The Gourmandise School’s new digs are a culinary playground for connoisseurs and kitchen dabblers

By Jessica Koslow

Chef John Pitblado’s secret to perfect fried chicken: dry it overnight before cooking
Photos by Ximena Kupferwasser

The Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica (310) 656-8800

Food is science. Nothing proves this proverb more than watching a cooking demo at The Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories at Santa Monica Place.

On June 20, The Gourmandise School opened the doors to its new space in the shopping center not far from where it has operated since 2011. It’s three times bigger now — with two kitchens, instead of one.

Two weeks later, on a hot summer night, four professional chefs are prepping food for their upcoming demos in their areas of expertise. The Gourmandise School is celebrating its grand reopening with an explosion of edible treats.

Chef Carol Cotner Thompson begins her session on how to make amazing farmers market summer salads by sharing her philosophy on cooking: “You have to do it, experience it, make it.”

She spends more than half of the demo focusing on mixing different kinds of dressing, explaining that all good dressings have just three basic ingredients: oil, vinegar and minced shallots. Cotner also talks about the importance of clarity when shopping for white wine vinegar, what effect each type of vinegar (red and white wine, for instance, champagne or balsamic) has on food, and declares that balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, is the best.

In the adjoining room, separated by soundproof glass sliding doors, Chef John Pitblado creates a Southern masterpiece of fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits. The tender chicken melts in your mouth like butter. One of his secrets? Let the chicken pieces sit uncovered overnight in the refrigerator to dry out the outer layer.

Chef Gino Campagna, from Parma, Italy, laughs constantly as he crafts homemade pasta with butter and parmesan cheese. He’s probably the funniest chef you’ll ever meet, cracking jokes as well as eggs on the front of his bald head. He’s a teacher for the kids’ courses, and as you watch him roll out noodles from scratch, you can see why. He playfully interacts with his students, often asking for help. He’ll put angel hair pasta over his head like a wig, and makes the art of cooking fun and accessible.

Chef Clémence Gossett, one of the founders of The Gourmandise School, whips up chocolate chip cookies — billed for her demo as the “Single. Best. Cookie. Ever.”

Gossett reveals pro tips, like don’t use warm butter or store-bought chocolate chips (because they contain wax), and bang the cookie sheet as you take
the finished cookies out of the oven to flatten them.

“We originally decided to open a cooking school because we were teaching around town and didn’t love any of the philosophy,” Gossett says. “We wanted a place that was very nurturing and very safe, but taught you the proper techniques without using a lot of gadgets or gimmicks. Feeling comfortable asking stupid questions is my favorite part of this.”

Gossett and her partner opened The Gourmandise School seven years ago on the third floor of the newly renovated Santa Monica Place.

“When the opportunity presented itself to open a school two blocks from the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, it felt like a no-brainer,” says Gossett. “Santa Monica Place was incredibly understanding of having an activated space where you can see people cooking all the time in the mall.”

In 2015, Gossett needed a new partner, and she approached Sabrina Ironside, who jumped onboard.

“I’m looking forward to taking this school to the next level,” says Ironside. “My background is marketing, so I’m excited to work on generating awareness for what we’re doing here and evolving our brand.”

With their newly expanded space for classes and a larger retail area, things are really cooking for The Gourmandise School.

Their calendar is overflowing with a variety of classes, from Croissant Camp to lessons in how to make Lao cuisine, Salvadoran street food and Scandinavian pastries. There are also classes for kids and couples.

“This is a community center for people who like to cook — people who are cooks or people who want to learn,” says Gossett. “This is a space where you can come and learn simple, classic ways of making things using ingredients from the farmers market. I love coming to work. I get to come here and make cookies and bread with my friends.”

“We’re big on chocolate and grain here,” Gossett adds. “All you need in life is bread and chocolate.”