Monday, June 23, 2008

Cooking Day One: Knife Skills/Chinese/Wine

This week, I'm taking a full time class at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) in the city as my graduation present from my parents.  The class is called "Cooking in New York: A Global Culinary Adventure," and consists of walking tours, restaurant visits, wine tastings, and, of course, cooking classes at the school. Each day centers around a specific cuisine: Chinese, French, Italian, Latin, and American.  Today, the first day, was Chinese. 

Fifteen of us arrived at the school (in the Flatiron area) at 9:30am this morning.  I wasn't really sure who else to expect in the class, but since it takes place full-time for a week, it had to be people either on vacation or not working; my only guess was students like myself off for the summer or stay at home moms, but neither were prominent.  It actually consisted mostly of non-New Yorkers, in town to explore the city for an extended period and wanting to do this as part of their visit.  There were also a few students or recent graduates, some older couples, and even some burnt out ex-bankers taking a few months off from their hectic lives. Most people were there alone and everyone seemed motivated and excited. 

We began with a two and a half hour session on knife skills.  Though I consider myself comfortable in the kitchen, I'd never really had a specific knife lesson before, and it was really interesting to think so specifically about the motions.  We spent quite some time cutting up various vegetables and learning the uses of different knives, but by the end we were all relieved that the week began this way: we felt increasingly comfortable with the cooking class dynamic and with our basic skills.  (Ha, we'll see what I say after tomorrow evening's French bistro dinner lesson!) 

For lunch, we went down to Chinatown and met our instructor (the same one as knife skills - Norman Weinstein) at Mandarin Court, on Mott St, just south of Canal.  I hadn't been to a Dim Sum lunch in awhile, and this was like Dim Sum on steroids! We had 18 different items, plus 4 desserts.  Most were some variation on chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables in a dumpling, but we also had things like pork spare ribs (yum!) and chicken feet (no thank you...).  Our instructor explained each thing to us as it came out, helping us to pronounce it as well as explaining how it's made.  It was just "the tip of the iceberg of Dim Sum," as he described it, but we all could barely walk on our way out! 

Overwhelmed and overfed, we all stumbled out of Mandarin Court and followed Chef Weinstein for a brief walking tour of Chinatown's markets.  Yes, I closed my eyes, looked the other way, and pretended to have a coughing fit so I could stand outside during the fish market section.  Also, I now know to watch out with Chinese soups, they put a lot of dried ingredients in that you might not find so appetizing if only you knew!! It was great to venture into a cuisine that I enjoy eating, but I'm not exactly what one would call an "adventurous" eater, so many items and techniques seemed a little bizarre and gross to me. 

To finish up the day, we headed back to ICE for a two hour lecture on New World vs. Old World wines.  We tasted nine wines (yes, we were ready for a long nap by the time we even got to the third). Eight of them were from "new world" areas such as Oregon, New Zealand, Spain,  Australia, and California.  A few years ago, Wright and I did a wine tasting trip through Bordeaux (old world), so it was really great to get some more information on other areas.  I've also been (unfortunately or fortunately) getting used to wine tasting in Virginia, where the wines are cheap, and--I apologize to loyal Virginians--really not that good.  So it was fun to do a tasting with some nicer wines, most valued at over $50, and many aged for at least 5 years.  We even had a Spanish dessert wine from 1971 that, unlike the upchuck reflex dessert wines I've had at recent Charlottesville tastings, was actually quite good.  I'm not saying that I'm completely sold -- I'll always love a great St. Emilion -- but it was great to see an instructor who was interested in the history and development of these new world wines.  (No, Virginia was not mentioned once as being any part of any new or old world)

I got on the train exhausted and excited - what a day!! I can't wait until tomorrow, the French day, and will certainly keep the blog updated. Please let me know if you have any questions or want more information on the course or things we do.  ICE has been great with handouts and really given us a lot of literature on the various things we're doing, and I'd love to share.  

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