I was intrigued, but slightly skeptical when I signed up for a cooking class at the newly-opened Indian Culinary Center a few weeks ago. What could I, a vegetarian who has been cooking desi food pretty regularly for the past couple of years, learn that was new and interesting in an Indian Vegetarian Delights Class? A lot, it turns out.
The ICC is run by Geetika Khanna, a former psychologist and graduate of the French Culinary Institute who has been charting a path in the food industry for the past 10+ years. I really felt like I was walking into another world when I rang the buzzer of 131 W. 23rd St., which turned out to be the Chelsea Inn, a cosy bed and breakfast whose ground floor industrial kitchen turned out to be the cooking school of the now-defunct culinary arts program of The New School, where it turns out, Khanna used to be an instructor.
On this particular Tuesday night, nine of us had signed up to spend the evening learning how to cook with Khanna, a tall, relaxed, and skilled instructor who weaves anecdotes about her family in with technique tips and practical approaches on how to make Indian cooking a part of your culinary repertoire, instead of something exotic and inaccessible. For those like me, who generally cook at least one or two Indian meals a week, it was the practical tips like how to clean your spice grinder — run a piece of bread through it — and the ease and humor with which Khanna made cooking a six-course meal seem doable (from scratch, using mostly fresh ingredients) that was the tipping point. Plus, I enjoyed her running commentary on colonialism, the evolution of the Indian “curry,” and the Food Network –and she gave me the courage to fry my first pooris, a big deal for a gal who has always had a fear of deep frying. There were also a few surprises along the way, like the fact that she uses cayenne pepper in her masala dhaba. [Click on the narrated slideshow above for a walk-through of the class and a look at our full menu.]
The three and a half hour class cost $55, and was followed by a delicious six-course meal. A pretty good deal for an evening out in NYC where you’re learning, eating, and meeting a bunch of interesting people. (Other NYC cooking classes range from $100 to $200 per person).
At present, Khanna offers classes every month, and has plans to invite other chefs of Indian cuisine to teach at the ICC. With all the regional variations of Indian food (Indian Chinese, West Indian, and Indo-French, as well as the wealth of Indian chefs in the New York area, I’m sure there are many more yummy lessons and treats to return to at the ICC. I’ll definitely be going back.
Oh, and if anyone is interested in interning with Khanna, she’s looking. Drop her a line.