I just came back from a really fun morning of cooking at Xanh Bistro. That's the place where Richard and I had our anniversary dinner at the end of May. I wrote a review of it for this blog a month or so back.
When we were there, I noticed that the owner, Haley Nguyen, gave cooking lessons, so I decided to tell my friend Liz about them, and today we went to our first (probably not our last) one, in which we prepared a menu of street foods, including ground chicken and vermicelli meatballs in peanut sauce, banh mi sandwiches with pickled vegetables we made ourselves, steamed rice rolls with ground chicken and wood ear mushroom filling, and a fruit dessert made from fresh assorted fruit cut up and put into a young coconut.
There were many people, over 20, packed into the small restaurant, and only 6 burners spread out over two tables, so I wondered at first how anyone would manage to get hands on experience cooking this meal, but it turned out that every person had a turn to fix the dishes.
Cooking with other people is always fun. For one thing, any chopping, mixing, cutting, and (horrors!) cleaning up is always light work with so many to help, and the social side of cooking and eating comes to the fore, with people chatting and laughing, introducing themselves, tasting, and debating on what is missing in the sauce or whether the mixture needs more cooking, more stirring.
It has been a long time since I spent any real time cooking, though the activity of cooking and eating and reading food writing (writing it too) has always been dear to my heart. I love to wander in ethnic grocery stores and look at, taste, and try new ingredients, though sometimes I admit that they sit on my shelves forever because I have no idea what to do with them. And cooking is a way for me to relax, not a chore, at least when I am cooking new and interesting things. So this lesson is sure to bring me pleasure in the future when I try the dishes out for myself, and vary them. I can see trying lots of different kinds of sandwiches, for example, from vegetarian, to fish, and perhaps very thinly sliced lamb, though I don't think lamb is a meat Vietnamese eat much.
Despite the large number of people, the lessons went smoothly. Haley came around and helped each group fix mistakes,add more ingredients, or plate the food. She has boundless energy, and explains everything very clearly.
When it came time to eat, we found each dish wonderful, full of exciting flavors, and even beautiful (for the most part) to look at. This is a meal I plan to make again, many times.
I recommend this restaurant and Haley's cooking lessons. Visit the restaurant online at www.xanhbistro.com for the latest information about these cooking lessons or to see a menu.