soaked a pound of beans last night and cooked them this morning.  Now it’s time to get in the kitchen and see about the thyme and cloves and coconut milk …

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