It’s not a restaurant, per se, though you will likely end up having some amazing dishes. Nor is it, despite the suggestive name, a cooking class, though you do receive many of the recipes for the meal.
So what exactly is COOK, the small, window-filled, yet blinds-drawn space at the corner of 20th and South Rittenhouse? Essentially, it’s a kitchen-classroom featuring demonstrations by some of the city’s best chefs. Instead of having to serve full restaurants, the chefs are cooking private meals for 16-20 “students”. For attendees, one of the biggest draws is to be able to interact with the chefs, as they tell the stories and reasoning behind the dishes.
Curiosity (and rave reviews from friends who’ve been) finally convinced me to give COOK a try. What better way to experience COOK than to pay homage to my Filipino heritage with “A Filipino Feast With Lou Boquila of Audrey Claire, Hosted by Drew Lazor?” The night was certainly one to remember. Here’s the recap of exactly what goes on at COOK.
First, host Drew Lazor of the Philadelphia Daily News, whose mother is from the Philippines, introduced the chef, Lou Boquila, and sommelier, Jillian Encarnacion (both of whom are of Filipino heritage). Then, the “class” introduced themselves. To help break the ice, Jillian served up shots, because, let’s face it, nothing loosens up people to start interacting than shots. Each attendee also received note cards containing the recipes for the night’s dishes.
The First Courses
As somewhat of a disclaimer, Chef Lou noted that the dishes he was serving were not completely authentic Filipino style. Instead, they were his own personal take on Filipino dishes he grew up eating at home, meaning they may be cooked with French stylings. Chef Lou started us off with fluke kilawin with Thai chilis and fried ginger. It’s essentially the Filipino version of ceviche and is reflective of the heavy Spanish influence in Filipino history and cuisine. Chef Lou chose fluke for its versatility and added some fish sauce. The Thai chili flavor and red bell pepper really stand out in this light, refreshing starter. As an accompanying drink, Jillian served sago at gulaman, which is a sweet drink filled with tapioca pearls. It tasted like sweet bananas.
Next, we had pinakbet gata, which was a dish of roasted vegetables. Eggplant was sliced and deep fried, butternut squash was shaped in a rectangle and roasted, long beans were blanched then sautéed, and okra and pearl onions were roasted. Chef Lou admitted imposing a lot of his personal interpretation in this dish. The result was a totally different look than the traditional dish from the homeland. A new school interpretation, if you will. Regardless, it was delicious. Except for the bitter melon, which you either hate or tolerate, and which, thankfully, was served on the side. To drink, we had Red Horse Malt Beverage, which is a malt liquor made by the Philippines’ most well-known brewery, San Miguel.
The Main Course
The main serving was a pork belly and quail adobo. Adobo, of course, is the most common Filipino dish, and it’s a cooking style where the meat (usually chicken) is stewed in a vinegar sauce. It’s usually served with rice (as are most Filipino meals), but Chef Lou used rice croquettes instead. After marinating the pork belly and quail in the vinegar-based sauce, he simmered the pork belly in the marinade on low heat before searing the quail on each side.
The presentation was fantastic and was much more attractive than the typical adobo serving. The pork belly was amazingly tender and was great with the garlic paste. Of course, the quail was fantastic as well.
It warrants mentioning that when there is extra food available at COOK, you are entitled to seconds. The hungry folks in the class (including myself) definitely took advantage of having extra pork belly and our third drink, San Miguel Pale Pilsen, the flagship San Miguel brand. This pilsner tastes ok but, as it’s mass produced and intended to appeal to the everyone, it is certainly not as flavorful as our domestic pilsner offerings.
Dessert was halo halo, which translates to “mix mix.” It’s an imprecise mixture of everything good under the sun: flan, ube (purple yam), special bananas, gelatin, other fruits, evaporated milk and shaved ice. Drew pitched in to help make it for the class. It was outstanding, and fortunately, there was enough flan left over for seconds. The accompanying drink was diki diki, a flavorful cocktail.
After dessert and drinks, Drew, Chef Lou and Jillian were more than gracious enough to chat at length with the attendees. The personal nature of COOK made it quite a memorable experience. COOK is certainly not cheap (most classes run between $150-185 a person). It is not something to be done every week or even every month. COOK is saved for special occasions and experiencing unforgettable nights. Come hungry.