Catalan Cooking Class

I love multi-tasking! And three of my favorite things to do at once are eating, drinking, and learning. I recently had the opportunity to indulge in this unbeatable trio at Catalan Mediterranean Restaurant in Rancho Mirage.

Chef-owner Drew Davis and his wife, Cynthia, have chosen to open up their eatery for regularly scheduled “Lunch & Learn” sessions of semi-hands-on cooking classes and demonstrations. While I was unfortunately unavailable for the first few that have already passed—“The Spanish Paella” last November, “Back to Basics: Spanish Style” in January, and early March’s “Fundamentals of Spanish Flavor”—I was able to take part in the couple’s late February, last-minute, pop-up paella-making event.

Promptly at noon on the appointed day, 40 of us settled in at formal but cozy tables positioned in a U formation in the restaurant’s open-air courtyard, which is beautifully covered by a canopy to shield we students from the hot mid-day sun. While Cynthia and her staff offered us Catalan’s signature (and deliciously potent!) sangria, Chef Drew made his first appearance on “stage” (a long table replete with full mise-en-place at the head of the room, next to which stood an enormous paella pan on a stand). Regaling us with fun facts and figures, Drew exhibited a sweet sense of humor and fun I’d never seen as he went about preparing our first course: a local melon salad with wild arugula. As he tossed in his not-so-secret ingredients to make the toasted cumin vinaigrette, his explanations kept coming. How to do this, how not to do that.

By the time we were served said salad, Drew was well on his way to crafting the pièce de résistance, his famous chorizo-prawn-chicken paella itself. Salivating all the while, we watched…and learned…as he worked. Then, we ate!

Certainly, sufficient knowledge was imparted during the class for each of us to confidently try making this delectable delight at home. (Oh, did I mention that as parting gifts we each received a wonderful paella pan, a packet of saffron, and a starter bag of Valencia rice—not to mention printed recipes!?) When factoring in a second glass of sangria, some leftover paella to take home, and a scoop of house-made passion fruit sorbet, the $69 price of admission was a great bargain.

Next up are classes entitled Flavors of Spring on April 9, and Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain on May 7. But so popular are the paella classes that more may pop up before season’s end. The best way to stay informed is to go to www.catalanrestaurant.com and sign up for Drew and Cynthia’s mailing list. That way you’ll be alerted to fantastic future events, such as the couple’s five-course wine dinner on Thursday, March 24. It will feature five courses, each paired with a vino of venerable vintage. Again, for $69 per person exclusive of tax and gratuity, it’s a steal.

It’s no surprise that I’ve long loved Catalan. Such great food, such great ambiance, such a terrific staff. I couldn’t be more happy that Drew and Cynthia have really found their niche in the desert. Don’t ever leave, you two!