A Date Night We Can All Agree On

#kidsinthekitchen #JuniorChefs After School! Prepping for #juniormasterchef !

A photo posted by A la Carte Cooking School (@alacartecs) on

Before you ask “I cook every day; why would I want to cook on date night?” let me say three things about cooking classes at A La Carte Culinary Services in Lynbrook.

  1. They do the planning and shopping.
  2. They prep everything and set the tables.
  3. They do the washing up.

So, that was why I found myself on a recent Friday, wrapped in an apron, stirring polenta with one hand, glass of wine (BYOB, more on that later) in the other and wondering if I could (please, pretty please) do this every Friday.

I came late to this party. Ohio transplant, food and nutrition graduate and food stylist, Polly Talbott, opened A La Carte 17 years ago, fulfilling a dream she had nurtured for years.

“There was no model for what I wanted to do,” says Talbott. “That’s the reason I traveled all over the world taking classes. I wanted to see what it was like and what I needed and what I would miss if I didn’t have.”

She transformed a 1,500-square-foot storefront into a professional kitchen (which now boasts four Wolf cook tops, six ovens and five workstations that can accommodate 30 aspiring cooks) and began offering classes — run by professional chefs — that teach everything from the most basic knife skills to elaborate pastry creations and everything in between.

But her experience also taught her that a professional kitchen can seem sterile. “I noticed that all that stainless steel can be intimidating to people,” she says. “So that’s why it is a boutique-style kitchen, more warm and cozy, with green countertops and some wallpaper and harvest colors on the walls.”

There are classes for kids (Junior Chefs), grilling boot camps, make-your-own-mozzarella sessions, Learn to Cook courses (including an upcoming Well-Seasoned Chef series for folks 55 and over who may have found themselves widowed or divorced and without some basic cooking skills), plus private corporate team-building sessions and packages for private parties.

So, that was why I found myself on a recent Friday, wrapped in an apron, stirring polenta with one hand, glass of wine (BYOB, more on that later) in the other and wondering if I could (please, pretty please) do this every Friday.

At “Date Night in Tuscany” I had a ball learning to soak porcinis and make classic Italian polenta (and how to add instant, should your classic Italian polenta refuse to follow your instructions and thicken up) topped with sausage marinara and knife tips from real chefs who have your back at every moment. Our party of close to 30 was divided into three groups and each prepared a course that we then laid out on one of the cooking stations buffet-style. Then we sat down at the (already-laid, alleluia) tables with real tablecloths and a glass of wine. (Those of us clever had brought a bottle to pour while the polenta finally came together. A glass of wine is included with your meal, but the rest is up to you. Several very abashed gentlemen were sent out on urgent missions to procure wine from the nearest shop. So guys, be prepared!)

The meal was delicious, the company (on this occasion mostly couples who had never met before) was congenial and the conversation got really interesting really fast. And best of all, the staff grabbed the all dirty plates, glasses, pots and pans and made them disappear; I walked out the door without looking back.

Classes at A La Carte range from around $65 for a single session to $225-275 per couple for Date Nights. There are karaoke nights, psychic nights and salsa dance nights too. Upcoming events include Learn to Cook (April 5, 12, 19); Well-Seasoned Chef (April 7, 21); Date Night with Salsa (April 8); Wine and Tapas Pairing with Miguel Martin of Palmer Vineyards (May 13); and Junior Chef Knife Skills (May 15) and Junior Chef Spring Break Camp later in April.

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