“I’m something of a chicken theorist,” chef Ben Davison tells me as he gets a bird, rubbed with his secret blend of spices, ready for the oven. He leaves the wings untrussed, so they’ll be crispier. I’m standing in his kitchen thanks to Cozymeal, getting a one-on-one cooking lesson from a chef who’s worked in Michelin-starred restaurants from New York to Spain to France. The service connects local chefs with people who want to learn to cook like a professional — or just get a lesson in not slicing up your finger while dicing onions.
Small groups, usually two to eight people, sign up for a cooking class and meet in the chef’s home or a nearby event space. Some will even travel to your home. The prices in Seattle, where Cozymeal recently expanded, cost between $75 and $95 a person. The classes can cover anything from salad to pastries to three-course Italian meals. I signed up for Chef Ben’s three-hour, four-course French farmhouse cooking class.
After alerting some friends and family to my exact whereabouts (I was about to enter a random person’s house, after all), I headed in to learn to make a cheese soufflé, vegetables á la Grecque, roast chicken with ratatouille, and season fruit clafoutis.
Cozymeal is just one gig for Davison. Not only is he starting an organization that supplies local farmers with the knowledge and resources to sell animals to restaurants and consumers, he’s also completing his PhD in American history at the University of Virginia and is developing a food studies program at Loyola University of New Orleans that starts in the fall of 2017.
Right now, Cozymeal is located in seven cities around the U.S., including San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Boston. “Through cooking classes, guests not only connect with the chef but also learn something new under the direction of a professional,” founder and CEO Samad Nasserian told Digital Trends via email. “Cozymeal connects communities while bringing people directly to the chef’s table for tailored dining experiences.”
“I’m something of a chicken theorist.”
It was also unique to get a lesson inside the chef’s own kitchen. He had a room with a shelf full of pots and pans, as well as a remarkably stocked bar that included some of his own concoctions and infusions. I saw ingredients and tools that certainly aren’t in my pantry, like vanilla puree and something called a spider: “It’s one of the best investments you can make,” Davison told me.
In addition to the location’s backdrop, each Cozymeal experience will be influenced by the chef’s background. Davison explained on a cellular level what happens when you cook meat, for example, and why resting is important: As it returns to a temperature equilibrium, meat becomes less constricted, meaning it’s more tender. “It makes it a juicier, more succulent, more edible adventure,” he says. “Biochemistry! I don’t think you have to know a ton of biochemistry to be a good cook, but you do to be a good chef.” I also learned that when you’re making your own salad dressing, mustard can act as an emulsifier. “This is where chemistry is helpful,” says Davison.
My limited cooking skills — and basic knowledge — meant Davison tailored the lesson to what interested and challenged me. “This is where you get to overcome your fear of knives,” he said as we started chopping vegetables for the ratatouille. I wouldn’t say I fear knives; I just have a healthy respect for them and aversion to blood. It turns out, I’ve been cutting onions wrong my whole life, and the way I’ve been doing it is actually more likely to make me injure myself than the way professionals do it.
Cooking with Cozymeal certainly isn’t the cheapest class in town, but I did come away from the experience with improved knife skills and a dead-simple recipe for clafoutis that I ended up making for a brunch party the next weekend.
I’m still not a chicken theorist, but I do have a bit more confidence about cooking a whole bird.
Updated 11/2/2016: Updated to clarify Davison’s forthcoming nonprofit.