Tucked away in a nondescript corner of the 8th Floor at Macy's Herald Square, you'll find a cooking school called De Gustibus. To get there, take the original elevators in the middle of the store, or take the long way up on the old wooden escalators. Everything here at Macy's screams history, so you'll be surprised to head into a modern cooking school replete with top-of-the-line Miele appliances. They sparkle and shine in the mirror above the chef's station, which reflects what he or she is doing so everyone in the audience can see.
This isn't the type of hands-on cooking class some people think of - it's more of a one-night-only culinary symphony you are lucky enough to take in. "In taste, there is no dispute," is the motto on the De Gustibus Facebook page - and this motto will prove to be so true after my classes there.
The school is run by the ever-enjoyable Salvatore Rizzo, a man who not only feels like your long-lost cousin at the most splendid Thanksgiving you've ever attended, but also someone who has a knack for picking the most engaging and wonderful chefs to come teach. During the class, Mr. Rizzo is mostly moving, taking photos, asking questions, and making sure everyone is happy. He makes it look so easy.
Servers work like ninjas bringing out the courses at the correct time, while others make sure your wine glass is never empty. Your admission fee gets you some of the most original dishes from the world's greatest chefs, as well as wine pairings with every course. Is your mouth watering yet?
I have been to De Gustibus twice; once for a vegetarian class with a friend who works for Macy's, and a second carnivorous class a few months later. I would never have known about the school if it weren't for my friend, who suggested we go together. I loved how intimate the room felt that night, with forks clinking on the bottom of plates and all ears tuned to the chef. I took notes about the fare that night, noting, "the carrot bolognase was the best sauce I've ever tasted, meat or no meat." I can still taste it - I will remember that course for the rest of my life.
The second time I went to De Gustibus was last week, when it was by Chef Franck Deletrain of Brasserie 8 1/2. Being a fan of the Patina Restaurant Group and of De Gustibus, I knew it would be a great evening. My husband accompanied me, and was a little unsure about going to a cooking class. "Can't any of your girlfriends go with you?" he asked, and of course, I had to admit he was the fourth person on my list of invitees. When the first course, an amuse bouche scallop, was brought out, everything changed. My husband became an eager culinary student, if only for two hours.
The picture accompanying this article is of that first course, which Chef Deletrain calls "Petite St. Jacques en 'Ceviche' " - basically, a scallop which has been "cooked" by the acid in citrus fruits. It was topped with avocado and American caviar, which was passed around the class for the students to inspect. I opened the top and smelled the salty bouquet, realizing that a little caviar goes a long way in a dish.
The other courses included ravioli with Robbiola cheese and black truffle tapenade, a gorgeous filet of sole stuffed with a lobster mousseline, duck breast with rhubarb compote, and the night was finished off with a Grand Marnier soufflé. By the time my spoon got to the bottom of the ramekin, my stomach was full and my head felt lifted from the wine. It was another wonderful night at De Gustibus, and I can't wait to go back.