Last week I was invited to attend a cooking class at Mia Francecsa in Del Mar. It’s right across from the fancy pants Cinepolis movie theater (which I have always wanted to visit but haven’t yet). I haven’t attended a cooking class since the summer so I was excited to go and check it out.
The cooking class took place in Mia Francesca’s private back room. For $50, Chef Woody Benitez takes you through a five course (!!) meal. Four of the courses are gone through step by step, with guests getting up and cooking with Chef Woody. He gives tips and tricks on all of the dishes and then you eat the actual food that everyone prepared (and they also bring out more from the kitchen).
Each course also came with wine pairings and suggestions making this a really, really awesome deal. Let’s go through and see how my night went!
I went to the class alone since I was invited to go at the last minute and didn’t really have anyone to ask to go with me. Luckily I ended up at a table with two very nice and friendly ladies who were a ton of a fun to talk to and made the night even better!
Here is Chef Woody (right) with one of the guests that evening. We had about 15 people or so attending the event that evening. Before each course, Chef Woody would ask for 5 volunteers. There were three stations set up for two pairs of guests to cook together and one person to cook with Chef Woody.
I didn’t get up during that first course so I didn’t get a lot of “action” shots but the first dish that was cooked were Steamed Mussels. We were given a packet with all of the recipes with room to take notes for each dish.
During that first recipe, Chef Woody demo’d how to properly hold a knife and how to cut onions. He said to NOT peel the onion all the way if you’re not going to use the whole thing (store leftovers with the skin on). He also did a good tip where he put the onions into the pan first and then added the oil to it. If you do it the other way around, you might be splashed with hot oil (which I have sadly done in the past so very many times – good tip).
He also suggested that while cooking the mussels that you take out the mussels that have opened already. This way you don’t overcook the mussels while the others are still opening.
The mussels were a great start to the dinner and were very tasty. We were also given this warm, crusty bread for mopping up the sauce (so good).
For the second course, I volunteered myself to go up and cook with Chef Woody since I was alone that evening. The second course would be an Insalata Panzanella salad and I chopped up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes for the dish.
Then I also sliced some red onion and tore some basil by hand. Chef Woody explained that you should always, always, always hand tear basil because when you cut it with a knife, the basil starts to turn black and is pretty unattractive and starts to ruin the basil. So while it’s easier to chop, you should always just tear it by hand instead! Unless you don’t care about blackened basil, I guess.
Here’s my resulting salad, which also has the addition of croutons (yum), arugula, and diced avocado. I thought it was interesting that the seasoning was added and then the red wine vinegar and olive oil were simply added on top and then mixed in. I always figured you had to mix them together to make a vinaigrette (emulsify it!!). I never really thought to just toss it on top and then mix. Makes it easier!
The salad they brought out from the kitchen looked a lot different from mine. They used cherry tomatoes instead and it had no arugula or avocado. I preferred the one that I made since those beautiful heirloom tomatoes are so tasty!
For the third course, I finally got up and just started watching the prep work. I couldn’t see as much from the table and this way you get a better view. It was very casual and friendly and after a while everyone started getting up to see what was going on and watching their fellow diners cook the rest of the food.
For this course it was Pasta Fagottaro which had a warm cheesy white wine sauce and a cold tomato sauce. In the bowl with the tomatoes is a simple mixture of tomato juice and a large tomato, basil, and olive oil (and also butter if you want to be naughty). This is simple put together and set aside for later.
Then the warm sauce it made. This has a ton of garlic (yum) with onions, white wine, salt and pepper and a little bit of pepper flakes for a little extra something something.
Chef Woody showed us a cool trick that you take this off the pan, add in the Parmesean Cheese, and then just swish the pan around by moving it back and forth (no stirring). Then you place it back over the heat and it starts to thicken up! It was like watching a magic trick.
The hot pasta is tossed in the warm sauce and then plated. You can use your tongs to carefully/artfully arrange your pasta so it looks magnificent.
Ugh, I had changed the settings on my camera and forgot to put them back to the “good setting” so my photos of this deliciously awesome dish look like crap. BUT I ASSURE YOU that this was DELICIOUS. After the pasta is plated, you spoon some of the cold tomato sauce on top and add fresh mozzarella cheese and then you devour it. Which is what I did. Because it was SO GOOD. It tasted so light and fresh and the flavors of everything really just popped. The cold tomatoes with the basil was divine and the cheesy sauce was superb. This was my favorite dish of the whole night and I’m kicking myself that this photo looks so awful. Oh well!
For the fourth course (I was already getting full) everyone had already taken a turn cooking up front so a few folks got to do it again. First, they cooked some chicken (which was seasoned then lightly dredged in flour). Once the chicken was seared and cooked, it was set aside to start cooking the zucchini.
There was a pomodoro sauce that accompanied this dish, but that was brought out from the kitchen since it needs 30-40 minutes to simmer. The zucchini is first cooked and then the pomodoro sauce is added.
[pollo zuchinni con pomodoro sauce]
The chicken is then added to the bottom of the plate and topped with the sauce. This is the dish the ladies who sat with me made. On the right is goat cheese and on the left is mozzarella. One of the ladies said she does not eat goat cheese so she substituted half with mozzarella.
We received a dish from the kitchen for this (which I didn’t take a photo of for some reason) and I thought it was a litttttttle too salty. But it was still tasty and I loved the strips on zucchini is this dish.
[blood orange vanilla aranciata]
For the final course the dessert was just brought out to us. It was a serving of vanilla gelato (or ice cream) topped with blood orange Italian soda (they use Pellergrino Aranciata).
This dessert was so light and refreshing. The taste of it reminded me of a sorbet or a creamsicle. The blood orange fully overtakes and incorporates into the gelato making a bubbly, light dessert. I loved it!
Mia Francesca offers their cooking class once a month, usually on the last Wednesday of the month. Here’s a sneak peek of the possible menu for October/November if you’re interested in attending one of their cooking classes.
I had a really wonderful time attending the class and even though my class was covered, I would gladly pay again to attend this class. You get a full five course meal plus lots of wine (if you’re into wine, haha). There’s plenty to eat since the you get to get the student’s dishes AND what they bring out from the kitchen. It was just enough people to not make it seem too crazy or overcrowded and it was a very warm and friendly atmosphere (especially since I sat with two wonderfully friendly ladies!).
Chef Woody and the team at Mia Francesca did a wonderful job showcasing the recipes and taking care of all of the guests. I highly recommend taking a class here if you make it! If you’re interested in attending a future class, give them a call at 858-519-5055 to inquire about making reservations for the class.
Disclaimer: I was invited to the You Be the Chef cooking class on behalf of Wagstaff Worldwide, Inc. PR. My class was complimentary. I was not paid nor further compensated for this post. All opinions stated here are my own.
12955 El Camino Real, Suite G-4 (across from Cinepolis)
San Diego, CA 92130