Introduction to the Culinary Arts at the Workhouse: Week 1

I’m enrolled in a 6-week cooking class at the Lorton Workhouse. Our first class was Monday.

I expected the classroom to be a temporary space. The workhouse map shows a “culinary arts center” that isn’t yet complete, so I was prepared for this to be a makeshift operation.

And boy, is it makeshift:  less a kitchen or classroom than a bunch of folding tables and portable gas and electric burners in the lobby area of one of the Workhouse buildings. The pantry and most of the equipment are crated and carried back and forth between class and the chef’s home.

I’ll admit this was off-putting at first, but Chef Kathleen Linton does a great job making it all work. I got more out of the 30 or so minutes we spent talking about knife skills and specific cuts than I did from Culinaerie’s 3-hour “knife skills” course, mostly because of the personal attention: In a five person class, you get a lot more interaction with the instructor.

Beyond the knife skills, it was good to see how a roux is supposed to come together, how to moderate the thickening it provides, how to produce a béchamel, how to that turn it into a pretty delicious cheese sauce, and some tips for shopping for and cooking with olive oil. Most of this stuff comes down to trusting the evidence of your senses– but seeing it done (or having someone knowledgeable help) is a big deal. It’s like calibrating those senses so you can trust them.

The food we produced was great. Our first menu was:

  • Garden Vegetable Soup
  • Cheese Scalloped Potatoes
  • Ratatouille
  • Pan Fried Chicken and Spinach
  • Apple Tarts

I’m not sure it’ll happen in the next six weeks, but (with the help of a corporate donor) a real teaching kitchen is apparently coming soon– it’s exciting that the Workhouse folks are investing in the cooking program.

Next Week: More sauces!

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