Last December, the managers of my team at work decided we’d have a bonding experience over open flames, sharp knives and mixing bowls, because what better way to get a bunch of professional communicators (writers, editors), developers (coders, tech-minded people) and designers (artsy, visual) to shelve their native comforts and relax for a bit than through food prep and, ultimately, feasting? (Actually, there are many ways to do this…and frankly, it doesn’t take much. Our little team of 12 is a friendly group that enjoys its outings and birthday lunches without much effort.)
Our bonding adventure led us to Hipcooks, a cooking school located in a lovely loft at The Brewery, an artist and creative person collective near Downtown L.A.
For those of you who haven’t tried Hipcooks, it is wholly and completely awesome. Our host, a bubbling, funny, food-wise individual named Kyrsten welcomed us to the colorful space with large smile, open arms and very clean hands (we’d be reminded many times during our four hours there that it’s essential while cooking to wash after doing anything other than moving one’s fingers gently through the air). After donning colorful Hipcooks aprons, we learned that our theme for the day—Una Noche en España—meant we’d be making an assortment of Spanish tapas: Tortilla Espagnola; Candied Almonds, Cashews and Walnuts; Manchego con Membrillo (I know that membrane-sounding word can set off warning bells, but rest assured, it was yummy); Empanadillas de Carne (and, fortunately, sin carne as well); Gambas Bravas; an arugula salad; hummus; and, for any remaining nooks and crannies, flan.
While Kyrsten cracked jokes and pulled ingredients out of an enormous fridge, we got to work melting sugar for the flan’s caramel over individual hot plates arranged around a large kitchen island. And that’s pretty much how the day progressed: Kyrsten would talk and demonstrate, we’d hover and try. Three hours later, we sat down to our amazing spread at a large farmer’s table and tucked in.
Overall, I’d give the class a 10. It was fun from Moment One, I learned and then promptly forgot a bunch of useful cooking tips, and everything was incredibly delicious. At the end of the meal, many of us even went shopping in the “store” at the front of the loft grabbing ceramic juicers, vanilla paste and other handy tools we’d just used…as well as the Hipcooks cookbook.
Subtitled “Around the world in 12 dinner parties,” the book doesn’t replicate the classes. In fact, there are no recipes included from my December Hipcooks visit (those you get, via email from Kyrsten, after attending). In a way, this doesn’t matter much since the mantra of Kyrsten and the entire Hipcooks enterprise is “wing it.” During our class, she fearlessly dumped salt, poured olive oil and shaved truffles as the Type A among us winced and tried to guestimate the end result.
The founder of Hipcooks and author of the cookbook, Monika Reti, faces this seeming contradiction—a cookbook of recipes from a school based on a free-form, easy approach to cooking—head-on. “Go ahead, poke your fun,” she writes in the introduction. “The recipes in this cookbook are Hipcooks-style, meaning that you can be as exacting or as free-form as you like while cooking.” Her casual approach, however, comes on strong. “Why use measuring cups when you can use your hands instead? They say that when food is delicious, it is because the person preparing it has sweet hands.” One wonders what our county food safety inspectors would have to say about all those sweet hands displacing measuring cups in L.A. restaurants, but I certainly get her drift for my own cooking.
It’s hard to know what I’ll try first in Hipcooks. In the India section, there’s a Sag Paneer recipe that looks easy and tasty, as well as a Mango Chutney. My Big Fat Greek Dinner Party chapter features Sauteed Halloumi (a type of cheese described as “squeaky”) which one can ignite with Ouzo if feeling particularly bold; Spanikopita, a Grilled Veggie Salad and Baklava. And under Ragin’ Cajun, the homecook can make Sweet Cornbread, Spicy Turnips and Greens, a gumbo, and Bananas Foster with Butter Pecan Ice Cream.
Me and my sweet hands are ready to get started.