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Report 170: Ramekins Cooking School, Sonoma, CA

By Chris (Moderator) from CA, Summer 2003

Trip Description: Two-day excursion to the Ramekins cooking school in Sonoma.

Destinations: Countries - North America; Regions/Cities - California

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Cooking Classes; Foodie Trip; Independent Travel; Single Traveler

Page 1 of 1: Cooking classes at Ramekins

One of my fellow moderators requested a "mini" trip report about my two-day excursion last week to the Ramekins cooking school in Sonoma, about a 70-minute drive from my home in Sacramento.

This is my second outing to Ramekins with my old friend Stephanie. Steph and I met in 1974, when we both lived on the California coast. We were best friends for a few years, then lost touch after I moved away. I always missed her, because she was such a good friend and the world's best companion for lunch, conversation, and a bottle of good wine.

Fast forward 20 years, until one day in Macy's, I realized the woman waiting for a dressing room in front of me was Stephanie! And Steph was there because she and her husband were in the process of moving to Folsom, which is only 15 minutes from where I've lived for the past 20 years.

We resumed the lunch, conversation, and wine tradition and now we've added the Ramekins tradition. All this history is here because it colors my experience and ensures that I'll have fun no matter what...

Ramekins (www.ramekins.com) appears to have been built as a cooking school. There's a big demonstration kitchen with three big huge prep tables for students in hands-on classes and a larger, separate commercial kitchen for cleanup and behind-the-scenes prep. I've never had time to explore, but they seem to have some meeting/banquet rooms downstairs as well as a large patio area for outdoor dining. Upstairs is a six-room B&B (more on that later). They offer a large variety of short cooking classes, some demonstration and some hands-on, with an amazingly well-known stable of instructors (John Ash, Rick Bayless, Michael Chiarello, Joanne Weir, Thomas Keller, Diana Kennedy, Mark Miller, Peter Reinhart, Martin Yan...).

Steph and I have taken two classes, "Italian Comfort Foods" and "The Tuscan Grill," both taught by Linda Carucci. Both were evening classes that lasted about four hours. Frankly, we're not terribly serious students and we chose the classes based on when we were both free to get away overnight and what sounded good to eat. We've been pleased with both, although both have definitely been more Italian American than authentic Italian.

The cooking facilities and equipment and food supplies are plentiful and top-quality and the classes are very well organized. It amazed me both times that you can turn 24 strangers loose in a large room with a complicated menu and sit down to dinner together less than three hours later. The key to the organization (and to the success of the entire class) is a group of volunteer assistants assigned to each subgroup of students who are assigned to a specific dish.

The first class we took went like clockwork. Everyone always knew what they should do next, everything you needed to do it was at your fingertips, dirty dishes were swept away immediately. Last week, things didn't go quite as well. Maybe they were short a volunteer or two, maybe there wasn't as much advance planning, or maybe the volunteers just weren't as tempermentally suited to supervising groups of strangers with varying skills, attitudes and attention spans. The volunteer in charge of our group spent most of the evening out in the dark grilling peaches by himself (he seemed to be sulking!), so we just organized ourselves and continued without him.

Still, it all worked out, and except for some hopelessly overcooked roasted peppers, dinner was delicious. The menu, designed to illustrate how many thing you can do on the grill, included:

* bruschetta with grilled Portabella mushrooms and fontina cheese (we sauteed the mushrooms)

* grilled garlic prawns with pesto

* grilled butterflied chicken breast stuffed with taleggio and prosciutto

* fire-roasted peppers with olive oil and garlic

* orzo with grilled asparagus and fresh mint (nothing grilled here)

* grilled fresh peaches with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce

* Kunde sauvignon blanc and Quivira zinfandel

We spend the night in the B&B upstairs, which makes it easy to roll off to bed after the class concludes about 11 pm. One room has twin beds, ideal for friends traveling together, so that's the only one I'm familiar with. It's very luxurious and comfortable, with down comforters, big easy chairs with down cushions, a huge bathroom with an enormous walk-in shower with multiple shower heads, a nice balcony overlooking the patio and always a nice bottle of wine when you arrive. Breakfast was fresh fruit and lots of fresh-baked pastries.

We always start the trip with lunch at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma before class, and finish with a full day of olive oil, cheese and wine tasting the next day before we drive home. The highlights of this trip were the heavenly lemon and blood orange olive oils at the Olive Press in Glen Ellen, the magnificent gardens at Matanzas Creek winery, and the olive oil and a fine herd of cats at Preston Winery in the Dry Creek Valley north of Santa Rosa. The wines weren't bad either.

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