Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reggie Out & About: Cooking With Gail Monaghan

Boy and I have been taking cooking classes for the last several years from Gail Monaghan, a delightful person, cook, and cookbook author who teaches classes in her modern art-filled loft in Manhattan.  In addition to teaching and writing, Gail also organizes cooking-themed travel programs to Europe and Asia, and soon to India.

Gail Monaghan in her Manhattan loft kitchen

I first learned about Gail and her cooking classes on New York Social Diary, a daily read of mine, where she was profiled three years ago, and I signed us up for a class with her shortly thereafter.  I had been casting about, looking for something to do after work on "school nights" other than simply heading home or out to a restaurant (yet again), and I thought that taking a class with Gail Monaghan might be just the ticket.  A cooking class was appealing to me on several accounts, since when one takes such a class one learns something, one does something, and one gets to eat a lovely meal at the end of it.  And someone else does the dishes, too.  It's hard to beat that!

Gail is a bit of a media darling.  She has written numerous articles for--and been the subject of pieces in--magazines and other periodicals, and she regularly appears on television and the radio.  She is the subject of an extensive story in this month's issue of Quest Magazine, with lots of glossy and glamorous photos of her, and which also features photographs and a recipe or two from her just-released cookbook The Entrees: Remembered Favorites From the Past (more on that later).

Gail's classes are held around a large square island

Gail's classes are lots of fun and attract a diverse crowd of regulars, including groups of friends and occasional visitors from out of town.  A typical class may include a fashion designer or two, a magazine writer, an architect, a decorator, one or two investment bankers, someone in the arts, and a smattering of swells.  The classes are on the small side, usually around a dozen people, give or take a few.

The classes are "one off" (as opposed to a series), focusing on a particular theme or cuisine.  The subject could be anything from a menu for the holidays to the "perfect" summer buffet, or it could be the food of a specific country, such as Italy or China.

The counter set with glasses for wine and
those incredible chips!

The classes are held in Gail's loft's kitchen area where everyone sits on stools around a large square island.  She encourages her students to bring a bottle of wine to drink during the meal's preparation (hopefully some will still be left for when it comes time to eat), and she sets out bowls filled with hearty, seasoned potato chips that are maddeningly difficult not to overeat before the dinner is ready.

Everyone gets down to work, chopping and dicing

Over the course of several hours, Gail both demonstrates and has her students join her in preparing a three- (or more) course meal.  These are hands-on classes in which Gail parcels out various tasks to her students, such as dicing onions, shelling peas, and the like, all the while keeping up a pleasant discourse (more of a conversation, really) on what is being prepared.  She discusses the sources of her recipes, which may be her own or her variations on others', and demonstrates how they are made, asking for assistance from time to time in stirring bubbling pots and getting pans in and out of the ovens.  The classes culminate in everyone tucking in to the communally prepared, delicious meal that is always topped off with a spectacular dessert.

How many hands does it take to stir a pot?

Gail's classes feel more like one is attending a casual party, sitting in a friend's kitchen (well, a very nice kitchen), helping prepare a meal.  And that's almost what you are doing, because the classes quickly become quite convivial and jolly, with lots of pleasant chatter and laughter among the students.  Gail keeps a bell near her that she sometimes rings when the talking gets really out of hand, which it occasionally does (Reggie is guilty as charged!).  In short, Gail's classes are a lot of fun.

The Oracle, sharing her knowledge

Don't get me wrong, these are serious classes, too, where Gail teaches her students how to prepare interesting, unusual, and--at times--complex food.  She is a great student and historian of cooking herself, and is constantly exploring new foods and ingredients, unearthing forgotten recipes, and delving into cuisines of regions in countries that are off the radar for many of us.  Gail is a font of knowledge and has lots of good tips about technique, the history of particular dishes, why certain ingredients work well together, and why others may not.  She is also a great resource when it comes to sourcing unusual tools and out-of-the-ordinary ingredients.  In short, she is a real foodie, in the best sense of the word.

Oh, good, there's still wine left to have with dinner!

Boy and I recently took a class taught by Gail that featured the food of southern India and that illustrates how interesting the classes she teaches can be.  Here's the menu:

Buffet Dinner From Southern India
  • Tamarind Fish (we cooked Cod in our class, but others, including Halibut or Monkfish, will do)
  • Green Bean Thoren
  • Rice Pullao with Green Peas
  • Tomato Pachadi
  • Mint and Cilantro Chutney
  • Indian Breads
  • Glazed Citrus Yogurt Cake with Homemade Ice Cream
Reggie wasn't familiar with many of the spices we used in the class, and he hadn't heard of a number of the dishes we prepared.  He's not absolutely sure whether he can even pronounce them all correctly.  He signed up for the class so he could learn more about the food of India, a country that has always fascinated him.  He came away with an even greater appreciation for Indian cooking than he had before, and that's saying a lot, since Reggie adores Indian food.

For the upcoming holidays, Gail is teaching a series of classes with, well, a holiday focus.  We're signed up for one called Comfort Food Christmas in December where we'll prepare, among other things, a crown roast of pork, herbed popovers, and a sticky toffee pudding with creme Anglaise.  Eat your heart out, Bob Cratchit!

Gail's just-published cookbook
The Entrees: Remembered Favorites . . .

Gail recently came out with a new cookbook (she's written several) titled The Entrees: Remembered Favorites From the Past, Recipes From Legendary Chefs and Restaurants and published by Rizzoli.  The focus of the book is recipes for classic dishes of days gone by that in some cases have fallen out of favor in today's food culture, and in others have been forgotten altogether.  Gail has recreated the dishes for her book, sensitively updating them when appropriate to be more appealing to today's food preferences.  The cookbook is lavishly illustrated with photographs by Eric Boman and is a repository of fascinating recipes and stories. Reggie looks forward to cooking his way through the book in the kitchen at Darlington House.

Gail at her book signing at Rizzoli,
inscribing a copy for Reggie and Boy

Several weeks ago Gail invited Boy and me to the inaugural book signing for The Entrees held at the Rizzoli bookstore on West 57th Street in Manhattan.  Boy attended, but I, unfortunately, could not, as I was in South America on business that day.  Boy said the book signing was very well attended and that a lot of people were there scooping up copies, in some cases buying multiples to give as Christmas presents.  Many class regulars were there, including Chris Spitzmiller, who we met in the first class we took with Gail, several years ago.

Chris Spitzmiller, another Gail regular, looks on

Reggie recommends that you, Dear Reader, consider taking one of Gail's classes, and that you also add her cookbooks to your culinary library.  Her hands-on classes are a delightful change from going out to dinner in a restaurant, and they are a fun outing for a couple or a gaggle of friends, too.  Add a dash of learning, a mix of interesting people, and top it off with a delicious dinner, and you'll have the Gail Monaghan cooking class experience that keeps Reggie coming back for more.

You can learn more about Gail, including her class and travel schedules, on her website,  Do tell her that Reggie sent you!

Please note, Reggie has not received anything in return for this review, nor does he expect to do so.  He is posting it solely for the pleasure of introducing his readers to Gail Monaghan.

All photos of Gail's class by Reggie Darling; photos of Gail's book signing by Boy Fenwick


  1. Thank you for the introduction! You've inspired me to look more closely at the cooking classes offered in my area, a great gift idea.

  2. Oh, her class looks like so much fun...and what a fabulous kitchen to cook in.
    I'm putting her new book on my christmas list.

  3. I've been talking about taking a cooking class for ages. Gail's group looks like so much fun, although unfortunately it would be a bit too far for me. I will definitely be on the lookout for her book!


  4. I just ordered her book via amazon. Our local culinary college, Johnson and Wales, also offers one-off cooking classes. I have attended several and definitely enjoyed the added cooking skills and appreciation for global cuisines. I would be unable to commit to a series due to work schedules, but a one- off class is fine.

  5. Sticky Toffee Pudding? The entire meal sounds wonderful but the dessert is one of my very favorites.
    xox Camilla

  6. We have a smallish culinary school here and I've been to a couple classes. It really is a great way to spend an evening. Her classes sound even more intimate and so even more appealing. Thanks Reggie, for the introduction. Off to check out her cookbooks now.

  7. Okay Reggie D, who said he didn't cook! That Sticky Toffee Pudding sounds just right up my alley. Take good notes....I expect great things from you!

  8. I am a good cook but would certainly jump at the chance to take classes like this. I wouldn't have any ideas how to cook anything Indian or pronouce many of the spices either!

    It sounds like a wonderful book. I will definately check out her herb popovers recipe. Triple herb popovers are a must every year for our Christmas dinner!

    And, what a truly interesting assortment of classmates you have!

  9. I gave my husband a cooking class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts for Christmas a few years ago. It was an amazingly fun evening. Thanks for the reminder to do it again!

  10. Jealous of your lessons from a pro...
    I had my share when I owned a restyaurant/jazz club in Philly...but you can never get too many.

  11. Sounds like SO much fun - and I'm with several of the other commenters - sticky toffee pudding is right up my alley!

  12. Reggie,
    I have had such a blast in this and all of Gail's classes. The recipes are memorable and easily doable. I've attended 30 years of cooking classes and Gail's are uniquely fun. She allows guests to mingle and chat as long as it doesn't get louder than a dull roar. I've always left happy and with a few new friends with a common passion for cooking and good food. Next week 15 of us have organized a private event with her....and we can't wait!
    Thanks for sharing and see you at the next one??

  13. Good Day,

    I just recently became acclimated(thanks to The Daily Prep)with your digital master piece and I must say that your scribed mannerisms are supremely crafted and well thought-out. I relish the jovial sentiment-it is inviting and an altogether refreshing and disparate diffusion from digital masses. Keep of the good work old sport.


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