By Amy Watsky
Our newfound quarantine comforts, involving anything from 5 p.m. happy hour to morning virtual yoga, have become far more repetitive than we had previously thought back in March. It’s so hard to keep those connections with family, friends and coworkers strong when we’re physically apart, but we all value those relationships as crucial to our mental well-being.
With indoor dining forced to close again due to a recent uptick in COVID cases, it’s starting to look like those quarantine essentials will get old — fast. So, let’s switch it up! Try something new with the Gourmandise School’s online cooking courses specially catered toward teambuilding with coworkers or for interactive quality time with family and friends.
While the Gourmandise School won’t be able to open their doors in Santa Monica for in-person classes as soon as they’d like, they’ve added many classes to their online calendar to suit anyone from young beginners to veterans looking to try out a new technique. The calendar piques a variety of interests, with special courses for children ages 6 to 17 as well as a “Teen Pro Chef Camp” Monday through Friday series. Specialty courses such as pasta from scratch to a two-day croissant class are perfect for those looking to take on a tough challenge. Or, skip takeout for date night and try a “Thai Tuesdays” or a “Date Night: Tapas” class. The calendar has something for everyone — and if you want something more intimate and personalized with your friends and family living across the globe, you have the option to book a private session for any time during the week.
When I took a class in early July to make “Fourth of July Pies,” I found Clémence Gossett, my instructor and a co-founder of the Gourmandise School, to be not only an experienced baker, but a patient and attentive coach as well. From the various camera angles, side demonstrations and careful preparation in the week leading up to the class, it was clear that Gourmandise had nailed down their newly established online cooking courses. Clémence mentioned that while she had her initial doubts about online classes, she realized that for many, it was easier to work in the comfort of their own kitchen as they’re “likely to remake things if they make it virtually than if they learn it in the test kitchen.”
I had signed up for the pie-making class hoping to improve on my previous pie crust attempts. Tasked with making pies every Thanksgiving, I have lots of experience with making pie from scratch, but no consistency. Making pie crust from scratch can be entirely hit or miss. In the past, my pie crust has turned out tasting nice but with uneven browning, and other times it just doesn’t have enough flake no matter how many different recipes I’ve tried out. What was surprising about my session with Gourmandise was how I was able to pinpoint exactly what I had previously been doing wrong through many of the small pointers that Clémence offered.
From different techniques on how to incorporate butter into the flour to create layers, to how to roll out the pie dough without it becoming a crackly crumbly mess, the pie-making process suddenly became a lot easier than my previous stressful attempts. Butter has to stay cold to create a successful pie crust, so when I accidentally reverted back to my old ways of handling the dough too much with my naturally very warm hands, Clémence gently suggested that I “roll the butter into the flour with the rolling pin” to minimize melty butter and prevent compressed layers. This saved my butter from (literally) melting the layers I so desperately wanted in my pie, creating the thin sheets of cold butter necessary for a successful crust.
To finish off the pie and create that golden top crust I was never able to achieve, Clémence watched my pie bake with me, advising me when it was “time to turn the oven down!” as I held my computer in front of the oven to give Clémence a better view. I had always taught myself how to cook through YouTube videos but having someone watch what I was doing in real time and tell me exactly what I had to tweak took my pie skills to a new level — and saved me from a stressful future of disappointing pie!
The flexibility of the recipe was what made this Zoom cooking course stand out. Clémence encouraged us to add some zing to our pies by adding “lemon, ginger…anything. You don’t even have to use blueberries!”, informing us that the same recipe could be easily used for other fruit fillings. Everything from the sugar content of the filling to the type of flour used in the crust was entirely up to the student. Although Gourmandise made a few recommendations, including flour from Pasadena urban flour mill Grist and Toll and California-based Straus Butter, a high butterfat content butter (great for pies!) from the first 100% certified organic creamery in the country.
The resulting blueberry pie was one of the most flaky, layer-y pies I have ever made. All of the previous issues I had with pie-making were naturally addressed in the three-hour class, and by the end I was left feeling stress-free, with a beautiful pie that was devoured by the end of the day.
For anyone just getting into cooking, or those who already love to cook but need help troubleshooting their technique, pick any class on Gourmandise’s calendar or set up a private session now at thegourmandiseschool.com.