Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fine Cooking 1, Class 3 at Institute of Culinary Education, New York




The third cooking class for Fine Cooking 1 (a five-course series offered at Institute of Culinary Education, New York) was about braising. The meal we ate at the end of class was by far my favorite one:
  • Steamed mussels

  • Raw Belgian endive salad with egg yolk and mustard vinaigrette

  • Green lentils salad

  • Braised lamb shanks in wine

  • Braised leeks

  • Braised celery with bacon (this was the only dish I had never had before, and it was astounding).

  • Chocolate mousse.



My team was short by one person, which seemed to work out well. There's not a lot to do once all the prep work for a braise is done, so the pace of the class was a bit more relax. By this point, we also have become comfortable with our team members and know what one another can do and need to practice doing. Nevertheless, having three rather than four people in a group made things feel a lot more manageable.


Chef Peter Berley returned as the instructor for this class. We arrived at 10a.m. and sat through a very short lecture. I say "lecture" only because I don't really know how else to describe it. It's nothing more than everyone gathering at the table to listen to Chef Berley explain the method that's being taught (for example, in this class, braising), review what we will be doing, and providing some additional tips and tricks to use at home later. Some people ask questions. Some people take notes. Some people lean back, absorb, and sip the complimentary coffee.


We got to work with the lamb shanks first, as they required the longest cooking time. We seasoned them and browned them in a wide skillet with nothing more than a bit of canola oil. Chef Berley's tip for browning before braising is to use medium heat because you don't need to sear the meat, and you don't want to burn the fat or any residual bits of food in the pan. The meat doesn't need to cook all the way through, either, because it will do that in the oven during the braise.

We browned the lamb shanks on all sides, slowly. It took 20 minutes at least. Then we drained off the fat and dabbed the pan with towel. Whatever was left behind, we deglazed with either vegetables or wine. Two things were new to me here: removing all the fat and deglazing without liquid. It works, though. Taking out the fat now means you have less degreasing to do later when dealing with the braising liquid for sauce. And deglazing without liquid — just vegetables — also works all right as long as some have enough liquid in them to sweat off, like onions and celery.



Everything on the menu took very little effort, which is one reason I love braising. I had never had braised celery before, but it was perhaps my favorite thing on the table. It's nothing more than trimmed and washed celery heads, blanched, put into a gratin dish on a bed of sauteed mire poix with white wine and herbs. Take some un-sliced bacon (like for lardons), cut a few long and thick pieces, and drop those in the blanching water for about five minutes. Add the bacon to the gratin dish, right on top, cover with foil, and braise on low heat for 30 or 45 minutes, maybe longer, until the celery is tender.



Read other posts in this series:

Fine Cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York (Background about the course)

Fine Cooking 1: Class 1 at ICE, New York

Fine Cooking 1: Class 2 at ICE, New York



Fine Cooking 1: Class 3 at ICE, New York (you're on the page now...)


Fine Cooking 1: Class 4 at ICE, New York

At the time of the course (early 2011), I missed class no. 5 and have been trying to make it up ever since. Whenever I do, I will post about it, but it's been several months and the availability seems pretty limited.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Rubirosa (Manhattan, New York)

What drew me to eat at Rubirosa (no web site) twice in one month? Its philosophy on tomatoes.

Rubirosa is a medium-sized Italian restaurant in the Soho/Nolita neighborhood of New York that opened in November 2010.

Prices at Rubirosa
In terms of value, it's an amazing addition to the neighborhood. A full dinner won't leave you broke, and the menu offers flexible options for sharing or piecing together a meal of appetizers, sides, and pizza. The portions are more than adequate. I'm also a huge advocate of the "half portion" option, which Rubirosa includes on its menu for all pasta dishes—except the lasagna for two ($24).

Boyfriend and I had a very filling dinner with two drinks each for less than $80 total, including tip. The other time we went as a party of three and ordered more food than we possibly could have eaten, and the bill was around $50 per person, including tip.

What to Eat
Expect the menu to be a little different from anything you find on Menupages or another web site, but some guiding principles will steer you in the right direction. There are two paths that I would take: one involves the lasagna for two and the other involves the "rice balls" or arancini ($9).

Order the rice balls and the server will present to you three baseball-sized, golden fried gorgeously gooey arancini. Slice your fork into one, and it will ooze mascarpone and fontina. Speckles of pink prosciutto dot the inside. These are not to be missed. However, they are rich and quite heavy, so I would not order them in the same meal as the lasagna.

The lasagna for two is an ample casserole of bubbling cheese, bright tomatoes, sausage, and meatball. Reserve a couple of pieces of bread from the complimentary basket to sop up the lovely tomatoes juices that are left behind in the dish.

All the pasta dishes I tried were fantastic, fresh, and full of that bright tomato flavor. Rubirosa's kitchen seems to approach tomatoes with the "do as little as possible" philosophy. Buy great quality canned tomatoes, and don't cook them too much. Some tomato-based sauces and pasta dishes develop a deep burgundy color after spending hours on the stove in a vat of red wine and aromatics. There's certainly a time and a place for that (including my house once a week). But the vibrant red of Rubirosa's tomtoes let you know the kitchen is not messing with your food too much, and it works.

Other oustanding dishes included the pappardelle with chunky sausage ragu and pecorino ($15 for half portion, $24 for a large portion). The half portion is plenty of pasta for one person and is even enough to share if you order multiple courses. Another winner: the caramelized onion and duck bruschetta ($2.50 per piece). I worry sometimes about getting ripped off with bruschetta. It's just bread with a little something on top. Again, the portions here are generous, and the bruschetta is piled high with shredded duck meat. You definitely get $2.50-worth of food. It's enough meat to fill a taco.

I was less impressed with chicken under a brick (about $23), which came on a bed of lovely escarole and beans, but was still just chicken. Stick to pastas and appetizers. Pizza is another mainstay of this restaurant (I think the full name might actually be Rubirosa Pizza Bar), but watching other diners fumble with New York-style super thin crust slices, I opted out. There's other amazing Neopolitan pizza in this city (Motorino is my favorite), and I think Rubirosa has a much better thing going on without these sloppy pies.

Definitely call for a reservation. The restaurant is listed on OpenTable.com, but you'll get a much better slot if you call and speak to the host. Also, definitely ask to sit in the area just behind the bar, or the middle room. There's a back room that's a little under-class, and the drafty seats in the front aren't great either.


Rubirosa (no web site)
235 Mulberry Street
New York
(212) 965-0500

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recipe: Gazpacho

New Yorkers reveled last week when we were treated to an unexpected surprise: the temperature climbed to 65°F (about 18°C), after six weeks of below-freezing temperatures and record-breaking amounts of snow.

And we needed it! After the perpetual crankiness that comes from digging out from the snow, slipping on ice, and watching piles of white snowbanks slowly degenerate into black muck, we needed something to lift us up again. In the warm weather, people pranced around the streets of Manhattan in short sleeves. Faces were turned up to the sun, heads held high, shoulders dropped in relaxation. The sidewalks suddenly seemed infinitely wide with all the snow melted and gone.

When a day like that pops out of nowhere in February or March in the northeastern United States, it's tough to remember that it's still winter and that none of the spring foods you'd like to eat have grown yet. Your tongue might crave the tight skins of spring peas that pop with the slightest bit of pressure, or the fragrant tips of asparagus, but as far as botany goes, those plants might not even be in the ground yet.

Try all you like to be a locavore, but some days, I just can't help myself and I have to buy a few pounds of hot-house tomatoes and cucumbers shipped in from California.

This traditional gazpacho recipe, which was in my ICE cooking class book, satisfied all my out-of-season cravings. I've had many variations on gazpacho, but this one might be the first really classic one I've ever had—and I loved it.

Gazpacho
Yield: 6 servings
4 cups (about 2 pounds) chopped and seeded ripe tomatoes
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
1/2 cup diced green peppers
3 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint, marjoram, or basil
2 cups chilled tomato juice or V8 juice
Minced cucumber, onion and tomato, for garnish (optional)


1. In a large bowl, mix all of the soup ingredients. If needed, thin the mixture with 1 to 2 cups ice water.

2. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Place the garnish, if using, in individual small bowls and pass at the table.

Disclaimer: This recipe is from The Institute of Culinary Education. I received it when I enrolled in a recreational course there. No copyright information was listed on this recipe or any other page that I received from the Institute. I assume the Institute owns the recipe and that they do not mind republication, given lack of copyright.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Photo Situation

The photos I've posted in the last few weeks were taken with my iPhone. They've been slightly out of focus and not well composed. I snapped many of them quickly and discretely during my Saturday cooking class series (which is on hiatus today for President's Day weekend) because I no one in that class knows that I've been writing about it, to my knowledge.

The main reason I've been using the iPhone instead of my DSLR is because I loaned the big camera to my sister who went to Buenos Aires for two weeks in January and is now studying in Barcelona. I'll be heading out to visit her in a few weeks with my other sister and Boyfriend, at which point I'll probably ask for the camera back. She's a real shutter bug, so hopefully she'll take some great pictures on my behalf that I can post here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recipe: Arborio Rice Chicken Soup with Escarole

In the recreational cooking course I'm taking, we made this simple soup.

Escarole is so underrated. If you've never had it, it's a mildly bitter leafy green that comes in a head, like lettuce. It's related to endive, but is much larger. It looks like a cross between frisée and green leaf lettuce.

I love that it is not over-cooked in this easy soup. Toss it in just before serving so it wilts but doesn't loose all its color and bite.

Another great way to enjoy escarole is with raisins, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, olives, anchovies, and Romano cheese in my esca-rolls. If you're feeling lazy, take the esca-rolls ingredients and just layer them all in a big lasagna pan instead of rolling them up. It's much easier to make and eat that way.

Arborio Rice Chicken Soup with Escarole
Arborio rice is one of many varieties of short-grain rice from Italy. It can tolerate long cooking and absorb a great deal of liquid without becoming mushy. It is easily identified by a little white dot inside the grain. Arobrio rice also contains a lot of start chich can help add thickness ot the soups in which it is cooked.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup Arborio rice
2 cups chopped escarole
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


1. In a large soup to heat the butter over medium heat. When hot but not brown, add the carrots, celery and onion and stir to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and sweat the vegetables until they start to soften, about 8 minutes. (Seating cooks the vegetables without browning them.)

2. Add the salt and stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice. Allow the stock to return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cover the pot and cook until the rice is al dente, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Just before serving, stir in escarole and lemon juice. Adjust the seasonings. Transfer the soup to warm blows, sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve.


Disclaimer: This recipe is from The Institute of Culinary Education. I received it when I enrolled in a recreational course there. No copyright information was listed on this recipe or any other page that I received from the Institute. I assume the Institute owns the recipe and that they do not mind republication, given lack of copyright.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken Recipe

I'm taking a five-week course at Institute of Culinary Education in New York, and during the first class, Chef Peter Berley narrated this roast chicken recipe, which he says he learned from Thomas Keller.

Thomas Keller's Roast Chicken
1 good quality chicken
1 tablespoon good quality Kosher salt, or 3/4 teaspoon fine salt, per pound of chicken, including bone

1. Rinse and dry the chicken. Dry it thoroughly. Rub the salt all over the skin of the bird and inside its cavity. Place on a roasting pan in the refrigerator uncovered. Leave overnight to dry out.

2. Remove chicken from refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. Preheat oven to 475°F. Let the oven preheat at least 20 minutes!

3. Put the chicken in the oven, close the door, and don't open it for 50 minutes.

4. After 50 minutes, check the bird. You can now baste it with the drippings or stock or butter or olive oil, or sprinkle it with herbs if you like. Depending on the size of the bird, cook for another 5 to 20 minutes.

5. Remove from oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before carving and serving.

Fine Cooking 1: Class 2 at Institute of Culinary Education, New York

Fine Cooking 1: Class 2


The second class in the Fine Cooking recreational course at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York focused on roasting. The course comprises five five-hour sessions and each lesson looks at a specific technique of cooking. Class 1 was on sautéing.

My group meets on Saturdays from 10am to 3pm. Due to some scheduling issues, we will not have the same instructor for all five classes. Class 1's instructor was Chef Peter Berley, whom I really liked. Class 2's instructor was Chef Pablo Sanchez.

The Instructor
If I've learned anything so far about taking multi-day, intensive cooking classes, it's to spend more time learning about the chef instructors before enrolling. Certainly, if I take Fine Cooking 2 at ICE, I will make several phone calls to ask about the instructors before enrolling.

I can see how some recreational cooking students would really like Chef Sanchez. He's boisterous, scattered, and non-linear. He likes to play music while cooking. His speech is so rapid fire that he frequently misspeaks.

Something happened to me a few years ago (I can't say I can describe it exactly), but I basically hate to listen to music. Except for a handful of circumstances, like dancing, I find music jarring. It's very difficult for me to do anything that requires even the slightest amount of focus, like driving, cooking, or cleaning, when there's music. It's funny because I have the radio on all the time when I'm in the kitchen at home, but it's always talk radio. Music is more than just distracting. It actually puts me on edge.

Chef Sanchez brought an iPod dock into the classroom and set it up right next to my group's cooking station. His music was not only on for most of the class, but it was also blasting about four feet from where I was standing. From the get-go, Chef Sanchez's style did not jive with me. I think a lot of the other students really enjoyed it, though. More than half the class are novices, and I think they appreciated having someone tell them to not take cooking too seriously and to have fun with it. But for me, a loose and fluid classroom experience is not conducive to learning.



The Technique: Roasting
This class was all about roasting. We were supposed to roast five things: chicken, stuffed tomatoes, lardons (or cubes of bacon), pignoli, and a clafouti. The pine nuts would be "toasted," and the clafouti would be "baked," and although we use different words to describe those things, the concept is still the same as roasting —using the dry, indirect heat of the oven to cook food.

The first problem is that each group did not get to roast their own chicken. We prepped and trussed two chickens per group, but then we turned them over to the instructor and his assistant, who moved them to a set of ovens behind our working kitchens. In other words, we didn't have any hands-on control over the actual cooking. This was very frustrating.

Second, Chef Sanchez did the same thing with our stuffed tomatoes. Rather than let each group roast their own, he arranged them all onto one big tray and moved them to one oven. He did the same thing with the clafoutis. At least these were right in the classroom kitchen ovens, unlike the birds that were removed from sight. Still, only a few people would be able to monitor the tomatoes and the desserts and rotate the trays, keep an eye on the doneness, and pull them from the oven when they were finished. How are we supposed to learn how to roast if we don't get to do any of the roasting?

Third, Chef Sanchez decided that we should sauté the lardons rather than roast them because "it's more active, you know, to have something on the stove top that you can move around and watch and smell." Okay, but the purpose of the course is to work on one specific technique per session! We also ended up toasting the pine nuts on the stove top due to the complete disorganization about the ovens. Actually, two of the ovens in the classroom were not even lit at all.

What We Learned
Despite the chaos, we did learn how to make stock and how to cook rice. Rice is one of those foods that is so ridiculously simple and uncomplicated, and yet it's one of the trickiest things to master.

Years ago when I was living in London as a student, I got into a conversation over dinner with a couple of girls, one from Taiwan, two from France, one Ukrainian-American, and me about how to cook rice. I did not grow up eating a lot of rice. Everything I knew about cooking rice at that point had come from reading the backs of packages. Sometimes it was two parts water to one part rice, and sometimes it was one-and-a-half to one. My opinions were not strong. But the other girls were all ready to duke it out. The Ukrainian-American girl said, "The whole trick is getting the proportions right." The French girls said, "You're wrong! The trick is to boil it and strain it, just like cooking pasta!" And the Taiwanese girls interjected, "No no no. You are all fools! The trick to making rice is to use a rice cooker!"

Of course, they are all right. How you cook rice largely depends on what kind of rice you have and how you plan to eat it.

In the class, we did a steamed brown rice in stock in a two-to-one ratio (two parts liquid, that is), and a wild rice that was boiled and strained. We also did an arborio rice cooked directly into a soup.

We also learned how to truss a chicken two ways. The method is to use twine. The second way, which is pretty ingenious, is to make an incision in the chicken skin on one of the legs so that you can cross the other leg into it; then tuck the second leg around and into the first, almost like a yoga lotus position.

Chef Sanchez also taught how to carve a bird. His method involves removing the wish bone before cooking. I've never heard of this before. His rationalization is that after the chicken is cooked and you're ready to carve it, that pesky bone is already gone. What I don't understand still (and please leave a comment if you know!) is why wouldn't you just remove the wish bone after cooking as your first cut? It seems like you would want to keep the chicken intact as much as possible before cooking, whereas after cooking, you're going to cut it all up anyway.



The Menu
Soup: Arborio rice soup with escarole, finished with grated Parmesan cheese

Salad: Baby spinach with sliced mushrooms and lardons and curry vinaigrette

Vegetable: Roasted stuffed tomatoes

Starch: Wild rice and brown rice pilaf with currants and toasted pine nuts

Protein: Roast chicken

Dessert: Mixed fruit clafouti (which I've made before, many times over)



The Meal
Roast chicken has never won over my heart, and it didn't this time either. When the class sat down to eat, only two or three of the birds had finished cooking through. The rest needed an additional 15 to 20 minutes in the oven. In my experience, this always happens. Chicken never cooks as quickly as you think it will. I don't know if it's because people open their ovens too often and let out the heat, or if the "recipe" for figuring out how long a bird will take to cook by weight is just off, or whether most ovens are not calibrated properly and the temperature is off. In any event, I got a secrete smug bit of satisfaction that these birds were still bloody the first time Chef Sanchez cut into them.

The rice pilaf we made should have been lovely but wasn't. It consisted of wild rice, brown rice, currants, toasted pine nuts, and butter. I snuck in a little more color and flavor by using our herb butter instead of plain butter, but the dish was still not quite there. Had I made it had home, I would have used raisins or cranberries instead of the tiny currents, and I would have soaked the fruit in water to plump it up. I also would have added about a cup of chopped parsley, and maybe some additional fruit or vegetables, like diced apricots or fennel, to freshen it up.

Serve me a meal at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and the soup will always be the thing I love the most. This soup had escarole, a gently bitter green that I adore, arborio rice (which broke and got a little mushy, unfortunately), carrots, celery, onion, chicken stock, and butter. We finished it with grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper. This is a wonderful winter soup, which you could easily change up with root vegetables, like parsnips or celeriac.

The Other Way to Roast a Chicken: Thomas Keller's Recipe
In class 1, Chef Berley made an aside about how we would be roasting a chicken in class 2 in such a fashion that he himself would never ever do at home. He prefers a recipe that he learned from Thomas Keller:
(You can also view the recipe on an easy-to-print page here.)
1 good quality chicken
1 tablespoon good quality Kosher salt, or 3/4 tablespoon fine salt, per pound of chicken, including bone

1. Rinse and dry the chicken. Dry it thoroughly. Rub the salt all over the skin of the bird and inside its cavity. Place on a roasting pan in the refrigerator uncovered. Leave overnight to dry out.

2. Remove chicken from refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. Preheat oven to 475°F. Let the oven preheat at least 20 minutes!

3. Put the chicken in the oven, close the door, and don't open it for 50 minutes.

4. After 50 minutes, check the bird. You can now baste it with the drippings or stock or butter or olive oil, or sprinkle it with herbs if you like. Depending on the size of the bird, cook for another 5 to 20 minutes.

5. Remove from oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before carving and serving.



Read other posts in this series:

Fine Cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York (Background about the course)

Fine Cooking 1: Class 1 at ICE, New York

Fine Cooking 1: Class 2 at ICE, New York (that's the page you're on now...)



Fine Cooking 1: Class 3 at ICE, New York


Fine Cooking 1: Class 4 at ICE, New York

At the time of the course (early 2011), I missed class no. 5 and have been trying to make it up ever since. Whenever I do, I will post about it, but it's been several months and the availability seems pretty limited.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fine Cooking 1: Class 1 at Institute of Culinary Education, New York

Fine Cooking 1: Class 1



In the first session of the Fine Cooking 1 class at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York, the 16 students and one instructor sat at a long table. The instructor for this course was Chef Peter Berley, who explained that he would be teaching our class at least two more times but that we would have a different instructor for the other two classes. I'm not sure how common it is for the instructor to change, but I didn't mind it. However, if I had signed up for a specific instructor and I found out it wouldn't be the same person throughout, I would be pissed.

Lecture
Chef Berley talked with us for about an hour about the course, which teaches techniques of cooking rooted in the French tradition, rather than a specific series of recipes. Although we did have a specific menu that we were going to prepare, there were several variations of things to choose from.

Before I get into the menu, I want to mention that this first hour was probably when I learned the most. Although a lot of the things chef Berley covered were things I already knew (for example, why you should never crowd or cover a pan while sautéing), the few things I didn't know or had never heard explained in his particular way before were extremely valuable. One woman in the class who seemed to be at my level of proficiency with cooking later said to me, "That roast chicken recipe [from Thomas Keller's method] that he gave us at the beginning of class alone was worth my time in coming here."

One of the gems of knowledge for me was about the importance of salting meat before browning, and at what point in time to salt it. The salt helps develop the crust, and thus helps the meat release from the pan when it's ready to be flipped. You need enough salt, and for many meats, you need to apply the seasoning right before you put the food in the pan; and for many meats in which this is not the case, you often want to salt it several hours before cooking so the salt can work its way into the tissue and break down the fibers a bit.

Part of what I liked about Chef Berley is his reasonable and realistic approach to food. "You're going to learn a lot in this class that is classic French technique, but that I would never do at home," he said. He talked about how French cuts are wasteful, unless you're making stock all the time (which cooking schools generally are). He talked about how we might learn the technique for repairing a broken vinaigrette, but that in many cases, he'd rather see a broken dressing that a creamy and opaque one that hides the beauty of the vegetables. He said plastic cutting boards are regulation, and so they are what the school uses, but that wood is the real way to go for its antibacterial properties, long life, and the fact that it doesn't destroy knives the way plastic does. These are all things I totally believe, too. My head was getting sore from nodding in agreement.

After about an hour, we formed four groups of four. Each group had a large work table, a small sink, and an oven and range top.

Hands On
The hands-on part of the course started not with a tour and overview of the kitchen—which I thought would have been helpful—but some demonstrations. Chef Berley reviewed knife honing, dicing, paring, peeling onions, peeling garlic, and a lot of other basics. A few of us seemed eager to move on, but for at least half of the class, this was all brand new material. I don't know why these beginners didn't sign up for a 101 class, which ICE offers. It seemed strange to me that they enrolled in "Fine cooking," which implies a degree of sophistication. I have been wondering if the weekday sessions of this course are more advanced. 10a.m. to 3p.m. is a time slot that many professional cooks would be available. Do the novices cluster into the weekend sessions?

After the demonstrations, we basically just worked through out menu in a rough order that the chef had outlined earlier.

The Menu
Soup: Choice of a hot vegetable soup or gazpacho

Salad: Microgreens and vinaigrette, with at least four recipes to choose from for the dressing

Vegetable: Blanched and sautéed broccoli florets

Starch: Blanched and sautéed diced potatoes with persillade

Protein: Lamb chops with beurre composé (or "compound butter," or in my lingo, simply "herb butter")

Dessert: Macerated fruit, with a choice from about three or four recipes



One of the problems in cooking as a team is that it's difficult for every person to learn and try the whole recipe or technique. In my group, two of my team members were novices. Another woman, Helen, and I were at the same relative speed. But it takes a while before each member of the team figures out how they are going to interact with the group, and I had a hard time with this. It's one of the reasons I have always hated group exercises. Who is going to be the leader? Who will divide the tasks? Who needs to make sure the quietest person isn't so shy that she does nothing and learns nothing?

When there was a task that I clearly did not need to practice but suddenly found myself doing, I tried to offer it to the other less experienced cooks. I handed over my pan of potatoes: "Here. Do you want to practice sautéing these?" But when it came time to brown up the lamb chops, I wasn't shy to step up and say, "This is something I need to practice. I'm really bad with meats. Do you mind if I handle one of the two pans?"

The other thing that took all day to decipher is the fact that Chef Berley is not a stickler for accuracy. I imagine that some of the other instructors are. At one point, we needed to blanche six cups of diced potatoes. Helen and I were prepping. I put my dice into a measuring cup. Helen put hers directly into the cooking pot, which was filled with cold water, a good idea because the potatoes won't discolor—but bad if we are really supposed to measure out six cups.

"How much have you put in there already?" I asked her. She didn't know. So I grabbed a small strainer and started scooping out the cut potatoes and putting them into a large measuring cup. Chef Berley approached me. "What are you doing?" he said. "Well, we didn't measure the potatoes before putting them into the cold water," I said, "so I'm fishing them out now." He kind of rolled his eyes and said, "Okay I guess." So, I ditched it. I eyeballed it. And when the pot was half full, I said, "That seems like enough."

Maybe my expectations were off, but I thought that for "fine cooking," we would be asked for accuracy. I thought precision would be a goal. I thought we would be refining some techniques. But this first course was very rudimentary.

The Meal
Around 2:40p.m., we all plated ourselves some lunch and gathered back around the table. Some of the students asked Chef Berley how long this would take him to make at home. Before he could answer, I thought to myself "half an hour," and then Helen leaned over and mumbled, "30 minutes, tops" and Chef Berley said, "about 30 minutes or so." Most of the rest of the class was starry eyed. "Wow! And it took us how long? Three hours?"

Winding down the meal, leftovers littered the kitchen. The assistant said to take what we wanted. The rest would be thrown out. A couple of people with long drives or train rides ahead of them weren't interested in taking home leftovers. A few others had to dash out and didn't have time to pack up anything. Three or four of us went to town. The others were most interested in taking home the berries, so I cleaned house on everything else: soup, salad, dressing, half-empty bottles of wine. I've worked in food service before. I know that staff don't like to see waste, and neither do I. I have a feeling I will be the last person to leave the kitchen in the upcoming four classes.



Read other posts in this series:

Fine Cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York (Background about the course)

Fine Cooking 1: Class 1 at ICE, New York (that's the page you're on now...)

Fine Cooking 1: Class 2 at ICE, New York



Fine Cooking 1: Class 3 at ICE, New York


Fine Cooking 1: Class 4 at ICE, New York

At the time of the course (early 2011), I missed class no. 5 and have been trying to make it up ever since. Whenever I do, I will post about it, but it's been several months and the availability seems pretty limited.

Fine Cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York


I recently enrolled in a five-session, 25-hour recreational cooking course at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York (50 West 23rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues). On this blog, I'll summarize each class and provide some feedback and assessment. My goal is to provide a thorough opinion about the class for others who are thinking of taking it.

Fine Cooking 1: Background
Fine Cooking 1 is a recreational course. There are no prerequisites, so anyone can enroll. At the time of this writing, there appear to be four options for the dates and times its offered:
  1. on five consecutive days, Monday through Friday, from 10a.m. to 3p.m.

  2. on five consecutive evenings, Monday through Friday, from 6p.m. to 11p.m.

  3. on five consecutive Saturdays from 10a.m. to 3p.m.

  4. on five consecutive Sunday evenings from 6p.m. to 11p.m.


I'm enrolled in the Saturday series, although we are scheduled to skip one week in February, so it is not truly consecutive.

Signing Up
The weekend courses fill up quickly. To get a spot, I had to sign up well before all the information about this particular course (like instructor and menus) were available. ICE's website is pretty easy to navigate. Fine Cooking is listed as a recreational class under the category "Techniques of Cooking/Multiday."

The site requires you to create a user name and password before you can enroll and purchase a spot in a class. No big deal. After the purchase, I got a confirmation email. What I thought was strange is that after this one confirmation email—which for me was sent way back in early December—I didn't receive any more correspondence from the school. I was hoping to get a reminder email a few days before the first class stating what I should bring with me, how I should dress, and any other notes. Most people seemed to know enough to wear comfortable clothes that aren't too loose, close-toed shoes, and if a hair tie or bandana if they have long hair.

Still, I would have liked some kind of reminder or reaffirmation that the course was beginning in a few days, maybe with an update with information about the instructor and menus. I also would have liked to receive my reading material a few days ahead of time as PDFs, or even just a link to download them as PDFs. (I plan to give this feedback to the school once I've completed the course and have compiled more thoughts.)

Basic Class Size and Structure
When I arrived at the school on day 1, signs in the lobby directed me to the check-in point. The school's entrance is totally nondescript. You'd never know it was a cooking school from the ground level. When I got up to the right floor, a receptionist checked me in and gave me a binder with recipes and notes for the five classes. The pages looked like they had been photocopied many times over several years, totally degenerated. Some of them are hardly readable. They really need to be retyped and saved as PDFs. It's pretty bad.

Sixteen students are in my class to one instructor and one assistant. After the first class yesterday, I found out that the instructor will not be the same across all five classes, which I think is beneficial. I'm happy to experience more than one instructor's point of view.

I can see the appeal of taking the evening course because each class ends with a group meal, and I'd rather eat a big meal at the end of the night rather than the middle of the afternoon. But if I were to get out of the school at 11p.m., I wouldn't make it home until midnight, and that's too late for me.





Read other posts in this series:

Fine Cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York (that's the page you're on now...)

Fine Cooking 1: Class 1 at ICE, New York

Fine Cooking 1: Class 2 at ICE, New York



Fine Cooking 1: Class 3 at ICE, New York


Fine Cooking 1: Class 4 at ICE, New York

At the time of the course (early 2011), I missed class no. 5 and have been trying to make it up ever since. Whenever I do, I will post about it, but it's been several months and the availability seems pretty limited.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Starting Cooking Course at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York

Tomorrow, I will start a five-week cooking class at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York. The course is Fine Cooking 1. The class meets for five five-hour sessions on Saturdays.

From what I understand, each class will focus on a particular method of cooking, like roasting or baking, and we'll explore how to use that method across a variety of dishes. Every session ends with a class meal.

It was tough to get into the Saturday class. I signed up seven weeks ago, if I recall!

Hopefully, I'll carve out an hour every Saturday evening to write a summary of the class. Wish me luck!