Has it ever happened where you show up expecting one thing, and end up leaving with a completely different experience? I encountered something like that this past spring. The place? Haven’s Kitchen.
My parents had gifted me a Knife Skills class at this local Chelsea cafe and cooking school, and so on a Tuesday evening I finally showed up, chop happy. I had stopped into the cafe for coffee before, but was eager to experience the culinary education aspect of this neighborhood gem. I assumed that we would be dicing a lot of onions, and beyond that, did not quite know what to expect. Well, it’s safe to say that I was blown away.
From the elegant, rustic decor to the locavore menu to the informal, playful environment, the entire experience was an absolute home run. I was immediately greeted with an apron and a glass of vino as I signed in at the beginning of the evening, and was ushered into the kitchen area. With an airy open feel, this was the ultimate kitchen – warm and inviting, without appearing intimidating or too precious. Laid out in a ring were cutting boards set up with the fresh produce we would be slicing and dicing, along with little cups of freshly roasted spiced nuts to nibble on while others arrived. The chef and instructor, Ashley, worked in the circle among us, as opposed to being isolated at the head of the class. We chatted, we chopped, we helped prep the meal, and we let the experience build organically around us, as opposed to sticking to a rigorous curriculum. Then we sat down to a communal feast together, all served buffet style.
The highlights for me were the spicy harissa roasted carrots with hazelnuts and honey, and the sauteed kale with red pepper, goat cheese, and orange segments. Both were incredibly easy to prepare, fresh and healthy, and visually stunning to take in. The roasted chickens were cooking away in the ovens when we arrived, but we learned how to properly butcher them before serving them for supper. The onion jam was a lovely surprise with the chicken, and was the perfect way to use up the plethora of onion slices that we chopped at the beginning of class. I felt as though I could replicate all of these recipes in my own kitchen (my much smaller kitchen, might I add) with ease. It was nice walking away from the experience not only with a fully belly and all of my fingers intact (phew!), but also with a few new go-to recipes that can easily be scaled up for entertaining. I didn’t even mind that we didn’t have dessert.
Although the focus of the class was on learning technique, with repetition and mastery being left to students’ own time, the experience as a whole was so much more than learning how to properly segment oranges. The real focus was on using whole foods, prepping and cooking with as little food waste as possible, and cooking itself as an interactive, enjoyable endeavor. Bottom line – at Haven’s Kitchen, it’s not just about the beautiful (and tasty) end result. The beauty is in the doing. And in the midst of our crazy, busy NYC lives, this is a lesson that we all need reminding of once in awhile.