For Christmas last year, Ryan and Jon gave John a certificate for a half-day class at the California Culinary Academy (CCA) in San Francisco. John and I decided to do this together and yesterday we participated in a class called California Cuisine.

We arrived at 9 am and were treated to a continental breakfast while we registered and mingled with the other cooking enthusiasts. We received nifty logo aprons and caps to wear during our class. After we finished the class, we would all meet again in the dining room and eat the wonderful things we had made. But wait a minute, the other classes are bread, sauce, soup and pies. Who’s going to make the main course for at least 80 people plus instructors and student helpers? You guessed it – California Cuisine.

We are broken into two groups and eleven of us follow Chef Mike into the kitchen. We each have a cutting board and knife and a set of instuctions. We get a short talk on cleanliness and safety. Also a knife demonstration. Then we are let loose. We must find the ingredients and make the food for forty people and have it ready by 1PM. It’s now about 10. We are supposed to take turns doing all the dishes. Tim, a young guy from San Jose State, and John and I are a team. Here’s what we are making.

Ahi Tuna Napoleon

Slow Roasted Beet Salad served with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Goat Cheese Moussiline

Cold-Smoked Atlantic King Salmon served on a bed of Yukon Gold Potatoes and Topped with an Orange Slaw

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with a Date Reduction, Pesto Mashed Potatoes, and Tourned Squash

Braised Mussels and Shittake in Tomato Mint Broth

And the idea is that each team will have a turn making all the dishes!

Well, Tim, John and I started on the roasted beets. We dashed into the supply room and found the stuff we needed and implements to prepare it. I made the vinaigrette, John cut up beets but then, Tim was assigned to start working on the slaw that went with the salmon. I get handed a bunch of shitake mushrooms to slice, this is for a salmon sauce. Soon we are losing track of what we are doing. John misreads the instuctions and spends quite a bit of time cutting potatoes into 1/2 inch dice when it was supposed to be 1-2 inch dice. Then I am given the prep for part of the ahi. In the flurry, Tim squeezes an orange but doesn’t take the segments out first. John and I peel two more oranges and segment them. We are not sure what dish we are doing them for. Then hurry, hurry, it is time to change stations and start working on the racks of lamb.

Okay, wipe the boards, turn them over, and french the bones of the racks of lamb. I am falling behind! John works on my lamb. Next peel potatoes! John will do the medjool date reduction, Tim handles the pesto for the mashed potatoes, I chop up some mirepoix. Then I am off to the grill to sear the lamb. Then into the oven for 10 minutes. In the meantime, quick! chop up some chives for something! Get the lamb out!

At this point, Chef Mike is saying we can’t be late with the food. Come, watch a demonstration for cold smoking the salmon. Who made the sauce for this? Beats me. But I know I chopped up some stuff for it. I make the orange slaw for the salmon dish. John comandeers the mussels and basically makes that all by himself. (He is very proud of this.)

Now, assembly and presentation. I cut up all the racks of lamb which have also been spread with a mustard, breadcrumb, rosemary mixture. It needed some oil in it or something because it is very pale. Go get the giant pot of mashed potatoes. Artfully, arrange the potatoes and separated chops on three platters. Turn the squash for this with John and another guy. Put the sauce on. Slice the salmon. We need garnish on the salmon! No one used the friggin’ chives I cut up, so I garnish the salmon with that. People are making the ahi Napoleon; we never worked on that at all. John’s beautiful mussels adorned and we are done. It’s shortly after one.

Then we ate it all. I tried the Ahi Napoleons, they were great. The lamb I cooked was medium rare and good. The mashed potatoes were good too. Smoked salmon, very tasty. Beets were stacked with goat cheese on a spring salad, yum. Didn’t try the mussels since I’m not a fan but John says they were excellent. Also had a piece of bread (needed salt) and a small piece of tart (excellent crust.)

We had a great time but did we learn something new? Well, we learned that when eleven people who don’t know where anything is and are expecting more direction are thrown together to make food for 40, it gets a little chaotic. The other California Cuisine class had one or two people assigned to each dish and they made it from start to finish. That might have worked a little better.

John and I drove home and slept for 2 1/2 hours.

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