For most of my teenage life, and even into my 20s, I hated school. Despite reading things that I legitimately enjoyed, I just couldn’t stand people telling me what books were supposed to actually be about. Fortunately, I got through high school (barely), and managed to make my way through college as well. But now, as a wise elder with some time on my hands (i.e. a mid-30s guy who hasn’t been in school for over a decade), I realized that it wasn’t learning that I didn’t like; it was the regimented structure of full-time school. I actually do enjoy taking online classes, because I can do it on my own terms.
Recently, I decided to expand my knowledge base by trying MasterClass, the online course platform which lets users take courses on everything from gardening and cooking to wilderness survival, economics, the art of negotiation, and even how to become a viral streamer. It’s garnered some seriously high-profile instructors; you can literally learn short story writing from Joyce Carol Oates, scientific thinking from Neil deGrasse Tyson, athleticism from Wayne Gretzky, skateboarding from Tony Hawk, how to be a band from Metallica (or you can just watch Some Kind of Monster, but I digress), or fashion design from Marc Jacobs. The company started in 2015 with just a few instructors, but these days, the brand’s library of classes is staggering and their roster of celeb instructors reads like the invite list to the Vanity Fair Oscar afterparty.
When I signed up for a year-long pass, I was immediately overwhelmed by the options to further explore the interests I already had. Did I want to learn about writing from Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet, or listen to Yo-Yo Ma talk about musicianship? Should I let Garry Kasparov teach me how to beat my friend in chess? Or should I just go all in and learn about “inclusive leadership” from Bill Clinton? (Lol.) I definitely know a lot of musicians who might benefit from taking a beatmaking class taught by Timbaland.
How MasterClass works
Many recoil at the mere thought of being in class, an undertaking that traditionally comes with boredom, stressful assignments, quizzes, tests, and report cards (which, if you’re me, yield a healthy dose of shame and suffering). Fear not, Class of ‘22—MasterClass is for slackers, jocks, nerds, and everyone in between. There are no tests or scores of any kind; you simply watch a curriculum of videos in order, follow along at your leisure with whatever activity or technique you’re trying to learn, and consult the course’s PDF workbook for further info (like articles, app recommendations, recipes, et cetera). For those who’ve felt like school is a massive bummer but still have the desire to learn, MasterClass is a low-stakes system that meets you where you’re at.
First, I decided to delve into the culinary arts, choosing to study under the tutelage of Alice Waters, Gordon Ramsay, and Roy Choi. I considered classes taught by Thomas Keller and Massimo Bottura, but I wanted to start with more straightforward technique instruction so I could see whether it would actually improve my day-to-day cooking, rather than just give me an elaborate step-by-step on how to make a deeply complex, time-consuming dish featuring five kinds of Parmesan or whatever. I also could have taken a class with Yotam Ottolenghi, but I already use his cookbooks pretty regularly, so I decided to try something new.
Once I got started with their courses, Alice, Gordon, and Roy moved through lessons pretty briskly, but all the recipes and measurements were included in the PDF “textbooks” that come with the classes. One of the highlights of MasterClass’ cooking programs is that they offer an interactive, on-screen interface that lets you view recipes and notes as you’re watching your teacher cook. Being able to pause a demonstration to confirm a measurement or technique was crucial for elevating my cooking to peak Emeril Lagasse levels.
Alice Waters Teaches the Art of Home Cooking
Waters, who teaches in a very calming tone from her rustic kitchen, makes you feel like you’re inside an episode of Chef’s Table. She gives a lot of useful cooking tips, like why you should grill chicken on one side to completion before flipping. She also offered an elegant demonstration of how to make ravioli that would impress every possible dinner party guest, though she didn’t exactly tell me what to look for in a perfectly cooked pasta.
I do feel slightly more farm-to-table-ish after watching her class, which I think is the general point; but a line cook at Chez Panisse, I am not. Overall, though, she did inspire me to visit the farmer’s market more often, and to cook based on what fresh produce looks good, rather than just shopping to complete whatever recipe I’ve decided to make. This course is the perfect gift for the parent who already loves cooking and entertaining, but hungers for some new tricks—or for your Sweetgreen-obsessed friend who lives for the ~aesthetic~, but should probably learn how to roast a fucking chicken already.
Gordon Ramsay Teaches Cooking
I consider myself an elite-level fan of Gordon Ramsay, having seen all of Hell’s Kitchen, most of the MasterChef seasons, and even a lot of the U.K. edition of Kitchen Nightmares (which is a must if you’re a true Ramsay-head). While I love watching Ramsay enter full beast mode, it was actually really nice to see him at a more dialed-down speed, cooking in his own kitchen and talking casually about his life. His session on knife skills was great, especially the advice on how to build a knife collection. I also enjoyed his thoughts on allowing high-quality vegetables to shine in a dish, though that lesson also involved him showing me a bunch of random vegetables and shooting off tips faster than I could internalize them, in classic Ramsay style.
If you’re looking to make specific dishes, I’ll warn you that in MasterClass’s cooking courses, they’re often very niche, coming straight out of the style and playbook of the chef you’re watching. Ramsay’s recipe of poached egg and mushrooms on brioche looked great, and the process teaches you how to properly poach an egg. For a pasta dish, the mixing, rolling, and cooking lessons were excellent, and the pasta I made after watching it was quite good. The elevated scrambled eggs recipe delivered on screen is virtually identical to the PDF, meaning that if you decide to cook these recipes in the future, you can be sure you’re making them to Ramsay’s standards. Overall, it’s very easy to understand, follow, and cook the recipes you’re being shown.
That said, there’s a question of accessibility in some of these classes. One of the main issues with MasterClass is that the chefs sometimes made me feel like I was too lazy (or broke) to ever master the material. Case in point: Ramsay’s elevated scrambled eggs dish looked phenomenal, but if I chose to learn it in hopes of making a horny, impromptu breakfast for a special someone on a Saturday morning, I’d have to always be holding sea urchin tongues and white truffle. And do I ever have those things in my kitchen? Hell no—I might not even have the eggs. (In MasterClass’ defense, the accompanying cookbook encourages you to try the recipe without truffle and sea urchin.) Earlier, I’d considered making Waters’ famous egg in a spoon dish, but after remembering that I don’t have a wood-burning oven inside my home—or, for that matter, a humongous, medieval-looking spoon—I skipped it.
Roy Choi Teaches Intuitive Cooking
My favorite teacher was Roy Choi, who shared very comforting advice, telling me, “You don’t have to be a trained chef to cook. You don't even have to be somewhat of a good cook to cook.” That definitely hit. He breaks down cooking to its very basics, starting with an overview of the most essential ingredients of his pantry. Choi says that every cook needs to figure out their own staple ingredients and customize their own pantry based on what they like to make. For him, that means always having gochujang and doenjang (“the Batman and Robin of Korean cooking”) in good supply, along with aromatic vegetables (ginger, garlic, scallion), soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and more. It made me think about the base ingredients I need to stock to always be able to throw together Mediterranean food, which is what my household mostly eats for lazy weeknight meals. Choi also recommends paring down your kitchen tools to the absolute essentials. I came out of his class fantasizing about tossing out, like, 80 cookbooks and most of my knives (I haven’t managed to part with them yet, though).
I made Choi’s kalbi marinade and his barbecued mixed vegetables, which were really delicious; The combination of sweet (sugar, orange juice, kiwi) and savory (soy, sesame, scallion, onion) was something I’d never think to do at home, but something I’ll want to continue making in the future. Truly, it slapped. But, if you want to make his Kogi short rib tacos, you have to prepare and combine five or six other recipes in his book, meaning that cooking this particular street food is a marathon, not a race. Still, if you invest the time, his food is goddamn delicious. I left his course feeling more confident in trying to cook my own way, without using cookbooks. You always know more than you think you do, and Choi pushed me to remember that.
Jon Kabat-Zinn Teaches Mindfulness and Meditation
After becoming a cooking master, I decided to conquer enlightenment. I’d wanted to explore meditation for a while (especially since my psychiatrist has aggressively suggested it multiple times), so I decided to try a meditation course from Jon Kabat-Zinn, inventor of the popular meditation program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. I really loved the class, and by the end of its 20 lessons—which add up to over six and a half hours—it helped me get over my preconceived ideas about what meditation is and actually understand how to do it and why it can work. That’s not to say that I don’t still have barely controllable road rage and deep-seated anxieties about my life, but they seem a little less intense now. (Though, I don’t know, maybe my daily regimen of CBD and wine finally started working.)
MasterClass is not exactly the Culinary Institute of America. But, if you want to upgrade your cooking skills, it is a supremely absorbing, inspiring set of courses meant to expose you to new ideas and ways of thinking. MasterClass cooking courses aren’t a “cooking school” in the traditional sense—instead, think of them as a new kind of boutique food entertainment meant to move and inspire you, to give you ideas and show you how popular chefs got to where they are.
What you get out of each class is what you put into it—you can go into the Alice Waters course with a leisurely mindset and come out of it with a new appreciation for good produce and seasonal eating; or you can go into it full force and learn to make scratch aioli, a galette, ravioli, and a wood-fired egg using a spoon found exclusively in the kitchens of Alice Waters and the Queen of England (RIP). Similarly, you can hang out with Gordon Ramsay and Roy Choi for a while, get inspired to cook your own way, and learn some knife skills and kitchen hacks. On the other hand, you can really invest some time and learn to debone a salmon, dominate a beef Wellington, and make incredible barbecue and baller kimchi. It’s really up to you, but either way, you’ll definitely have fun and be entertained—which, ultimately, is what MasterClass is all about.
Check out these cooking courses and more over at MasterClass.
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