Cooking with Chef Maximo

Chef Maximo demonstrates as Nick looks on pensively.
Chef Maximo demonstrates as Nick looks on pensively.

It was your basic Quickfire Challenge.

Have a glass of champagne, pick up your recipe card, be handed every ingredient already carefully measured out and separately packaged, and then cook every other step of the meal with a master chef helping you in between. The sweat was really dripping!

The cooking class, offered by Executive Chef Maximo Lopez May at the Andaz Wall Street hotel’s Wall & Water restaurant, is a dream come true for any foodie (no matter your skills in the kitchen). Imagine being a Community Theater actor told you can perform Hamlet on a Broadway stage—with an empty house of course.

The cooking classes are held on a Saturday, between brunch and dinner service in Chef Maximo’s open kitchen. The chef and his two sous chefs await you with a prepared menu, recipe cards, and a glass of champagne. Eight students break into two teams of four, and then all pick one dish to create.

I chose the flourless chocolate cake. My friend made the mussel chowder, another worked on the ricotta stuffed squash, while one lucky amateur prepared pheasant in milk sauce. Along the way, a sous chef per side helps with every moment, as Chef Maximo lends a hand to each starry-eyed want-to-be.

There is no time wasted (or room for mistakes) as each ingredient has already been measured, weighed, packaged and labeled. My pinch of salt? Already in a small dish labeled “Pinch of Salt.” At first you may think this was hand-holding, but the truth of the matter is that we were making dishes well over our level of sophistication. And I’d really rather that the couple on a date (and busy taking photos and snuggling) not be in charge of the meal.

For the self-proclaimed home chef, I could not imagine a better experience. To be in a professional kitchen, using the highest quality tools and ingredients, learning tricks and tips that you can bring back to your workstation at home—creating dishes that would normally scare you off due to their complexity, cost or chance for calamity—is what we amateur gourmands live for.

That is, until we get to the table. And then we are truly doing what it is we do best. Consuming, commenting, tasting, lapping, rolling our eyes in ecstasy, and thrilling in the experience as only a true gourmand can. Chef Maximo may have ruled the roost in his kitchen, but at the table, we are the kings and queens. This time, however, we have the added bonus of, “Will you pass me one of those pheasant legs you braised?” or “Would anyone else like some of my crème anglaise to pour over my flourless chocolate cake?”

The whole experience lasted about two and half hours. From the donning of the apron to the last sip of cabernet, it was worth every moment.

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