This post is going to be a little ranty.
Cooking for Tourists: 101.
As I mentioned in my last post, J and I took a cooking class in Ubud. It left me feeling a bit dissatisfied, mentally. My appetite, on the other hand, was happily satiated. You’re probably thinking it’s because I’ve worked in restaurants and did that whole culinary school thing. It’s not. This was not the first cooking class I’ve taken on my travels. In fact, even before I started culinary school I had been to these classes. I always came away with the same feeling… basically happy with the delicious meal I had just eaten but that I hadn’t really accomplished anything.
That is not the feeling I want to have when departing a kitchen in which I have just prepared food. At least 50 percent of the joy of cooking is the ego boost you get when presenting what you’ve accomplished. Honestly, maybe closer to 75.
Throwback to my teen years. Like early teens.
I have always loved being in the kitchen. As a teen I would scour my Mom’s cookbooks creating menus for fictional dinner parties. My favorite to look through was always this big cookbook with pictures on every other page. It was one of a few that specifically featured international cuisine, which is likely why I was drawn to it. Separated into four sections, coinciding with the seasons, I would spend hours devouring the images, breaking apart the dishes and re-plating them in my mind.
This was back before I grasped the relationship between seasonality and food. I concocted the most ridiculous menus including courses from each season for one meal. Have a good chuckle at that. (The real joke is on the United States’ Agriculture and Education departments. A well educated teen not considering seasonality because all my life I’d been able to get strawberries in December… this is the world we live in.)
My love of food and cooking, understandably, has transferred into my of love learning about new cultures through food. Experiencing the local cuisine is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a new place. And as a trained chef (I hate that word, it makes me feel super pretentious… Disclaimer: I do not think of myself as a chef, but cook also doesn’t feel right either… chook?) of course I want to learn how all these new dishes are created, but there is just something about the format of “fitted for tourists” cooking classes that I’ve never enjoyed.
Back to the future, erm, present day.
Our cooking course in Ubud started off well enough. We began with a market tour – fun and informative. I was introduced to the raw form of some ingredients that I was familiar with in name only, like galangal. Something not easily found in a grocery in Birmingham, AL. Wandering the stalls, playing guess that ingredient and seeing day to day life was a highlight of our time in Bali.
Once in the kitchen, however, I could tell immediately that this was going to be kind of lame. We were given pre-portioned raw ingredients to chop. When the actual cooking began, most of us were sitting on chairs across from the burners, watching as a handful of students did the aspects of cooking that were relegated to us. Some things, like actually grilling the chicken, was done out of sight. I felt like I was being babysat.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, mostly because of my fellow students. It was really nice to meet such a wide array of travelers from all over the globe and share a delicious meal with them. And isn’t that the real point of traveling? Not meeting other foreigners, but having an engaging experience with people.
What I’m after.
I guess I just wish there was an option out there for the “professional” to have fun and learn a new style of cooking while traveling. One that was set up the way culinary schools teach. The instructor goes through and demonstrates what to do, from beginning to end. Then sends off all the little chicks to do it on there own, usually in pairs to conserve ingredients. At the end of the day we each have our own creation to eat and/or take home. Is that too much to ask?
Maybe my best option going forward will be to hang around the local market till I find the most badass looking grandma doing her daily shopping and beg her to take me home with her so I can learn her tricks. That’s not creepy, right?
For anyone not a weirdo who enjoys group cooking tutorials and wants to eat all the tasty food pictured above, take the cooking class in Ubud with Lobong Culinary Experience. You will in enjoy it. J enjoyed it, and since cooking for me on our first date 4 years ago has cooked an additional 4 dinners, so that should be a good indicator of his level of enthusiasm for cooking.
The market tour, cooking class and generous lunch is 425.000 IDR per person (roughly $32 USD at the time of writing), rather a good deal.