Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Institute of Culinary Education: Techniques of Fine Cooking I

If you've noticed I've been quiet on the blogosphere lately, it's because I've got my learning cap on and have been busy with school (the cooking kind, as well as the more serious kind)!  The Hubby had the brilliant idea to enroll me in the Institute of Culinary Education's Techniques of Fine Cooking 1 as an Anniversary gift.  Smart, isn't he?  It's the gift that keeps on giving! He sure has been enjoying the new kitchen skills I've picked up lately.

The Institute of Culinary Education ('ICE') is located on West 23rd Street and offers career training for real chefs-to-be, and also holds a lot of recreational classes for people like you and me.  It's pretty fun walking by the real chefs in class and watching them in action.  There are recreational classes which range from just a few hours, to others that span several days like the one I took.  Check out their website, it's hard not to find one that doesn't pique your interest!  You can sign up for classes online so the whole process is pretty easy.

Photos from Techniques of Fine Cooking I
Techniques in Fine Cooking is a program which focuses more on teaching technique rather than recipes.  (Though admittedly, I've been loving practicing the recipes at home).  It is a 5 day course, with 5 hours each day.  ICE offers sessions which are either 5 days consecutively, or 1 day a week over 5 weeks.  

I learned how to truss a chicken, poach eggs, make mousse (hello, arm workout), wet and dry braise and work with mussels.  The list goes on and on!

The class introduced me to working with foods that I'm unfamiliar with, or had been intimidated of.  The techniques taught are not actually that complex, but I think the class gives you the confidence that you can do it!  There's also no better way to learn how to make something than to actually do it yourself. 

Though class sizes vary, my session of Level 1 Techniques had 16 students, along with a Chef instructor and a kitchen assistant.  Chef Anita was an energetic lady who sure kept us on our toes each day!  She has been teaching at ICE for many years so she's a true veteran and knows how to keep the class moving.  

We were in a nice sized kitchen and split into groups of 4.  Each group works together to prepare dishes.  I loved that Chef Anita structured the class so that for the most part, each group made everything in the curriculum - i.e., granted each group may make a different type of vegetable, we all learned how to blanch.  

Here are a few pictures of my group's accomplishments:

Lamp chops, a first for me!  The herb butter served on top of the lamp was homemade, which has now become a staple in my kitchen these days. What an easy way to add some extra flavor.  This butter can be made ahead of time, and even frozen for up to 2 months.  

Sautéed Lamb Chops with Herb Butter; sides of Potatoes persillade and Broccoli

I never knew what exactly trussing a chicken entailed, but I'm sure glad I know now.  I always thought it sounded like you were doing something not very nice to the chicken, but actually you're tying it up all gentle and pretty so it tans (I mean, browns) perfectly in the oven.  

Trussing a chicken!

Carved up roast chicken with Turkish rice pilaf; Tomatoes Provençal

One technique I can't wait to try at home is wet braising.  In class we made Braised Lamb Shanks with Juniper Berries and Rosemary.  You could also do this with veal shanks (think Osso Bucco!).  Thank goodness I had people on my team who knew what they were doing with this because I've never braised anything before.  It was tender and delicious and made excellent leftovers.

Wet braising
Braised Lamb Shanks with Juniper Berries and Rosemary

It turns out poaching eggs is pretty easy! I've been practicing at home and have probably gone through 2 dozen eggs at this point, with fortunately just a few casualties.

In class, I was super excited to learn how to make poached eggs with red wine sauce, a Burgundian specialty which Hubby and I enjoyed when we were in Beaune, France, earlier this year.  Called Oeufs en Meurette, in Beaune they actually poached the eggs in red wine so the eggs take on a dark red color.  The version we made in class is eggs poached normally, drizzled with some red wine sauce.  This way results in a lighter dish, which I actually prefer.  Doesn't this look pretty enough to serve in a restaurant?? :) I may be biased...

Poached eggs with red wine sauce (Oeufs en Meurette)

Look at that deliciously runny egg!

Seafood intimidates me, and mussels are definitely included in that!  I had never cooked mussels before so it was pretty cool to learn how to work with them.  I had no fear and was handling them perfectly, until somebody spilled the beans to me that they are actually alive, until you boil them.  Oh gosh, once I heard that, I dropped the mussels I was cleaning.  Don't worry, I have since practiced at home several times but Hubby still needs to stand guard next to me.  For some reason I feel like a live sack of 20 mussels may jump out of my sink and attack me.  Am I the only one with this fear?

Check back for steamed mussels recipes I have been trying at home!

Each group made a different pot of mussels!

Another type of seafood I've never worked with was tuna.  We learned how to assemble a Nicoise Salad, including how to sear tuna.  Surprisingly the tuna seems to be one of the least complicated parts (just seasoning and searing briefly on each side), while preparing all the vegetables and accompaniments took a lot of work.

Nicoise Salad

Another technique we learned was grilling.  This lesson isn't very practical for those of us in NYC apartments with highly sensitive smoke alarms.  If you have access to an outdoor grill, this is perfect, because we wound up smoking up the kitchen like crazy!  

Assortment of vegetable salads

London Broil

I picked up some pretty good dessert recipes like Mousse, Clafouti, and Soufflés!  I took a soufflé class in Paris where I made chocolate and cheese soufflés, so this time I made sure to make something different - Orange soufflé!  It was a good refresher...

Carefully filling ramekins [thanks Carina for the photo!]

I can confidently say that Techniques of Fine Cooking I has expanded my kitchen skills and would recommend the course.  Over 5 days, we also learned basics like how to make vinaigrettes, mayos, compound butter and chicken stock all from scratch.  These are all skills that are great to have for life.

It's also a great learning experience working in a shared kitchen and cooking alongside other people.  "Oui, Chef!", "Hot dish behind", "Knife!" will become normal lingo for you, as well as terms like mirapoix and beurre manié.

The classes are a great way to meet a mix of people (some from other states or countries!), and what's great is you also get to eat what you cook at the end of class, over wine of course.  

I'm excited that I have an expanded (and more sophisticated!) set of skills, and friends have been loving being my guinea pigs as I test out these newly learned techniques at home. Luckily, no shortage of volunteers :)

I loved this class so much that I wound up signing up for Level 2 of Techniques of Fine Cooking!  Stay tuned, post coming soon...

Institute of Culinary Education
50 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10010

Piggy KL


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