What: A one-class-at-a-time cooking school where you can sign up for everything from knife skills to wine pairings
Where: 1825 Pearl St., Boulder
When: The class schedule is posted online; the next class is Brunch and Bubbly from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturday, January 16th
When is the last time that you did something for the first time? Fresh off of the New Year’s in the resolution mindset, there is a new to-do to add to your list. Food Lab, the new recreational cooking school on Pearl Street in Boulder, is just the way to ease into fulfilling those 2016 intentions.
Founded and designed by Casey Easton, a former personal chef and caterer, Food Lab is a relaxed and inviting environment for you to learn some new cooking skills. “I want people when they leave, they’ll have learned something,” she said. Regardless of anyone’s culinary skill level, there is no anxiety in the air, and the classes are themed from night to night.
Since opening in December, Food Lab classes have been filling up and private events, like birthday parties and corporate team-building events, are booked through the next few months. “We’ve been really full,” said Easton. An assistant chef, Kelly Newlon even said, “We feel like big kids now.”
But despite some events selling out, there are plenty of classes with tickets still available; Brunch & Bubbly, Plant Based Food, and Roll Sushi Roll are just some of the class offerings before the end of the month. Most typical classes (i.e. Brunch and Bubbly) are $75 where something more intricate may run your checkbook a little higher. The Whole Lamb Butchery Series is $150.Boulder has welcomed its newest culinary phenomenon with open arms, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of space for you.
How it Works
When you walk into Food Lab a beautifully bright and gleaming kitchen greets you straight ahead. To the left is the bar: red, white, and bubbly ($7 per glass) are on tap with bottle and can beer ($4) offerings as well. As Julia Child would say, cooking with wine is essential, and sometimes you can even add it to the food, something Easton understands, and something I greatly respect.
Past the bar, you trade winter gear for an apron and get settled at your station. The island in the kitchen has space for 16 people, the maximum for a public class, and across sits your instructor. Public classes use more of the space so that each student can have a little more room, but Easton says that for corporate events and private parties they’ll be able to fit more people. “In groups like that, people are just more comfortable with each other,” she said.
Despite the size and openness of the space, Food Lab feels very comfortable, something that Easton says is intentional. The kitchen is not industrial grade specifically so that you can take the skills you’ve learned in class and replicate them at home. The classes all differ but are united with the same goal: to educate. Whether it is the winter soup class I took, knife skills, or wine pairings, Easton wants you to leave the class with more knowledge than when you started.
Once everyone has arrived, it’s time to get started. Chef Alberto Sabbadini started by demonstrating different chopping methods for each soup, smaller chunks for minestrone and larger for the butternut and tortilla. Now that we know how to chop, we are split into teams and start chopping. Easton said that these are all her recipes, and most of them she has been using for years. “They are my recipes, and I’ll adjust if I notice something [off],” she said.
The class set up means that it is accessible to any one person, and stays true to Easton’s goal. If there is a community desire, Easton said she may set up an 8 – 10-week course, but the classes would “never be professional” grade. This is a place of learning and inquisition, not regimented class work.
The Finished Product
The soups stewed, we added broth and wine, and blended the poblano butternut until it was smooth. Bowls of minestrone, tortilla soup, and poblano butternut soup were passed down the line with their garnish, ready for their photo ops before we all tested our work.
I loved all three though the poblano was just a bit too spicy for my midwestern taste buds. Chef Sabadini said, “You can add sour cream or yogurt as a garnish to cut the spice. You can modify what you learn to make it how you like.”
Our recipe for tortilla soup said specifically “NOT BLUE” tortillas. So, one big lesson I learned? “You have to think about color when cooking,” said Easton, or your soup will turn an unappetizing shade of blue.
This culinary hub is not just fun for its students. One of the rotating instructors, Chef Newlon, said that she signed up to assist with the Warm Winter Soup class “just to get a chance to cook with [Alberto].” This is a fun and new experience for the chefs too; it is a way for them to learn alongside the students and renew enthusiasm for what may otherwise be simplistic recipes.
The cooling garnishes and correct coloring of soup are just a few of the hard skills that I learned at Food Lab. More importantly, I felt comfortable in the kitchen. I feel like I now have a new vocabulary and can be a bit more adventurous than I was before. I wouldn’t yet dream of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the in-laws, but I am definitely on my way. Confidence in the kitchen, it seems, is the most important thing, and Food Lab can get you there.
All photos by Nora Philbin.