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Weir Cooking

I know Joanne Weir about as well as most people in San Francisco know Joanne Weir—which is to say, not at all, really, save for the familiarity that comes when you watch someone on television (Weir hosts a cooking show, Joanne Weir’s Cooking Class, on PBS) and read their cookbooks. But of course I knew of Joanne, and her excellent reputation as one of San Francisco’s most beloved food personalities and cooking instructors. She’s a consummate and hands-on teacher, and she has recently opened her home to small groups for week-long intensive cooking classes.

 
At left, the start of berry upside-down cake. At right, warm olives with herbs and roasted eggplant.

I ducked in last Friday, the final day of her “Master Five Techniques in Five Days” class to see the students and Joanne in action. Full disclosure: I’ve always been wary of cooking classes, finding them, oftentimes to be dull, prescriptive or overly condescending. But this class, limited to ten students, was entirely different. Before she got the students cooking, she talked them through each recipe, adding tidbits of wisdom, stories and helpful hints. This, I thought, is what people pay for—anyone can demonstrate a recipe, but how often do you get a chance to learn Joanne Weir’s variations on upside-down cake, how she built the spit that rotates above her fireplace (many cases of wine and a master ironworker) or which recipes she trots out for dinner parties? She also quizzed the students about things they had learned earlier in the week: What’s the French term for a mixture of parsley and garlic (persillade)? What kills yeast (heat)? What makes egg whites fluffier (beating them in a copper bowl)?

 
Spit-roasted lamb on Joanne's fireplace; Joanne Weir graciously signs cookbooks for her students.

Then the group hit the kitchen, demonstrating their newfound skill by whipping up that upside-down cake with fresh berries, a Provencal-style gratin of eggplant, zucchini and tomato, an herb-rubbed leg of lamb (which was spit-roasted on her envy-inspiring spit in front of a roaring fire), breadsticks, crostini with mushrooms and blue cheese, and grilled new potatoes with a heady mixture of smoky paprika, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper. While they worked, Joanne flitted about, laughing, encouraging, story-telling. Want to get in on the action? She’ll be teaching another class in her home (this one called “Weir Going To A Party,” five days of recipes and menus for entertaining) in early December, and an all-Italian class in late January. While the classes aren’t cheap ($2,000 for the week) they’d make the perfect gift for a food lover looking for a few insider tips.