Since New Orleans is known for its excellent cuisine, I decided to do something very different for a day. Instead of trying every dish I could in restaurants, I thought I could at least learn how to make them and try to do them at home. One of the most famous of all places for cooking lessons in the city is the New Orleans School of Cooking located in the French Quarter. They offer both hands-on and demonstration style classes everyday (demonstration-style classes in less expensive) with seasoned and professional chefs teaching you the ropes. I booked a 10:00am morning demonstration class and our instructor for the day was Harriett Robin (pronounced row-băn) or as I like to refer to her, Ms. Harriett. She and another instructor, Ann Leonhard co-authored a cookbook together called “Across The Table” available at the school’s general store. For my class, Ms. Harriett taught us how to make Gumbo and Jambalaya with chicken and andouille sausage and for dessert, pineapple and coconut bread pudding and praline (pronounced pră-lēēn).
This two-hour morning class is the best-smelling class I had ever attended. Ms. Harriett prepare some of the ingredients ahead of time of course, to make the most of the class’ time. The best part of the class is you get to taste her cooking towards the end and its oh-so-good. Ms. Harriett, at barely five feet tall is a spunky little elderly lady who can really cook-up a mean Gumbo and Jambalaya. She’s the grandma you’d want feed your children so they would learn about these great dishes as part of their heritage and traditions. She’s the grandma you’d want to visit for Sunday night dinners.
So how do you make a roux? Here is how you do it according to Ms. Harriett. In a wide pan or a large Dutch oven, heat up equal parts of oil or lard and flour. Mix together with a whisk and don’t step whisking until you reach the desired color. For gumbo, you want your roux to be the color of caramel or peanut butter. Once you have reached this, add your mirepoix – chopped onions, celery and bell pepper and go on from there to make the most delicious gumbo.
Ms. Harriett also recommended products (such as spices and broth base) you can use for cooking these at home. Some of the products she used especially the spices are available for purchase at the school’s general store.
Ms. Harriett lights up to room with her wit and sense of humor and that’s what you want in a cooking instructor. She said during class, “cooking is an experience” and you want to have a great experience at the New Orleans School of Cooking when you visit.