“What does one wear to a cooking class?” asked designer Peter Som, who on a recent Saturday morning traded sketch pads for whisks to take a “Back to Basics” class with Adour Alain Ducasse pastry chef Sandro Micheli.
Sporting a neat white button-down shirt tucked into dark jeans and black leather sneakers on his feet (“I normally wear cargo shorts and a T-shirt when I’m cooking at home”), Som, an avid baker, arrived at the restaurant’s kitchen at the St. Regis New York with a few years of amateur experience under his belt.
“I used to bring pies to the office,” he said. “I can’t eat them all myself.”
As Chef Micheli, 32, a Frenchman on what appeared to be his fifth espresso, handed out white aprons and bound instruction booklets, it became clear Som and 10 fellow students had an ambitious task ahead of them: Madeleines de Commercy, financiers, chouquettes, chocolate chip cookies, pâté de fruit à la fraise, guimauve à l’Absinthe (absinthe flavored marshmallow). This was not child’s play.
“Six recipes in two hours?” asked Som, who, aside from the cookies and madeleines, was in uncharted territory. “Wow, he’s intense.”
First up were the chouquettes — sweet, airy puffs made from a standard pâte a choux. Within minutes, Micheli had Som rolling up his sleeves and overseeing a butter and milk base on the stove. After combining a few eggs and some flour, Som was piping the dough onto baking sheets with ease. Who knew he was as adept with pastry bags as he is needle and thread? “I use them to make gougères,” he said, referring to the French cheese puffs.
Then it was on to the marshmallows. Micheli graciously doled out shots of absinthe to fortify his class.
“Ready to roll!” said Som, downing his glass and eyeing Micheli, who was furiously hand-stirring an egg white and sugar mixture. “I prefer my standing mixer,” Som whispered to a friend.
The designer may own madeleine trays and throw out phrases like “brown butter” and “cook off the milk solids” with impressive fluency, but his training was not fancy. “My mother wasn’t much of a baker,” he explained, citing Fanny Farmer and Ina Garten tomes as his go-to cooking resources. “I watch Food Network like it’s [the only thing on] TV.”
After putting the finishing touches on their madeleines, Som and the rest of the class moved to the restaurant’s bar for Champagne and a taste of their desserts. Som was clearly pleased. “These are so light,” he sighed as he popped a chouquette in his mouth. “My gougères are like lead.”