Fae ladi kai ela vrady. “Eat olive oil, and come out in the evening.” ~Ancient Greek Idiom
ave you ever wondered how to make your special someone feel extra special? Chances are, your date has probably been there, done that. Dinner and a movie still have their place, and of course, so does over-the-top opulence and a sunset toast to your loved one. But more than ever the vogue thing in planning a date seems to be adding an element of thoughtfulness. How, then, does one combine the traditional elements of a date like fun, romance and food, with the ever-challenging new standard of adding that je ne sais quoi to the experience? Fear not! The brilliant minds at Sur La Table have pondered this long before us, and have come up with the solution of all solutions: Date Night at Sur La Table with their cooking class series!
Upon our arrival for our Greek themed cooking class, we were greeted by a team of exceptionally friendly and smiling faces dressed in rather impressive bright red chef’s coats. Conscientiously multitasking, I observed the staff approach the Executive Chef to receive instruction, and then bustle off to assist in making everything picture perfect for our night of food, fun and romance! With sincere enthusiasm, Chef welcomed us into her expansive gourmet kitchen and welcomed us to our Date Night experience.
Having arrived slightly earlier than our fellow revelers, my date Andrea and I were treated to a tour of the kitchen, where attention to detail was on parade. From the neutral wood finish on the cabinetry, and the charcoal-colored granite countertops contrasted by bright white wall tiles, the color scheme in the room was exquisitely chic, modern and clean. The beautiful maple wood butcher blocks and beaming stainless steel appliances exclaimed sophistication, and a resolve to simply have the best of every piece of equipment possible for a kitchen to have. While not as sterile or industrial looking like a commercial kitchen, the space was every bit the home of a gourmet chef, blending purpose and functionality with a warm and inviting personality.
Adding to the character of the room were the sounds of jubilant voices sharing introductions amongst the staff and “classmates.” Friendly handshakes—even hugs—were passed around freely as Chef Jennifer encouraged us all to get acquainted, and have a little snack as the final touches were made on the prep work. With little plates of Kasseri cheese, Kalamata olives, hummus with pine nut and lightly toasted pita, my date and I made our way around the kitchen and fed ourselves on the themed hors d’oeuvres. Indeed, our excitement grew and grew as we met the other couples, and “fed” off of the passion for food, life and love that filled the room.
“Kasseri: A traditional semi-hard Greek cheese made primarily of sheep’s milk and no more than 20% goat’s milk. Aged for a minimum of four months, it presents full, but tempered salty flavors, with a pungent aroma, and a sweet aftertaste.”
As we enjoyed the last morsels of our tasty Greek bites, Chef Jennifer called us all to our stations. With more speed and compliance than I have ever seen a class respond to its instructor, everyone eagerly quieted down and took their positions. Chef then introduced herself as, among other things, a former network news journalist turned Food Network guru who worked extensively with Bobby Flay! What’s more? She is classically trained in the true art of cooking having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu! It was immediately clear that Sur La Table spares no expense, and invites only top-talent to lead their cooking classes. Chef then formally welcomed us all to our special Date Night, “Great Foods of the Greek Isles.” As opposed to being merely served some delicious cuisine, Andrea and I would be taught how to prepare it by an expert Chef from one of the world-leaders in gastronomy. We felt immensely spoiled!
Phyllo Cups With Tomatoes, Feta and Oregano
Light, crispy phyllo filled with an intensely rich baked feta filling. The creamy and slightly tangy flavors of the feta are well-paired with the texture and dense sweetness of the sun-ripened tomatoes and are ultimately brought into harmony by the slightly astringent taste of the fresh oregano.
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Dill
Very similar to ratatouille, but a bit more hearty. Familiar flavors of eggplant, red potato, zucchini, tomato and red onion are made more vivid plenty of fresh garlic, tangy Kalamata olives, aromatic dill and faint bitterness of the parsley. The briny feta is a welcomed and subtle addition.
Ouzo-Flamed Prawns with Lemon-Garlic Orzo
The most perfectly cooked, tender shrimp filled with pronounced sweet and umami flavors are paired exquisitely with the mild, al dente orzo. Lingering yet light citrus and garlic flavors bring brightness to the dish. The Ouzo makes a delightful cameo, bringing out flavors of fennel, and coriander, but is not overpowering.
Pistachio Bites with Apricot Syrup
Reminiscent to baklava, this layered dessert is filled with spiced sweetness between layers of crisp and crunchy phyllo and pistachio. The apricot syrup is marvelous with its floral and smoky notes brought forth by the honey and cinnamon, combined with the lush fruity flavors of the apricot.
Having been paired up into fours, we began our creation of the Pistachio Bites with Apricot Syrup! (Since baking takes the longest, we had to start this first.) Since every single dish in the cooking classes is made in a hands-on, teach-by-doing style, we all took turns carefully laying out the phyllo dough sheets, buttering the phyllo, and sprinkling the spiced-sugar pistachio mixture over the buttered sheets. We then learned about the importance of zesting citrus as we chopped, measured and poured the apricot syrup ingredients together into the saucepan before moving on to our other dishes.
As we returned to our stations, we were greeted by the shimmering brilliance of razor sharp steel chef’s knives, ready for us to wield with confidence and precision (just like the pros)! First, Chef taught us about properly handling of knives, and fun technical terms like “choking up on the bolster.” Next, we got to practice our newly acquired skills on the vegetables to be used in the Phyllo Cups, and the Roasted Summer Vegetables. Chef Jennifer imparted proper technique as we sliced and diced our way through tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, onions, herbs and more! Using knives in the kitchen is always fun, but it becomes so much more enjoyable when you do it with proper technique and finesse.
After blending the ingredients for the various dishes, we filled the Phyllo Cups with the feta mixture, and moved on to the most exciting part—the flambé! As we prepared to sauté our shrimp, Chef Jennifer taught us that you know your pan is properly heated when the oil begins to shimmer or dance. She also taught us that sauté means to jump up, named for the quick tossing movements of the food in the pan. What a thrill it was to flambé my first dish … on purpose! As I always say, “There is no better way to ignite the flames of romance than by actually setting something on fire.”
Thanks to the Chef’s perfect timing, everything was ready at once. All that was left was to reap the benefits of our labor and dig into the sumptuous, colorful and magnificently delectable dishes.
Indeed, the tools before us were for more than merely preparing food. Each one was an invitation to engage with each other; to live in the moment, stop checking emails or social media, and to have real-life fun with one another. (Plus, it’s really hard to spend much time on the smartphone with your hands covered in olive oil!) There’s a reason why food is customarily the centerpiece of dates, and most other social situations—because it makes us happy! Sur La Table shows us how to mix it up, and take the food element of the date to an exciting new level! Best of all…they do all the dishes!