Being a mom is great, but sometimes it means putting my husband second to all the craziness. So, I’m always looking for new date night ideas to keep the spark in our relationship. We recently had a blast at a BYOB painting class, so when I came across a Groupon for cooking class at Trattoria Bel Paese in Cranford, NJ, I marked my calendar and enrolled us in the Cooking Academy. I love to cook and my husband loves to eat, so I figured a date night at a local BYOB eat-what-you-make cooking class would be perfect.
The class I chose was called Secrets of Pasta Sauces, and I’ll give away one secret right now: When you cook wearing a silly chef hat, your sauce tastes better! There are several other classes offered too, including Classic Italian Cooking for Beginners, Homemade Fresh Pasta Workshop, Italian for Vegetarians, and Italian Seafood Feast. Classes are BYOB, interactive, 2.5 hours long (the last half hour you eat!), and lots of fun. One drawback, the classes are expensive ($160 per couple) so I would definitely take advantage of a Groupon offer if you can.
Our class started at 7 PM, and we arrived about a half hour early. Early arrival for anything these days is nothing short of a miracle, so I figured even if my cooking was a disaster at least I could get a gold star for promptness. Arriving early worked out well because we chose seats front and center. Plus, it gave us time before class to chat with the chef, have a glass of wine, and change mental gears from toddler time to couple time.
The class was led by Executive Chef George Joseph, who is friendly, charismatic, and a great teacher. He presented many cooking techniques and tips in a relaxed, no pressure environment. He began the class with a recipe for basic tomato sauce which we used as a base for multiple other sauces we cooked that night.
The small class was made up of 14 students and we took turns at the burners, about half of us going up front to cook at a time. Chef George led us through many sauces using fresh ingredients, including cavatelli with broccoli, classic Sicilian garlic and oil, alla vodka, meat bolognese, alfredo delicati with peas and prosciutto, alla norma, and puttanesca. When we weren’t cooking, we sipped our wine, chatted, and sampled our cooking masterpieces.
I frequently host many large, Italian family get-togethers and cooking for guests is something I enjoy. Although I tried making several of these sauces before, I appreciated having a professional as a guide. I also appreciated the no criticism atmosphere while trying a new recipe. After all, sometimes my company sounds more like Gordon Ramsey than family…
During the cooking class, we were served fresh Italian bread so that we could taste each sauce as we prepared it. Although it was very hard to choose, I think my favorite sauce of the night was the Sauce alla Norma made with ricotta salata and roasted eggplant.
John’s favorite pasta sauce of the night was the alla vodka; that was no surprise. He’s always on the hunt for a great vodka sauce and most times when it’s on a menu, he tries it. If you have ever tried to make your own, you know it’s one of those sauces that seems so simple, but isn’t. He was really happy with the recipe Chef George taught us, and I think it might even make a debut at our next family event.
At the end of the class, we were served a large plate of varying pastas that best accompanied each sauce. I may be a little biased but by the taste of it, John and I graduated Cooking Academy with honors.
We had a wonderful experience and would definitely consider returning for another class or even just for dinner. We enjoyed learning something new, spending time with each other, and eating a delicious meal sans mashing up food with our fingers for the kiddo. If you’re looking to try something new, Trattoria Bel Paese Cooking Academy is a great way to spend a night out.