A Vegan Cooking Class with Chef Ali Gonzalez
Sustainable Culinary Solutions
I had a fantastic learning experience with Chef Ali Gonzalez. I eat both vegan and vegetarian and wanted to learn to cook my favorite things for myself rather then my frequent dining out because of lack of understanding how to prepare my food as accurately and deliciously as at my go to places which are often expensive as organic specialty can be. I really wanted to start at the beginning since I had not really had any proper training and felt that in the middle of my life it was time to learn to take better care of myself and learn to love and understand the kitchen. Chef took me through the basics of knife safety and sharpening. We purchased an easy to use sharpener and he showed me how to use it. I have three very nice knives which were extremely dull and after sharpening, it made cutting so much easier and a pleasure to do. Chef taught me six ways to cut veg and fruits. The cuts varied from common to sophisticated and this cutting work continued throughout my three week intensive. All that I learned kept being put into practice, built upon over the course which was important because I learn best by intense repetition. Chef took me through different rice, grains and beans. We cooked many types of rice at the same time and it was immensely helpful to see the difference between how much water to use, varied cooking times, ways to cook the rice depending on it’s texture. Each rice I sampled in it’s pure form and then chef showed me how to make something delicious, simple, unique and flavorful with each one. We did the same exercise with potatoes (tubers). I happen to Adore potatoes in all forms so this was especially wonderful. Chef taught me in our three hour session how to make five different types of potatoes – breakfast potato hash, Lyonnaise potatoes, roasted garlic-Rosemary, Dutchess, classic mashed. A favorite I wanted to make was vegetarian Matzo Ball soup because I can Never find this childhood favorite without chicken broth, chicken fat and eggs so we explored making this soup as a basic, flavorful vegetable broth from scratch and matzo balls made without egg (we tried with two different egg replacers). This soup is a work in progress and after we made it I understood why without the meat elements it is hard to recreate the flavors I love and remember as Chef wisely made clear from the beginning. This is an exploration that I continue on my own thanks to my support in the kitchen.
We had a session on vegetarian/ vegan breakfast making pancakes with different four different types of flours , breakfast burrito utilizing soyrizo and a very flavorful interesting combination of complimentary veg.. Lunch combinations- a tempura veg sandwich with a vegan aioli, a basic and incredibly delicious grilled tomato -vegetarian mozzarella on gluten free foccacia bread. The eggplant parm was a great lesson comparing two different egg replacers and trying different breadcrumbs and cooking them two different ways – fried and baked. One of my biggest surprises and things I am most deeply grateful for is the lesson on one of my favorites, penne arrabiata. Chef made one of the best arrabiata’s I have ever had. In our lesson at my request we repeated making it three times until I felt I could do it. I Love that Chef understood and embraced my wish to repeat things and was flexible to shift the lesson where I wanted to go. I am super excited that I now can make a Very good , favorite pasta dish that I can enjoy and make for others with confidence. The stir fry lesson was fantastic , where we made four different dishes all unique, flavorful and healthy. Chef went shopping with me at a great Chinese market to find the right Wok, rice cooker, tools and ingredients so I could re-create and create my own amazing Chinese dishes. We re-created the Chinese dishes in my kitchen and I am so happy that I can now whip up a really good stir fry and rice dish.
Chef Ali took me food shopping at different places where he knows there is discounted quality kitchen items and foods. He made excellent suggestions about places to find certain things that I would like both online and in stores. Ali came to my home as well so I could be comfortable utilizing my kitchen and will help me redo the kitchen space for optimum performance and ease. He is a deeply generous teacher and person, he is very pro not wasting any food and how to utilize the scraps that come from the prep in a creative and flavorful way, he taught me how to think in proper step sequence when preparing either one or multiple dishes, he never wastes time but uses every moment of your lesson to make something, cut something, do a lovely mis en place, plan something, create a new idea, he always finds ways to make a teachable moment in each situation, he is up on the latest and best practices for the environment and what is harmful, he listens and creates a lesson plan around what your specific goals are. I am still in my beginning stages but after the three week intensive I am much more comfortable and facile in the kitchen then I have ever been.
Chef Ali emphasizes the unique flavor of each vegetable without covering it up or making a boring vegetable plate which I as a vegetarian am sometimes used to being offered in a restaurant that offers mostly meat and fish dishes. He does not cut corners in cooking the vegetables the best way possible to bring out its unique flavors and maintaining it’s vitamin content. Certain ways of cooking vegetables cook the minerals and vitamins out and also leave the veg too mushy. A perfect example of this is how Chef Ali taught me to blanche veg which made a much more delicious and specific taste to each. It was apparent when he did an experiment with me ( I’m making this up but you would do it!!!!!) when we made one of my favorite requested dishes- penne arrabiata. Chef taught me to make this dish by blanching the tomatoes. He explained a lot of restaurants do not do this step because it is more time consuming. After trying the dish with blanched tomatoes and then a second version without blanching the tomatoes. I could clearly taste the difference and see the value in taking the time with this extra step.