When it comes to the weekend, there are two different ways people like to spend it. There are the ones who celebrate hard when the work week ends and there are those that take the weekend to relax their minds and not do anything that requires too much brain power. Both options are equally enjoyable for me. Yet, I am more inclined to taking a relaxing weekend any chance I get.
Last weekend, I took an educational cooking class through an app called Leisurely. Leisurely partners with various chefs in the NYC area and hosts cooking classes in their restaurants or the Leisurely test kitchen-esque space in Midtown Manhattan. They offer classes celebrating various types of cuisines and activities like shucking oysters, making risotto, or learning about traditional Nigerian cuisine in a 4-course meal.
The class at Old Monk was all about Indian soul food and led by Co-owner and Executive Chef Navjot Arora. It was less hands-on and more informative which I actually enjoyed for my first event with Leisurely. Chef Navjot started the class with an interactive activity.
The room was split into three teams that had to correctly identify the 20 different spices that were on our display tray. You really don't know your spices until you've used them, touched them, or smelled them in their natural and fresh state. Things like anise, mustard seeds, fenugreek, and curry leaves are a few of the spices that were unidentifiable to me.
Old Monk is named for the iconic Indian dark rum brand and the food honors the rich and colorful flavors of India.
The first dish we tried was called jhalmuri or jhal moori. Jhal refers to being very spicy, while muri refers to the puffed rice. It is a flavorful Bengali snack similar to trail mix...but better. It's made with a "Bombay mix;" fried lentils, peanuts, chickpea flour, corn, vegetable oil, chickpeas, flaked rice, fried onion and curry leaves. The Bombay Mix is combined together with a spicy turmeric sauce and a base spice mix like Chana Masala. The jhalmuri has a long shelf life so feel free to snack on it for several days.
Throughout the event we watched Chef Navjot prepare dishes like tandoori chicken and shrimp masala. He told us his trick to getting the best tandoori chicken is to cut off all the skin and fat because it keeps the chicken from getting burnt when cooking at a high temperature. With the absence of gas stoves and ovens in India, cooks learned that by strategically adding ingredients at particular times helped balance the heat of wood stoves. He showed us this while preparing his tandoori chicken and walking us through the steps of simple recipes like cooking lentils (without soaking them).
The decor of Old Monk is complete with vibrant photographs depicting monks in the modern world; talking on cell phones, snapping photos, holding a cigarette like my favorite photo at the top.
The event lasted a little over two hours and I ate maybe 4-5 courses within that time frame and saw what a tandoori oven looked like and how naan is cooked (view gallery below).
Many of Leisurely's cooking classes vary between a multi-course menu or something more informative like learning how to shuck oysters. If you haven't already, sign up for their newsletter and download the app to stay updated on the next class...but I'll probably update you anyway.