Williams-Sonoma Technique Classes
For some time now, I’ve wanted to take a Williams-Sonoma Technique Class. Of all the times I meant to plan on spending a Sunday morning at one of these classes, the only time I ever did it was accidentally…when I stumbled upon a class while shopping in a Williams-Sonoma on vacation in San Francisco! But, as luck would have it, I got the chance to see what they were like and I really enjoyed it (and the dessert samples). After that, I told myself I would get to a couple classes during the holidays this year.
Earlier this week, I took a class called “Back to Basic – A Classic Thanksgiving.” It was packed with tips and tricks that even the most experienced cooks could appreciate. The participants in the class were diverse. I had a strong sense that the skill sets in the room were wide ranging, with some people having clearly never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner and others being seasoned cooks. However, by the end of the class, every person was smiling and talking about the different things they learned.
The format of the class centered on a combination of demonstration and instruction, mixed with plenty of opportunity for Q&A. The style was relatively informal, but not so casual that people are talking loud enough to disrupt the chef or their neighbors who are listening. It was a stand up at our location (whereas in San Fran there were chairs) so keep that in mind if you have trouble standing for over an hour. It was somewhat tough after a whole work day, so I know I’ll be better off with a Sunday morning class next time.
The chef leading the class was a nice mix of expert and approachable. He had many recommendations, but wasn’t pretentious about his knowledge and was the first to admit he cuts corners — he just knows the right ones to cut. He generously added butter to all his dishes. He was serious about his love of food, but still had fun with it. I could relate to his approach and appreciated his candor.
His sous chef/plating assistant seemed perhaps less experienced, but still skilled, and just as nice and friendly. He had good tips to offer and answered many questions. He led a couple of the smaller recipes. In some ways, I liked that he was less of a professional. It made people comfortable. It was a bit of the, “if he can do it, so can I!”
Now it’s about time I share what was actually covered in the class. As every Thanksgiving conversation should, we started with the turkey. We learned how to select the right turkey for our meal, how to store the turkey, how to brine a turkey properly, how to cook it and how to cut it. The brine part was interesting. They carry this one in the store and it sounds great. It includes coarse sea salt, dried apples, juniper berries, lemon peel, Spanish rosemary and other herbs, plus large black tellicherry, sweet Indian green and Madagascar pink peppercorns. It’s a nice shortcut, especially when you’ve got a long list of things to make for Thanksgiving. Some people in the class had never cooked a turkey before and the instructors were very patient with them, even having little side conversations in whispers to answer further questions from those with concerns.
Next up, mashed potatoes. The recipe they provided was for Classic Mashed Potatoes, which is great for Thanksgiving, right? But they ended up tossing a box of Williams-Sonoma mashed potato seasoning in the potatoes — and honestly, to me, they ruined them. Maybe they just put too much in for the amount of potatoes they made, but yikes. It was too strong for my taste as far as mashed potatoes go. There are some foods that are better left alone.
I was disappointed in the demonstration of homemade gravy because, well, it wasn’t homemade. I saw the “chicken stock” in a pitcher and said to my friend “that’s some dark stock!” right before someone asked a question that forced the chef to tell us he was using watered down demi-glace from the store. Ha. It was funny. Fortunately for those who want to try making it from scratch and haven’t ever done it, they provided a hard copy of a recipe that’s fairly easy to follow.
Similarly, the stuffing/dressing was not homemade. They used a box. Boo. Now, as far as stuffing in a box goes, the La Brea Bakery Focaccia Stuffing Mix was pretty good, it just isn’t as good as the real stuff.
We also got to watch and taste an easy way to doctor up carrots, which used pecan pumpkin butter and nuts. Mmmm.
The desserts included a Cranberry Upside-Down Cake and Classic Pumpkin Pie. They added several ingredients to the cranberry cake in order to expand the flavor a bit — nutmeg, cinnamon, lemon zest, more butter — and I would consider making it with leftover cranberries. The pumpkin pie was good, but not great. I was pleased they used real whipped cream though!
Overall, I enjoyed the experience. Participating in this class at Williams-Sonoma was low risk, high reward, and I plan to take another class in early December. Did I mention the classes are free? The people were pleasant, the atmosphere was comfortable and I took away some memorable tips. They also offer 10% off nearly any purchase that evening (certain brands, which are always excluded from sales, were not included in the discount — Le Creuset, Staub, knife sets, some others.).
Click here to view the descriptions of the classes currently being offered. They’re nearly all Thanksgiving-related this month, and starting immediately after Thanksgiving, there’s a cookie exchange class, which makes me think that December will be packed with more fun holiday themed classes!