I am now an Iron Chef of Asian cuisine, a chef extraordinaire! Ok, maybe I am just a Master Chef. Well, the reality is that I am still very mediocre, but at least I now have some additional knowledge which has enhanced my culinary skills.
Myers + Chang, which was my Favorite Asian Restaurant of 2009 as well as my Favorite Brunch, Non-Traditional Fare, held their inaugural cooking class this past Saturday morning. Twelve of us sat at the counter before the stoves and watched Chef Matthew Barros lead the class, demonstrating how to create scallions pancakes, papapya slaw and Mama Chang's pork & chive dumplings.
When the class was originally announced via their email newsletter, I was quick to respond with my interest. I wanted to know more about how they created their dumplings, and the scallion pancakes and slaw were an added bonus. I was not disappointed.
Prior to the class starting, we got to enjoy some treats from Flour Bakery, which certainly was a tasty way to begin. The blueberry muffin top was excellent, with plenty of blueberries, and it was not overly sweet. Christopher Myers then spoke briefly, introducing the class and providing the three objectives for the class: 1) To feed us; 2) For us to have fun; and 3) For us to learn how to prepare the three recipes at home. In the end, the class was a success on all three fronts.
Chef Matthew Barros then took over, first describing his culinary background. Though he claimed to be nervous, and probably was a bit, it was not evident in his manner. He did very well, explaining everything with a bit of humor and humility. We were free to ask any question, and Matt answered them all as well as possible. His down to earth manner, and lack of pretension, made him a very good instructor.
Matt first demonstrated to us how to make scallion pancakes, and you can see him above spreading the scallion mix atop the dough. Scallion pancakes are a traditional Chinese street food, and usually are made with non-leavened bread. But Myers + Chang uses a foccaccia bread, a yeast dough that gives the pancake a light, fluffy texture. At home, you could use a pizza dough, though Flour Bakery does sell their foccacia dough. The scallions are sliced thin, using just the greens, and then minced. We learned plenty of tips to ensure the pancakes came out correctly, and then we got to taste the finished product.
Now, I am very picky about my scallion pancakes, primarily because I prefer smaller pieces of scallions and many places use large pieces in their pancakes. This scallion pancake was excellent, with its finely minced scallions. Plus, the pancake itself was light, crisp and flaky. I will definitely order these again on my next trip to Myers+Chang.
Next up, we learned how to prepare papaya slaw. This dish uses an unripe papaya, which is not always easy to find. An unripe papaya is like tofu, basically flavorless and it takes on the flavor of whatever else is mixed with it. Plus, it has a firm texture and a longer shelf life than a ripe papaya. The finished slaw is hot and spicy, with citrus notes and crunchiness from the roasted peanuts. Another delightful treat.
We then moved onto the centerpiece of the cooking class, Mama Chang's pork & chive dumplings. Matt prepared the pork mixture, which uses 70% lean pork, Napa cabbage, garlic chives, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce. It was then our chance to get interactive, to make our own dumplings. We each received three dumpling skins, and scoops of the pork mixture, and we were supposed to press the dumplings together. Easier said than done.
Joanne Chang showed us her technique for crimping, though she later noted that some of her staff do it differently. There is really no single way to properly crimp dumplings. And as Andrea Nguyen notes in her new book, Asian Dumplings, "Asian dumplings don't have to look pretty to taste fabulous." (p.3) That is very appropriate for my own efforts in that regard.
Above, are the results of my own crimping, and as you can see, I need much more practice. Too many gaps, and they don't look as good as the ones you usually see at restaurants. But it was fun to try, one of the highlights of the cooking class. I just need more practice, like most any skill. I am sure they would have tasted fine anyways.
My wife did a far better job of making dumplings, and they definitely look as good as you see in any restaurant. And she does not have any prior experience at making dumplings.
The cooking class lasted for about ninety minutes, and time flew by. It was then was time for Dim Sum brunch. We got our choice of the dim sum menu, and there are plenty of great choices there, including some new items such as their fried egg and bacon banh mi sandwich. That was quite a large and tasty sandwich. The twelve of us gorged ourselves on a wide variety of items, and no one left that table hungry. Everyone was very happy with all they ate.
After our brunch, and as an unexpected treat, Chef Barros took us over to Ming's Supermarket, which is across the street, for a brief tour, especially to show us the items he used in making the three recipes we learned. I had never been to Ming's before, and was impressed at its size and diversity of available items. It was quite busy, though understandable considering it was the day before Chinese New Year. I picked up a few things, including black Chiangking vinegar and sesame oil.
As for the original objectives for this class: 1) We definitely ate plenty of delicious food; 2) We had lots of fun; and 3) I think I learned enough to make the recipes at home, and will try to do so in the near future. So overall, the class was quite a success.
Chef Barros hopes to run about two cooking classes a month, changing the theme monthly. For his next class, he might run a sustainable seafood class. These classes will be limited to 12 people and you should sign up for the Myers+Chang newsletter to get notified about upcoming classes. They do sell out quickly so if you want to go, you better reply as soon as you learn about the class.
The class costs $50 per person, which includes the cooking demonstration plus a full dim sum brunch. I think this is a very fair price for all that you get and I certainly would recommend the classes to everyone. I know I will be signing up for more classes in the future.
Great work Chef Barros!