Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Harold McGee

By Liesel Davis

As the editor of The Hot Plate, I consider part of my job here at the school as that of school reporter. And I love that this gives me the opportunity to check in on many of the interesting demos, classes, and extracurricular activities going on at the school, as well as the cool stuff many of our chef-instructors, staff, and alumni are up to. In always looking for the next story, our department of Culinary Technology comes in as a heavy-weight in the arena of interesting things going on.

From left: Nils Norén, Dave Arnold, and Harold McGee

I'm not scientifically minded. Not by a long stretch. My sense of the physical universe has always been counterintuitive and my ability to grasp anything technological takes a good deal of forced concentration. But culinary technology, that is a completely different matter. It's the exploration-rush (Who wouldn't want to taste and compare an excessive amount of citrus?) and the possibility of finding new frontiers that to me is so compelling. Most of the classes are taught by Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology , and Nils Norén, vice president of culinary and pastry arts. But a few times a year, the school is lucky to host Harold McGee as a guest instructor. And April 22nd marks the start of his next class.

To the initiated food lover/culinary scientist, the name Harold McGee is legendary and a copy of his book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen will always be somewhere handy for referencing, looking much better for wear—drips, scribbles, thumb-crunched pages. For the uninitiated, well, it's time for an introduction, because what McGee brings to cooking is guaranteed to change your own approach and views on cooking. (You'll also want to look for his monthly column in the New York Times.)

Harold McGee

First off, the prep for this class is extensive and time consuming, not merely because the material covered is never static but also because many of the products used are very specific (unlike the lemons and granulated sugar the stockroom always has on hand) both in sourcing and in preparation. Dave Arnold, gave me a whirlwind of an answer on all the things they were doing to get ready, including tracking down the lye he needed to pick up from a certain shop in Chinatown (only known source).

But the effort really pays off; this class is dense with information. So, for those of you looking to have a knowledge thrill and expand your culinary understanding, this class fits the bill with guarantee. But you must come curious. If you do, you will be greatly rewarded, because the more you ask, the more you feed exactly what this class is all about: testing, trying, and figuring things out. You will walk away with a whole new edge to your cooking skills.

•Read about McGee's fall 2009 class here.

Click here to sign up for the April class.

• If you are interested in learning more about cooking technology, check out Nils Norén and Dave Arnold's tech 'n' stuff blog: Cooking Issues or head to the forum to talk with like minds.

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