George Brown: Culinary Arts I

Several months ago I decided to buy myself something nice for my birthday.  I was debating on getting a playstation, a new camera or one of those robotic vacuums.  After hearing an extensive list of  suggestions from a friend of mine while out at a bar one night, she had suggested that I take a cooking class at George Brown.  Hmmmm! Intriguing! Clean apartment or weekly cooking classes…clearly the cooking classes won that standoff.  I enrolled in the Culiary Art I program at George Brown and was taking classes on a weekly basis for almost three months.  Now that it’s all over, I thought I would share the experience.

Week 1 – Let’s get Sauced

The first class was more of an orientation class where everyone collects their chef’s uniform (complete with double breasted coat, checkered parachute-like pants…like MC hammer…but not as cool, hat, apron and a neckerchief that I still don’t know how to tie).  We quickly reviewed the tools we would need for the coming classes (which is much less extensive than the course materials would have you believe), knife safety and sharpening and basic kitchen safety.  The kitchen lab is equipped much like a restaurant kitchen with numerous gas stoves, ovens, fryers, prep areas and a large dishwashing station (ahhh, that brings me back to my dishwashing days).  After the review, chef began going through stocks and how these stocks can be turned into “mother” sauces – sauces that can easily be turned into a whole array of things by adding one or two other simple ingredients.  They gave us a cool chart that shows the sauce classification by color (red, brown and white) and how these can be turned into fancier sauces like veloutes, Espagnole, fond lie, demi glace and many more.  I would post a picture of the chart but I’m not sure if there is some sort of copyright.  Chef demonstrated the fish fumet, beef stock, sauce Espagnole, Bechamel sauce and a chicken veloute.  I thought the concept was pretty cool but I don’t think I’ll be putting the effort into making a stock any time soon since I lack freezer space and am never actually in my home for more than a several consecutive hours… I guess I could let it sit for a few days on low heat while I’m in and out on a weekend….mmmmmm…then my place would smell like sauce…sweet sweet sauce.

Week 2 – Who says you don’t make friends with salad?

Chef demo-ed how to make a couple kinds of salad, one of which we would be making.  He made a cucumber salad with cucumbers, carrots, red onions, cider vinegar, sugar, sour cream, lemon juice, spices and a pinch of cayenne pepper for some kick.  It was delicious, refreshing with a nice tickle at the back of the throat from the cayenne.  The Asian Beef Salad was the highlight of the day in my opinion.  Pan friend strip loin steaks, in oyster sauce, sesame seed oil, birds eye chillies, shallots, scallions, a mix of spices served IN a pineapple WITH diced pieces of pineapple.  Delectable!  The focus of the day was on getting comfortable with a chef’s knife so we made an Italian pasta salad.  We julienned a red, yellow and green pepper, red onion, tomatoes genoa salami, and proscuitto.  Then we chopped some herbs like oregano, basil, parsley and pureed garlic.  All of this was thrown together with penne pasta, olive oil, lemon juice, shredded asiago and provolone cheese, salt, pepper and red wine vinegar.  It was a lovely mix of textures and tasted really good.  First class success…no blood and a pretty good salad that would last me several days.

Week 3 – This soup is so good you can’t eat it standing up…well…mine you can.

Chef started off with a chicken stock that he turned into chicken noodle soup.  The soup was good, nothing particularly special but very well executed.  We made Minestrone soup.  Today’s knife focus was on the dice.  We had to carefully dice onions, leeks, carrots, celery, cabbage, potatoes, bacon and tomatoes into even size quarter inch cubes.  Next we added chopped parsley, rosemary, oregano, basil, spinach, garlic, some tomato paste, chicken stock, kidney beans, a bay leaf, parmesan and pasta.  I think I might have added a little too much pepper at the end.  It was still edible though…well I got kind of sick of eating minestrone soup for seven days straight since we made three liters of it each.  The one the chef made was pretty amazing though, I had to take a seat after the first bite.

Week 4 – Lasagna…Garfield likes lasagna.

Chef demo-ed a simple salad with a vinaigrette dressing.  He also made garlic bread to go with the lasagna.  Such a great combination.  We made a Bolognese sauce (ground beef, tomato paste, garlic, onions, green peppers, plum tomatoes, mushrooms and spices) for the lasagna.  Layering the lasagna just makes you hungry as you layer the noodles, sauce and loads and loads of ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheese.  Mmmmmmm so much cheeeeese.  Needless to say it was pretty awesome.

Week 5 – Fancy potatoes and the Sole of a good women?

Chef focused on potatoes while we made fish.  He started with a Duchesse potato (potato batter), marquis potatoes and croquette potatoes.  The use of a piping bag with the Duchesse potato inside to make little potato cups (marquis) filled with tomatoes was especially appetizing.  The class made glazed carrots which are simply  slightly boiled carrots fried with butter, sugar and ginger.  Really, how could you go wrong?  Well some people lit the pans with butter on fire but other than that.  We also made a Sole Bonne Femme.  Sole filets are poached in a fish stock and white wine mixture with shallots, mushrooms, and a Beurre Maine (50/50 flour butter mixture) to thicken up the sauce.  I now know how to poach fish, one more thing off the bucket list.

Week 6 – Egg week!

Chef prepared several kinds of omelettes: one with the stuff mixed in with the eggs, one where the egg acts like a pita and wraps around the stuff and another where the stuff looks like it bursting out of an egg log.  Who knew there were so many ways to make omelettes.  He also made a benny.  Now I knew Hollandaise sauce was hard to make but until you watch it made, you don’t realize the effort that goes into making these!  It all about getting the feel for the consistency… and getting just the right mix of ingredients.  I have always loved the benny but have a new found appreciation for a chef that can execute the dish even moderately well.  We made quiche lorraine.  We made the pie pastry from scratch using lard, butter and flour.  I’ve never worked with lard before but have to say it makes a tasty pie crust.  The quiche contained emmenthal cheese, eggs, milk, butter, bacon, onions, mushrooms, nutmeg and cayenne pepper.  I think I got a little overzealous with the cayenne pepper but it still turned out pretty good.  Spicy eggs doesn’t really sound good on paper but trust me, it was pretty good.  Call it the kick start in the morning. And really anything with bacon and butter has to be good right?

Week 7 – “I’m a steak and potatoes kind of guy”

This week chef demo-ed chateau potatoes which definitely weren’t as impressive as the other potatoes from a few weeks earlier but they were still good.  The class made braised steak in a red wine sauce and a vegetable macedoine.  The top round steaks (a typically tough cut) was seasoned and allowed to simmer in a red wine, tomato paste and brown sauce stock with parsley, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns.  We also added celery, carrots, garlic, onions, oil and flour.  I let this simmer for a while before taking it out and have to say, braising, although time consuming had made that cheap cut of meat pretty tender.  The vegetable macedoine included turnip, squash and carrots.  I don’t really have these vegetables often and I’m now convinced, any vegetable drenched in butter is good.

Week 8 – CHICKEN!

Chef made a chopped liver kind of salad with onions, sage and a bunch of herbs.  I’m not a big fan of liver but overall, I liked it.  We roasted chicken with some garlic, carrots, onions, celery, butter and brown chicken stock.  First we pan-fried the whole chicken to seal the outside before roasting it.  It turned out quite juicy.  On the side, we made a zucchini provencal.  We made it over the stove but after refrigerating it, I thought it was really refreshing served cold.  It contained zucchini. tomatoes, onions, garlic, oil and a mix of spices.

Week 9 – Hearty Eastern European week

Chef prepared a Hungarian pork goulash that was amazing!  Big chunks of pork, onions, garlic, toasted crushed caraway seeds, red pepper, Hungarian paprika, tomato paste, red wine, brown stock, Espanole sauce, tomatoes, parsley, butter, oil and a bay leaf.  Sooo hearty and delicious!  He served it over a Spatzle, a flour-egg-nutmeg-milk mixture that is boiled and then pan-friend in a RIDICULOUS amount of butter.  He warned us beforehand that he was going to use a lot of butter but dear God man!  It tasted good though.  We made a Beef Stroganoff.  Before when I’ve had this it was always in soup form.  This time, the beef was tenderloin strips and the Stroganoff was more of a sauce.  I’m starting to get good at this pan-frying thing so the beef turned out perfectly tender and juicy.  The onion, mushroom, pepper, dijon mustard, sour cream, sour gherkins, butter and Espanole sauce mixture of the straganoff turned out pretty well too. The gherkins were a particularly nice touch since it added a nice tartness to the sauce.  I had some extra zucchini from the week before so I ate this with it.

Week 10 – Fancy CHICKEN!

Chef prepared a rice pilaf to serve with his Coq au Vin.  The rice pilaf boiled in chicken stock and various herbs is what he described as a “mother” rice, a rice that can be turned into a number of different specialty rices (like a Spanish rice he made the following week  by adding tomatoes and various other spices).  The Coq au Vin that we made had chicken, butter, bacon, mushrooms, pearl onions, garlic, brown sauce, red wine and other herbs.  By the time this came out of the oven it didn’t look very appetizing.  I gotta learn how to plate things better.  Anyways, here is what it looked like when it came out of the oven.

Wait, maybe this looks better.

Hmmmm, not so much.  It still tasted pretty good but was, surprisingly, one of the dishes I liked the least.  Maybe I just suck at cooking it.

Week 11 – Pork Chop night!

Really can you go wrong with pork stuffed with…more pork?  This week we made pork chops stuff with a prune-bacon stuffing.  Bacon, onions, celery, prunes and bread were mixed with a bit of butter and oil, fried and stuff into pork chops.  The pork chops were pan-fried over a chicken stock and then finished in the oven.  While in the oven we prepared an apple topping. We diced some apples, added some cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and lemon and lightly cooked them in butter.  In terms of the food I left with from the class, this was my favorite.  Probably because it was pretty easy to make.

Wait, what about the stuffing?  Here it is.

Week 12 – Full meal demo

Chef prepared a full meal for the class.  First, he made biscuits using a very simple flour and egg mixture.  Then he made scalloped potatoes.  Then he made an asparagus polonaise that had a nice hard-boiled egg topping.  He also made a honey glazed ham (a HUGE chuck of pig).  For dessert he made a bread pudding with a caramel sauce.  What a way to top off the course.  Whether I could actually make anything in the final class is another story but it was good eating none the less.

Overall I really enjoyed the cooking class and would recommend it to others.  I met some cool people and we occasionally go out for drinks and discuss everything from how much we still kind of suck at cooking and the world cup.  The guy who was next to me improved A LOT over the course.  It took a couple months but now he can efficiently cut an onion, the most stressful part of his week…and he’s a lawyer.  Just goes to show practice makes perfect.  I think I’m going to continue taking the odd class here and there specializing in various ethnic cuisines.  Who knows, maybe after taking classes for 10+ years I might be able to make a career change.  Retire from the business machine and work in a kitchen…only time will tell.

~ by jlowjlow on July 14, 2010.

12 Responses to “George Brown: Culinary Arts I”

  1. Great review! I think I may have been in this exact class. Was the Chef Frank Toneguzzo? I’m came across this post while googling reviews of some of the other courses offered at George Brown – I’m sure this will be helpful and inspiring to anyone considering taking Culinary Arts 1!

  2. Hi there,

    I was just looking into taking this course at GB for fun, also as a bit of a gift to myself 🙂
    I’m really glad I came across this post with all the details! I do have one question though. Were there themes to each week other than the ingredients? I noticed at first it was to practice certain knife skills but then the rest of the weeks seem to be a bit random and disjointed. Did you cook much before the classes? I’m sort of worried I’d find it not challenging enough but this class is a pre-req for all the fun ethnic cuisines. Hope you can help, thanks!


    • Hi Cindy,

      You’re right. The first few classes focus on knife skills and the different kinds of cuts (dice, julienne, etc). The later classes focus on individual cooking techniques like poaching fish, braising beef or pan frying. In terms of skill level, it’s pretty basic but there are little gems that teaching chefs provide. It can range from little short cuts to matching flavors. I must say I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve been wanting to take other course there but haven’t been able to find the time. Perhaps later this year. Thanks for your interest the blog and I hope you enjoy the cooking class if you take it.



    Did they give you a list of the kit you need? If so, is it posted anywhere?

    • They give you a list of things you need for the course on the first day. They usually send you across the street to the college store to pick up some of it but you can really pick it up from anywhere. You don’t need everything on the list either. There is a whole list of knives but you really only need a good chef’s knife and a paring knife. It’s a great course. Highly recommend it.

  4. Thanks so much for this amazing post! Answered pretty much all of my questions – I just realize that I can enroll in the classes this semester but will have missed the first one – do you think it would make a big difference? Thanks!
    -Ravi in TO

    • Sorry for the slow response. Haven’t checked this in a while. The first class they just go over a few basic things like what you need to bring to the rest of the classes, how to sharpen knives, etc. The main theme of the class is broths so it’s more of a demo class. It’s pretty interesting to see the giant pots of broth they have cooking away in the other kitchens. The broths form the basis of the majority of sauces you’ll make throughout the rest of the course but it’s something you can easily get brought up to speed on.

  5. Great post – It’s great to get more details (and photos) by week. I’m sure this took a lot of work to put together. But you’ve helped make up my mind! Going to register my hubby as a gift for Christmas. I think he’ll love it (and i’ll benefit from the left overs! 🙂 )

  6. i was just looking at enrolling in Culinary Arts 1 as it is a prerequisite for so many fun certificates. I am in the Professional Fromager program and loving it!

  7. thanks for your review….i have really wanted to take some cooking classes for a while at a professional level so it was lovely to read your review and see your pictures of what you made.

  8. Hi there! I’m taking the course in January. I don’t eat pork and I noticed several pork entrees. I was wondering if we are given alternative options those nights? If you can please let me know ASAP, that would be amazing!

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