Bonnie At Beard’s House

The best part of watching Bonnie Stern teach a class at James Beard House in New York City is not having my own ball of challah dough to play with, although that was fun. The best part is watching Bonnie spar affectionately with co-instructor Mitchell Davis.

To celebrate the new book each of them published this year, they put together this cooking-class weekend: a workshop on Saturday and a multi-course brunch the next day.

Mitchell grew up in Toronto and moved to New York in the mid-1980s. He has been the Beard Foundation’s communications executive for 14 years. They met when Bonnie started keeping the Foundation abreast of Toronto’s restaurant news. [It turned out their parents spend summer vacations at the same resort.]

Simply on his own, Mitchell is impressive. He’s an adjunct professor and PhD candidate in New York University’s food studies program, which would explain his encyclopedic knowledge smattered throughout the workshop. He’s published four books and contributes to GQ and Food & Wine. Worth mentioning: he makes his own butter and his own vanilla extract.

Ten years of friendship have Bonnie and Mitchell finishing one anotherss sentences, good-naturedly disagreeing on cooking times and piping up with, ” didn’t know that” when the other has offered up a choice bit of information, and all of it ego-free.

Mitchell was the day’s value-added, but it was Bonnie I came to see, and she didn’t disappoint. Her understanding of food is visceral. It’s a pleasure to watch her hands, and she’s comfortable under close scrutiny.

The set-up is intimate, with instructors surrounded by a U-shaped butcher-block counter that puts their students less that a meter away. She’s warm and has her students bursting into laughter more that a couple of times.

Favourite lesson of the day:
The challah dough should feel like the inside of a woman’s thigh.

“Or the underside of a man’s forearm,” Mitchell pipes up.

Tomorrow: reports from the class