Metrowest Daily News spotlights Culinary Underground
A lovely article written by Lillian Eden @metrowestdaily spotlighting our business!
Home cooks, relax: Classes offer guidance and confidence to chefs of all ages
Lillian Eden MetroWest Daily News
For dozens of anxious home cooks of all ages, Culinary Underground in Southborough is making it safe to go back into the kitchen.
One of them is Kira Marbit of Natick.
“I am a self-proclaimed terrible cook, and part of the terrible cooking portion is just feeling nervous about it, and the anxiety that comes with screwing up or doing the wrong thing,” said Marbit, a repeat customer at Culinary Underground, which offers a variety of classes for home cooks.
Run by owners and instructors Giovanna Clott and Elizabeth Tesler, Culinary Underground takes the nerves out of gnocchi and the terror out of tapas.
“I don’t have that when I do these classes, and so it does help a lot,” Marbit said.
The classes she has taken typically pass in three stages: introductions, where everyone goes around the room to explain their cooking experience; the instructors laying out how the evening will go; and then getting to work.
Classes cover knife skills, but many of the ingredients are prepped ahead of time by Clott and Tesler.
“You don’t have to do the parts of cooking that are the most annoying parts of cooking, because they’ve done all of those for you,” Marbit said. “It’s just overall, this really warm evening. They are amazing at making everyone feel welcome, and it’s just lovely.”
Tesler and Clott purchased the business from the previous owner, and they’re both career changers: Clott was an accountant and Tesler worked in the medical field. They met in culinary school, started teaching at Culinary Underground and had internships at America’s Test Kitchen.
“We learned a lot and both decided that we really just loved being with people and just the whole exchange that goes on here in the learning environment,” Clott said.
The pandemic was, of course, a challenge. The busy season for cooking classes is often during the cold season, October to May, and they would normally offer classes for younger students in the summer. But they closed for many months and decided not to offer Zoom classes.
“I think everybody’s pretty much tired of Zoom and doing everything online. What COVID taught everybody is they miss that personal connection,” Clott said. “If someone is there to support you, it just gives the students so much more confidence. Not to mention, it’s really nice, leaving your home and doing something outside the box.”
Clott attributed their popularity — they’re booked out through the end of the year — in part to shows like “Chopped” and “Great British Bakeoff”.
Improvisation is a big part of cooking, Culinary Underground’s owners say. For example, use a recipe as a jumping-off point, not as a strict set of rules that must be followed.
“There’s just something fantastic about creating something yourself, and especially food — it just tastes better,” Clott said. “Trust your judgment over trusting a recipe.”
Fun in the kitchen for all ages
Tesler said teenagers and children are great at absorbing new things, and that Culinary Underground doesn’t simplify its recipes just because of their age — children make the same recipes as adults.
“They want to explore, food-wise. They’re curious little souls,” Tesler said, and for all ages, “We try to create fun. That’s what you do, you have fun in the kitchen.”
Clott said during summer sessions, young students were often surprised at how easy it is to make boxed staples like mac and cheese from scratch instead, and that the best way to have a kid enjoy their food is to have them cook it.
“We’re so used to being afraid to fail, so here, kids are able to just take a risk and not worry about did they get an A+, did they get a C,” Clott said. “Cooking is the only tactile thing that they probably get to do… everything is a computer screen, is theoretical. This is something they get to touch and create — and then eat.”
Practice makes perfect
As for cooking at home, Marbit said she’s been confident enough to re-create some of Culinary Underground’s recipes, and has been back twice with her husband and other couples to attend a class.
“No one starts out perfecting something,” Clott said. “Everything takes practice, whether you’re a professional student or a recreational student.”
Clott suggested a sharp knife, a good cutting board, a thermometer and a scale as the simple essentials.
“If you’re not sure if that cake is done, its internal temp should be 190,” Clott said, no fiddling with toothpicks necessary.
Classes on offer include a one-day intensive boot camp for the basics, a couples night for French brasserie, including coq au vin, pasta making, a pie workshop and a culinary tour of Asia for teens.
Clott said they’ve been considering changing the name of ‘couples night,’ because people come in with friends and family — the current description on the website is “bring along your favorite someone” — and they aim to create a welcoming atmosphere where anyone can learn.
“When someone walks in here, they’re not a client, they’re a student, and first and foremost, they’re our guests,” Clott said. “You’re a guest in our home away from home.”
Lillian Eden can be reached at 617-459-6409 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LillianWEden.