Cooking Class Confidential

What I thought about my first-ever class with PBS star and vegan guru Christina Pirello

Jane Morley // Photo by Zoey Sless-Kitain

When I registered weeks ago for this past Saturday’s cooking class with Christina Pirello—whose cooking show, “Christina Cooks,” airs on PBS—at West Philly’s Restaurant School, I was in awe that the three-hour class set me back a mere $30. The more I thought about it, the louder the little cynical voice in my head grew: What kind of cooking class costs just 30 bucks? It’s probably going to suck.

Boy, was I wrong.

I arrived with a friend 15 minutes early, as the reminder e-mail—reminder e-mail! Christina Pirello doesn’t mess, people—had advised, and we were directed to a sizeable lecture hall that quickly filled to near capacity. As people filed in (my hasty head count totaled about 80 people), Pirello greeted many by name, suggesting that she has a devoted following of returning students.

The class, entitled “Spring Cleaning,” was devoted to dishes suited to help the body restore balance during this season of ever-changing temperatures, irritating pollen in the air, and unpredictable rain showers (much like the one that would greet us after class). On the menu: creamy bean, barley and mushroom soup; a salad of bitter greens, blood orange and olives; penne aglio e olio; and roasted carrots and potatoes.

Though the premise of “restoring balance” might sound a little granola-crunchy-mumbo-jumbo to some, Pirello was thoroughly down-to-earth and even downright funny as she explained her ingredient choices and narrated the preparation of the four dishes. Sure, she talked a lot about Chinese medicine and energy flow, but she did so with disclaimers: “This is going to sound a bit esoteric, so roll your eyes if you want to.”

Among the perfect-for-spring ingredients Pirello used were: shiitake mushrooms, which help relax the body and ease muscle tension; onions, which draw out congestion from blocked-up sinuses; and fingerling potatoes, an excellent source of potassium, the nutrient people often forget to replenish as the season’s temperature climbs and they begin to sweat more. (One additional cool fingerling fact I learned from Pirello: They have a higher skin-to-flesh ratio than bigger baking spuds, so you’re getting more nutrients mixed in with some of those tasty carbs.)

Students listen closely as PBS star chef Christina Pirello gives cooking tips. // Photo by Jane Morley

Throughout class, a team of cheery kitchen assistants moved quickly and efficiently around the demo area—the class was instructive only, not hands-on—and one of the helpers, named Patrecia, walked us through an über-simple no-bake cookie preparation. The three-hour class allowed plenty of time for students to pick the brains of Pirello and her husband, Robert, about foods and natural remedies for specific health concerns—and, of course, time for eating! My favorite dishes were the soup, richly flavorful thanks to a last-minute addition of white miso, and the roasted carrots and potatoes, with sweet and salty in just the right proportion.

Best of all, there was no proselytizing about veganism or bashing of all other dietary practices. Instead, Pirello acknowledged throughout class that meatlessness isn’t for everyone and that no one can eat perfectly healthful foods all the time. She was refreshingly honest when answering students’ questions, such as her response to a question about dried versus canned beans: “I use dried nine times out of 10…. [But] if canned beans are what keep you from the McDonald’s drive-through, by all means, eat them.”

For more information about cooking classes with Christina Pirello, visit