Risotto Four Ways
If your idea of heaven is a kitchen where the knives are always sharp, the ingredients are always beautiful, and a competent assistant is always tidying up, you’ll want to sign up for one of the hands-on cooking classes at Ann Arbor Cooks.
Smiling and looking relaxed, a winsome Natalie Marble in chef’s whites makes the consummate organization appear effortless. We're each given a packet of recipes so we can follow along as she starts her class with a demonstration of how to prepare the night’s four risotto dishes. After watching her narrated example, each team gets a tray of mostly prepped ingredients, along with aprons, knives, cutting boards and (adults) are offered a glass of wine. Then we settle in to chop, stir, and sauté. Wow, that’s how I want to make dinner every night! Natalie Marble started Ann Arbor Cooks, her business offering hands-on cooking classes, in early 2009 and already she has a following of repeat customers and is plotting out ways of growing the business.
Starting the class on risotto she remarks on how adaptable and seasonal the dish is. She says it’s usually served overcooked and mushy, but that it should be “loose and give some resistance to the teeth.” And she’s going to show us how to do it up right. She’s picked out four fall recipes: Risotto with Mushrooms and Vin Santo, Red Wine Risotto, Fall Vegetable Risotto, and Black Truffle Risotto. After making the colorful Fall Vegetable Risotto with squash, turnip and sage, she passes around plates with generous helpings. She says the preparation of risotto “is always classically ended the same way; remove it from heat and fold in unsalted butter and parmesan cheese.” It’s amazingly delicious.
Key to the eye-rolling deliciousness is that Marble is no stranger to those great flavor delivery mechanisms: butter, cheese and oil. All of the ingredients that she uses are top-notch, including black truffles, real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a $35 bottle of Vin Santo for one of the risotto recipes. She says she shops at the farmer's market when she can. And she’s made her own chicken stock for the class. She says “If I had to make a choice, I would rather splurge on ingredients than equipment. You can definitely make good food with an old knife and a crappy frying pan.”
It’s easy to see why people walk away with a can-do attitude after a class here. It’s not a demo that’s just the smell-o-vision version of the Food Network; her hands-on classes instill confidence. With classical French training from L’Academie de Cuisine in Washington DC, Marble is an intuitive cook who encourages her students to rely on their own senses and judgment as well. One student says “I’ve never cooked with a turnip before. Does it have seeds inside? Is it in the onion family?” Marble hands over a piece to be inspected and tasted. To the lone engineer in the class she exhorts “Fight the urge. Stop measuring!” Her instructions focus on touch, smell, and taste to judge how the dish is coming together. Attending closely to every stage in the development of the dish, she emphasizes the importance of “building the seasoning in layers, not just adding salt at the end.”
And it works. Not a single risotto is mushy, they’re each different and all delicious. At the end of the evening we sit together at a festively decorated farmhouse table and pass platters of food and glasses of wine. Cooking is a sensual endeavor and thousands of books testify to the fact that good food comes from the heart. Marble is teaching people to make good food.
Ann Arbor Cooks
5060 Jackson Road, Ann Arbor, MI (inside the Main Dish Kitchen space)
Contact: Natalie Marble
Marble leases the space at Main Dish Kitchen for her cooking classes, boot camps, team building events, “Chef’s Table” dinners, customized private events, and catering. She also offers cooking classes for kids in age cohorts from 6-8, 9-12, and 13-17. You can register for anything on the Ann Arbor Cooks Holiday Class Schedule online.
Upcoming holiday classes include a 2-day kid's session in gingerbread house construction and decoration. One day to roll out, cut out, and bake the house, another to decorate it. Junior and Teen Chefs ages 9-12 and 13-17 can learn Candymaking with: Chocolate Peppermint Bark; Chocolate Truffles; Sea Salt Caramels; Homemade Toasted Coconut Marshmallows. Most classes for youngsters are $45.
For the grownups, she has a session on Christmas Gifts From the Kitchen, making: Ginger, Pear & Rosemary Biscotti with Goat Cheese; Mexican-Style Hot Chocolate Mix; Gruyere-Thyme Icebox Crackers; Pistachio Brittle; Sweet and Salty Toasted Pecans; Sea Salt Caramels. Students in her Chocolate Truffle Workshop will be making making: Orange-Cardamom Truffles; Earl Grey Truffles; Chocolate Mocha Truffles; Grand Marnier Truffles; Ginger-Extra Dark Chocolate Truffles. For the Holiday Cookie Collection you can learn to make: Orange-Tangerine Coolers; Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons; Benne Wafers; Vanilla Crescents; Rosemary Shortbread; Double Ginger Cookies. Most classes for grown-ups are $65 - wine included.