People assume that since I'm a freelance food writer, I must eat amazing meals—like the heirloom tomato sandwich with homemade herb mayonnaise pictured above—all the time. The truth is a bit more dismal. Lunch usually involves snacking on random leftovers (if I'm lucky) while hunched over my computer at my dining room table (which doubles as my office). Plus, I don't even have any coworkers to discuss the latest Duggar scandal with. So when someone invites me to lunch at a cooking school, I say yes. Twice this summer I’ve been to events that involved eating delicious food (including the aforementioned herb mayonnaise, see recipe below) and engaging in fascinating conversation (about food mostly, not the Duggars) at the San Francisco Cooking School.
First, I attended a “sneak peak” into the 3-year-old school’s professional culinary arts program (SFCS also offers fantastic hands-on cooking classes for home cooks). Along with a few other food writers, I got to experience first-hand one of the first lessons students in the program do. Instructor Kirsten Goldberg led us through an in-depth fresh herb tasting. Next, we teamed up to make herb-infused oils. Then, after a quick primer on emulsification, we turned our herb oils into herb mayonnaise. My teammate and I almost got kicked off the island when we broke the emulsion in our first mayo attempt, but thankfully Chef Goldberg jumped in and showed us how to fix it. This, it turns out, is a hallmark of the SFCS program. They don’t turn out “recipe robots” like some other culinary schools, rather they develop deep knowledge in their students who can then go forth and not just reproduce dishes, but know how to fix them when something goes wrong. More recently, I attended a lunch presented by the latest graduating class of culinary arts students. Having reached the end of their 4-month stint in the SFCS instructional kitchen, they presented a full-service restaurant with an impressive menu of 13 dishes created and refined by the students themselves.
The meal began with a bright sungold tomato gazpacho amuse buche and ended with a creamy and rich hazelnut panna cotta with compressed nectarines and bourbon-caramel sauce. You can see the whole menu—a delightfully dizzying parade of intense flavors—in the photo to the right. Our table agreed that the refreshing Burmese salad and rich lettuce-wrapped crispy pork belly with daikon and carrot pickles were standouts. Alas, the herb mayonnaise didn't make an appearance.
Through my two visits to the school, it was great to see the evolution students go through—starting with an introduction to flavor and a basic lesson on emulsifying sauces on my first visit and ending on my second visit with an elaborate meal showcasing the array of skills the students acquire in the brief but intense 4-month program. Since it's back to eating alone in my home office/dining room for me for the time being, this is what I’m planning to eat for lunch every day from now until the end of tomato season: herb mayonnaise (see the recipe below) slathered on toasted sourdough bread, topped with sliced heirloom tomatoes, and finished with a grinding of black pepper. Fortunately there are plenty of Reddit threads where I can discuss the Duggars’ shenanigans.
- 1 cup (packed) cilantro leaves
- 1 cup (packed) mint leaves
- ½ cup chopped chives
- 1 ½ cups grapeseed oil or another neutral-flavored oil such as safflower or sunflower seed
- 1 egg yolk
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Pinch of salt
- First make the herb oil. In a high-powered blender or food processor, chop the herbs. Add the oil and process until the herbs are very finely minced and the oil is bright green.
- Strain the oil through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing out as much oil as possible. Discard the solids or set them aside for another use (salsa verde, compound butter, hummus, etc).
- To make the mayonnaise, place the egg yolk in a clean bowl. Add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt and whisk to combine. While whisking, add a small amount of oil and continue to whisk until the mixture begins to thicken. Continue to add the oil in a slow, thin stream, whisking the entire time until the mixture is a thick, mayonnaise-y consistency. Taste and add more salt if needed. Store the mayonnaise in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- Note: If your emulsion breaks at any time during the process, simply start over with a clean bowl and whisk. Add an egg yolk to the bowl and the juice from the other half of the lemon, then whisk in the broken mayo, adding it slowly, until the mixture emulsifies.
Disclosure: I was invited to attend two events at the San Francisco Cooking School free of charge. I was not asked to write this article and I did not receive any compensation. All opinions are my own.