I Tried It: Cooking Lesson at Clean Your Plate with Christina Dimacali

I’ve been microwaving Lean Cuisines for a decade. Can a class really help me learn—and love—to cook?

I tried It, Cook class

Photography by Courtney Apple

I don’t think chef Christina Dimacali realized what she was in for when I signed on for one of her cooking classes. “I’m a beginner,” I warned. She reassured me that all skill levels were welcome. Then, about five minutes in, I asked my first question:

“So, er, what exactly is a shallot?”

It’s no secret that I don’t cook—if you looked in my refrigerator, you’d think a bunch of frat boys live in my house. But what I’m lacking even more than kitchen know-how is a spark—that deep-seated desire to make wonderful meals. Or at least a desire to learn how to turn on my gas stove without screaming.

Enter Dimacali, the private-chef-turned-owner of Clean Your Plate, a cooking class based in her home in Northern Liberties. She fashions grand menus and hosts three-hour lessons around them ($85 a person)—a Greek class where you learn to make pita, a recently revived pasta-making class, an Indian cuisine class. “It’s like my own private cooking party with friends, in my personal kitchen,” she says.

I arrive at her rowhome on a Wednesday evening along with eight other students. We don red aprons and encircle Dimacali’s kitchen table, which is lined with eight cutting boards. She leads us through the prep work for the night’s menu: apple walnut salad, oven-roasted parmesan broccoli, chicken marsala, peanut butter cookies. She teaches us basic knife skills (push the knife forward while slicing) and sprinkles tips throughout (e.g., cut celery stalks on the bias for a “sexier” salad). We rotate through the stations, ping-ponging from mincing parsley to searing chicken as Dimacali bustles about, patiently answering questions and demonstrating techniques. When the dinner is finished, we take our seats and eat the fruits of our labors: smoky, perfectly roasted broccoli; rich marsala sauce; pillowy cookies.

The next morning, Dimacali emails us the recipes and a list of her favorite kitchen tools. Better yet, she encourages us to call or text her with any questions. I might take her up on it. After all, I’m now armed with an arsenal of recipes and basic skills and, even more important, a desire to actually use them.

So, Chef Dimacali, here’s my next question: In which aisle do I find the chicken?