Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cooking (well, sort of) with Nikki from Top Chef!

This evening, my friend SY and I attended a cooking class run by chef Nikki Cascogne, the owner of 24 Prince in Soho. Though it was billed as an outdoor hands-on class, it was actually indoors (due to the rain, boo) and more of a demonstration than a cooking class. That said, it was a ton of fun, and we all got well fed in the process.

While normally the class takes place in 24 Prince's delightful garden, tonight we were clustered around a demonstration setup in their dining room. Each table setting was given a packet of recipes, a bio of Nikki, a gift certificate for $25 off a future visit to the restaurant (woohoo!), and a temporary tattoo of the 24 Prince logo. Yes, really.

Recipes for home

Slightly after 6PM, Nikki kicked off the program with the first course on the menu: Watermelon salad. She first made a simple vinaigrette, talking all the while about techniques and cooking strategies. She discussed knife choice and demonstrated the use of a mandoline, all useful things for very beginner cooks (I think there were a range of cooking talent-levels in the group). Finally, she plated the salad, and shortly after that each of us received our own salad straight out of the kitchen. These were quite good-- packed full of watermelon, red onion, mint, ricotta salata, and balsamic, they were a fitting and delicious taste of summer.

Nikki doing her thing

Savory and sweet and delish

Next came the entree course. We had spent quite a bit of time on the appetizer demo, so this was a bit truncated. Nikki discussed corn and the best ways to treat it; techniques behind making chutneys; and how to marinate and grilled shrimp. Each person soon had a plate of jumbo shrimp with peach chutney, sweet corn, and spinach in front of him or her. Except for me, that is; I had requested merely to have the kitchen leave off the shrimp from my plate, but instead I got a full-fledged veggie plate, with delicious grilled asparagus, roasted cauliflower (yum!), snap peas, roasted red peppers, corn, and a huge bed of cheese grits. I lucked out-- my veggie bounty left me with nearly twice as much food as everyone else. Score!

For the shrimpers among us

And allllll for me. Yum!

Finally, we were on to dessert. There wasn't a demonstration here, although Nikki talked about the joys of making ice creams and sorbets at home, which I admit sort of inspired me to go buy an ice cream machine and go all Willy Wonka in my tiny kitchen. For our palate-cleansing pleasure, we had pineapple sorbet, which was quite pineapply (you could even smell it before you tasted) and had the texture of shaved ice or a light granita. The accompanying macaroon was nothing special-- the ones at Billy's are much better.

Pineapple in ice form

Overall, I ended up leaving pretty full and definitely happy. For $35, not including tax or tip, you get quite a bit of food (especially if you're a vegetarian), two hours' worth of entertainment and cooking tips, and a bunch of Top Chef gossip straight from the source. And I'd definitely like to return to 24 Prince to check out the food for real. The cooking classes are ongoing on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, so call the restaurant to see if you can join in on the action. It's a fun little evening activity.

24 Prince
24 Prince Street, between Mott and Elizabeth

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