Most of us can follow a recipe on our own. That's not why Jody Adams' cooking classes at her restaurant, Rialto, in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are sold-out events.
The crowds come for Adams' entertaining presentation, her unpretentious thoughts on food and cooking, her tips that don't show up in her cookbooks, and of course the wonderful lunches that follow each monthly class in Rialto, which Adams owns and which she has turned into what Gourmet Magazine calls "one of the world's best hotel restaurants."
For example, when we attended her January 20 class, called Comfort Cooking for Company, Adams let us in on the secret of dicing onions: "The sharper the knife, the less gas escapes and the less you cry."
Another Adams thought, as she pulled apart a head of cauliflower in order to separate the flowerets: "It feels good to touch food in this mechanized tech world."
And more: "If your garlic has a green shoot, it's bitter." And: "If you over-bake a potato, it will get gummy." And: "You can leave food out of the refrigerator for up to six hours, but you can't refrigerate it after that."
Each of Adams' cooking classes begins with coffee and sweet rolls, followed by the demonstration of her own recipe creations, after which guests sit down to a lunch using those recipes, paired with wines. The James Beard Award winner, chef/owner of both Rialto and TRADE, the latter a more casual place on the Boston waterfront and winner of the Boston Magazine "Best New Restaurant 2012," showed attendees on the 20th how to make a dinner of warm salt cod crostini, warm spinach and mushroom salad, braised chicken thighs with lemon, olives and artichokes, and roasted cauliflower with pistachios, oranges, mint and parmesan.
While most of the recipes were straightforward and probably easy to duplicate, her salt cod crostini, called in French "Brandade de Morue," seemed impossibly difficult for the home cook to whip into shape. Soaking a salt cod fillet for 12 hours changing the water three or four times, baking a potato, boiling the soaked cod, ricing the potato, removing the skin and bones from the cod and putting it into a food processor with cream and lemon juice and parsley and garlic, baking it and perhaps making a red pepper relish for it of peppers, vinegar, olives, capers, celery hearts, cayenne and parsley, all to spread instead of, say, a cheese dip, on top of a cracker, seemed to this writer/cook too much effort, despite Adams' admonishment that "compared to making brandade, boning a chicken is brain surgery."
All of the other recipes were as easy as putting a thermometer in one's mouth (medically speaking) relative to the brandade, and Adams' delivery is witty, comfortable, fun, and helpful. Her assistant was Steve Nill, who is also a culinary teacher at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
The roasted cauliflower was particularly tasty, given the fact that many people think of cauliflower as boring and uninspiring. The secret to the tastiness, according to this talented chef, is in the roasting. She agreed that boiled cauliflower has an "uninviting" flavor, while the vegetable's taste is richer when roasted. Sicilian inspired, cauliflower gets even more interesting when pistachio nuts, oranges, mint and parmesan are added to it.
The Rialto chef/owner has been praised for her creativity, support of local farmers, and her continuous charitablew work. She supports the Greater Boston Food Bank, Share Our Strength and Partners in Health. In keeping with her charity work, a portion of every cooking class, which costs $125, including lunch, goes toward supporting a food scholarship at a Cambridge school.
More of Adam's cooking philosophy: Sherry vinegar is more acidic than balsamic. Aria olive oil, Greek, is her preference. Market Basket is one of her favorite food stories. When you're braising food, it's important that you sear it first. Fennel is wonderful on practically everything. Seeds are great. The reason you should cook pasta in a large quantity of water is because starches stick together in too little water. If you decide to use less water when cooking pasta, keep the pasta moving.
JODY ADAMS' ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH PISTACHIOS, ORANGES, MINT AND PARMESAN
Makes 4 side-dish servings
2 pounds cauliflower
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachiosl
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 oranges, cut into supremes (all the interior skin removed)
1 ounce parmesan cheese shavings
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
2. Cut the cauliflower into small flowerets. Rinse and drain.
3. Put the vegetables into a bowl and toss with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer in a roasting pan and place in the middle of the oven. After 25 minutes have elapsed, toss the vegetables as they cook evenly. Continue roasting until all the vegetables are tender and browned, about another 25 minutes. Toss with pistachios and mint. Arrange in a serving bowl. Sprinkle with oranges and shaved parmesan cheese.
To sign up for a cooking class (the next ones will be February 10 - Cooking with the Ones You Love, March 10 - The Whole Veal Shank, and April 7 - Pasta, Pasta, Pasta!, call 617-661-5050 or go to www.rialto-restaurant.com. The Charles Hotel is at One Bennett Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge.