So what if no one in the book club wanted to talk about the book? September's selection was Julia Child's "My Life in France," but the 10 women gathered at Sugar & Spice Culinary Arts cooking school in Garden City were too busy cooking and eating to discuss Child's culinary memoir.
The club had taken over Sugar & Spice for a "custom class," and the school's owner, Vivian Flood, had come up with a menu drawn from the book: onion soup, sole meunière, ratatouille, rice pilaf and apple tart.
The group's monthly meeting is usually held at a restaurant, but this was the second time the women had decided on the cooking school instead. "We get the place to ourselves," said member Sandy Carrion of Franklin Square. "And we can focus on friendship and making something together. It's a lot more fun than sitting around in a restaurant or in someone's home talking about the book."
That suits Flood just fine. She hosts two or three custom classes each week in which groups of eight to 15 people -- book clubs, bachelorette parties, baby and bridal showers, birthday parties (from Sweet 16 to 85) or office groups -- come to cook, to learn, to eat and, most important, to enjoy one another's company.
ABOUT THE SCHOOL
Flood opened Sugar & Spice in April 2010 (her original partner left in February) with the goal of teaching adults and children to cook in a friendly, homey setting. Custom classes and children's programs, including camp during the summer, have proved more popular than she expected. This fall she is bumping up the school's more traditional culinary offerings with a new "Long Island Chef" series, taught by three professional instructors who used to teach at the now-defunct Viking Culinary Center, which also was in Garden City.
Sugar & Spice is set up like a well-appointed home kitchen. There was more than enough room for the group, either at the six-burner BlueStar range or along the long granite counter that seats 15.
COOKING WITH FRIENDS
While Flood instructed three women on the key to onion soup ("Don't rush sauteing the onions; they will take at least 30 minutes to properly caramelize"), her colleague, Jeanmarie Kobulnick, stood between two groups, each working on an apple tart. Kobulnick showed them a neat trick: Instead of rolling out the pastry dough, tear off pieces of it and press it into the tart tin.
As they cooked, the women chatted amiably. The tarts went into the oven, the ratatouille and pilaf simmered on the stove, the onion soup was ladled into crocks. Gradually, everyone migrated to the other side of the counter, where the seats were. Wine was opened. When it came time to saute the fish, only Flood and Kobulnick were left by the stove.
"They did well," Kobulnick said. "We have some classes that stop cooking after the appetizers." The meal was delicious, and most of the women said they'd be using the recipes, or at least applying lessons learned, at home. The tarts, stunning by any measure, drew enthusiastic applause. As they ate their handiwork, the group's conversation ran far afield of "My Life in France."
"With this book," said the club's president, Rose Tummarello of Malverne, "it was more fun to cook and eat than discuss."
INFO 516-488-1008, ssculinaryarts.com
Custom classes are available for 8 to 15 people and last 2 to 3 hours. Cost, including meal, is $65 to $95 a person, depending on the menu and the day of the week.
Custom classes are available for 12 to 30 people and last 2 to 3 hours. Cost, including meal and complimentary glass of wine, is between $99 and $135 a person, depending on time of day, day of week, menu and length of class.
Custom classes are available for 1 to 16 people and last 21 / 2 to 3 hours. Cost, including meal, is $300 for 1 or 2 people, $100 a person for 3 to 9 people, $95 a person for 10 to 16 people.
Custom classes are available for 8 to 16 people and last 3 hours. Cost, including meal and wine pairing, is $125 a person.
Private adult sessions have a 6-person minimum and last 3 hours. Cost, including meal, is $69 per person.