Birthday cooking demo at Sweet Basil

My birthday was a few weeks ago so this post is a bit late. But the thing is, Sweet Basil is one of my favorite restaurants in the Boston area (it’s actually in Needham) and this cooking class taught by owner Dave was really fun and the food reminded me of why this place holds such a dear place in my heart. If you’ve never heard of Sweet Basil, you need to know of this place’s existence and I’m here to do just that!

Let’s back up though… cooking class? Birthday? What is she talking about??

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[My dad, mom and Adam]

The Newton Community Education offers many adult classes, including cooking demos from local chefs (side note: your local high school probably offers lots of adult education classes too… I took a photography class at Brookline High when I first got my dSLR and it definitely taught me all the basics I needed to no longer be intimidated with my camera). My dad found the one taught by Dave, which just happened to be on my birthday. The cooking demo was held at Sweet Basil and included a 4-course lunch.

Learning cooking tricks from a talented chef and enjoying delicious food is definitely one of my favorite ways to spend a day… and the perfect way to celebrate my birthday. I was so there! Smile

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[The place is adorable with a modern yet cozy feel. All the dishes and silverware are mismatched, as if you’re at someone’s very quirky home.]

Before he began his demo, Dave chatted up everyone and showed off his latest obsession – homemade vinegars. I think this one was plum. He’s always so passionate about the food, his restaurant, the neighborhood, the guests. Sweet Basil doesn’t take reservations so on most nights Dave “works the crowd” (aka greets the guests, tells some jokes, pours them some wine… it’s BYOB… and even brings snacks to the front of the restaurant and outside for those who are extra hungry. I seriously love this place!!

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There was no wait this time though. We dug into the most amazing pesto ever. I promise you. I crave the stuff. I’ve had it at many restaurants and have made my own. Nothing comes close to Sweet Basil’s version! (I have the Sweet Basil cookbook so I am determined to try making it this year!)

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Surprisingly, everything Dave demoed and we ate during the luncheon was different from the typical Sweet Basil menu, which actually made me love the place even more. It’s simple ingredients coming together in something seriously special.

Take this spring vegetable soup (potatoes, garlic, white wine, spinach, peas, broccoli, splash of heavy cream – toms + shrimp and shredded Asiago for garnish)

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It doesn’t look particularly appetizing, just a bunch of greens from what the eye can see, but it’s incredibly flavorful. There is garlic, there is cheese, body from potatoes and a touch of cream. Every single person licked their bowl clean. Adam asked me to make it very soon. I’m making it this week. Yes, that good Smile [PS – I have all the recipes and don’t want to post them here, but if you’d like to recreate any of these, email me!]

Random trick I learned? After steaming the green veggies, drop the whole colander of them into a big bowl of ice (it stops the cooking process and keeps the greens from turning brown). Then when you need the veggies again (in this case when you need to blend them), pick up the colander from the bowl and you’ve got all your veggies right there! I don’t know why I always dumped the veggies straight into the ice bowl before and then picked them out one by one. Such an obvious (yet genius) little trick!

Next up was a cute little amuse bouche of sorts. Crostini with lemon-herbed ricotta

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Toast the bread on ice side only to get that perfect crunchy yet chewy balance.

Chickpea fritters with cucumber-mint aioli, served over salad

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The chickpea fritters sounded like falafel but man, they were so much more than that! There were some caramelized onions in the mix (which bugged me so I only had one bite and then picked out a few chickpeas… they were yummy) but I still really appreciate the flavor. You toast the chickpeas first, then smash them slightly, so there are whole (crunchy) chickpeas in the mix which are just so much fun. I can’t wait to recreate these, sans onions! Open-mouthed smile

The last course was jaw-dropping gorgeous. Lamb chops served over parmesan bread pudding

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… topped with fresh figs. Dave was so excited about his shipment of fresh figs (which were particularly sweet and just perfect) that he decided to let them shine instead of messing with them. The quality of ingredients is so key!

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I’ve never had a savory bread pudding and I can now say I’m a big fan. It was cheesy with a hint of rosemary – a rich and delicious side. [Btw, I am not really a lamb fan so I was more excited about the extras.]

The demo wasn’t that educational (I’m a bit of a geek so I knew a lot of what he was sharing with us) but it was such a fun experience and a delicious treat. If you’re ever in the area, make sure to stop by Sweet Basil. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed (the roasted beet and goat cheese salad is the best I’ve ever had… and yeah, that pesto. Mmm).

The dork that I am, I brought my cookbook copy and made Dave sign it. Nerd smile

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Oh I will enjoy it! Open-mouthed smile

Have you ever attended a cooking demo taught by a chef you admire?

*** PS – This wasn’t really a restaurant review given the special circumstances, but if you’re looking for local restaurant recommendations, check out my restaurant reviews page!

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