Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Secrets of Spices

Under The International Culinary Center umbrella, perhaps the most recognized name is The French Culinary Institute. It's been around the longest and has made quite a name for itself as a top school in training culinary and pastry professionals. The school places high value in learning the classic techniques necessary as building blocks to becoming a great chef.

But the school also offers the same dedication to excellent training and education to amateurs. Both the longer and more intensive amateur courses and the shorter and more easy-going recreational classes provide students with valuable skills along with a fun time in the kitchen.

On Friday night, Chef Candy Agrondizza, assistant director of culinary arts at The FCI, taught a group of rec students how to use spices and herbs to layer flavors into any dish.

Chef Candy started out with a preamble on seasonings and how to use them in cooking before showing the class how to make a coconut-lime soup with chicken, chiles, and cilantro. Students learned how to breakdown a chicken, bruise and chop lemongrass, and the important basics to holding, using, and maintaining a knife.

After the demo, the class slurped up hot, spicy cups of soup, while Chef Candy went on to demo how to make a tomato jam and prepare all the ingredients for a flavorful salmon en papillote. Everyone was then turned out to blanch, shock, and peel their own tomatoes, roast fennel blubs, sauté mushrooms, and compose a tasty pile of ingredients to be baked in their very own parchment paper pocket. With five spice (cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and Sichuan pepper) compound butter, soy sauce, and sake as dressing, the Asian flavor-inspired dish was eagerly consumed by all the cooks. Complex sweet, salty, spicy notes engaged the palate, and students were excited to have an easy recipe for a delicious and healthy midweek dinner.

In keeping with the Asian theme, the evening was finished with a ginger pots de crème garnished with candied ginger. Over white tablecloths and glasses of wine, everyone discussed different vegetables and seasonings that could be applied to the same dishes from the night, showing the ever flexible approach toward cooking any chef worth their knives will take to any given recipe.

And in the best testament to playing with herbs and spices in the kitchen, upon questioning, Chef Candy admitted that there would be not a whiff of cilantro nor a spotting of chiles in the next round of the class. She was already thinking about the enticements of Eastern European flavor profiles, divulging that there may be a lot of pickling making a showcase in the next class. Sounds good to me!

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