My 8 week stint in culinary school came to a glittery end last week as we hosted a 5+ course meal for friends and family. Our new found skills and cooking endurance were put to the test as we prepared for this big feast. Some of us endlessly chopped veggies or trimmed racks of meat, while others rolled out gnocchi and simmered sauces. We all had our tasks to make the dinner a success and with the oversight of our wonderful instructors it definitely was.
Guests were greeted with champagne and passed hors d’oeuvres, then, as they got their seats, the main 5 courses started, each with its own specific wine pairing. The evening ended with a sweet port, a light lemon tart dessert as well as some mignardises (small post-dessert desserts – my kind of dinner!). Our full menu was filled with seasonal flavors and intriguing combinations.
Canapé Style Appetizers
Cured Scottish Salmon
English cucumbers, horseradish cream
Leek and Chorizo Risotto Cake
with smoked tomato jam
Miniature Cauliflower Panna Cotta
Pickled sweet onion and basil
Chilled Poached Lobster
Carrot cardamom purée, pea shoots, carrot chip
Lemon chèvre cream, shaved fennel, candied walnuts
Watercress and Butter Lettuce Salad
Dill-buttermilk dressing, dried apricot, pepitas, watermelon radish
Slow-Roasted Utah Venison
Herb dust, quinoa, shaved asparagus, honey-apricot sauce
Lemon Meringue Tart
Rhubarb sauce, mascarpone ice cream, and wafer whisps
Prepping for the dinner was the most fun I’ve had in the kitchen to date and serving it to our special guests was even more of a thrill. I probably pestered Josh for days about each course and what he thought of every flavor. In the end, we were all extremely proud of our accomplishments, those we put on the table that night and all that we now know for future meals.
If I could list just a few of my favorite things about the class it would be these: the instructors and their ample experience and knowledge, hands on learning, and specifically the fish and pastry days.
A good culinary school experience is all about the instructors that you are learning from. Some days we couldn’t find the right equipment in the kitchen or were missing an ingredient or two but watching them improvise and get creative made for an even better learning experience. A good chef is quick on their toes and easily adaptable and all three of our instructors were brilliant at this. Chef Houman, who has more than 25 years of experience including opening restaurants all over the world for the Ritz Carlton, taught us to cook with processes, handling things one task at a time and organizing tasks between active and passive so you can be most efficient. Chef Adam, who has worked in many great kitchens and now has his own private catering business, exemplified creativity with flavor combinations and menu building. He taught us how to combine textures, colors, and flavors in a dish and for a full menu. Chef Mary, who created the curriculum for the CIA in Napa Valley and wrote two cookbooks, whipped us into baking shape, helping us to know by heart baking measurements, simple recipes, and the artistry of baking and pastry. She made everything look easy and with patience, she helped our awkward, new-to-baking hands, turn flour, water and eggs into something lovely.
Hands on Learning
I don’t know about you but I love learning with my hands. Many cooking classes you can find around town simply show you how to do something but never let the students really engage with the food. At Park City Culinary Institute, every student is responsible for slicing, mixing, sautéing, and chopping whatever we were learning that day. Elbow deep in flour, we rolled out fresh pasta and with red splatters all over my apron I simmered fresh tomato sauce. This is how I prefer it. While some can watch youtube videos or read cookbooks for hours, put me in the kitchen with a chef I respect and I’m all ears, ready to soak in every bit of information I can. You should see my notebook, I probably took 3+ pages of notes every day! The first day Chef Houman said we should soak up information like a broth extracts as much as possible from it’s ingredients. I did just that.
Fish and Pastry
While there wasn’t really a day I didn’t enjoy (hence I had perfect attendance except for one field trip day), I did have a few favorites. I knew I would enjoy the baking and pastry but I had no idea how much I would. I loved the challenge that it was and the artistic nature of it, whether it was organizing fruit on a fruit tart, or forming a rustic style savory galette. I could hardly wait to go home and recreate these beauties again. And the fish, though I lean heavily toward fish when I dine out, I usually scare away from buying it at the store. For years, I’ve trusted the professionals with my fish intake but now I feel more confident in taking that into my own hands. In class, we learned even more about fish than red meat; we filleted whole fish, dry roasted it in parchment, poached it in an aromatic pomegranate vinegar broth and enjoyed it raw on our sushi day.
Besides fish and pastry, I enjoyed the days that we braised. Braised vegetables, beef, and chicken thighs will forever be a favorite weather at home or elsewhere. And a few more of my best days – the time we made beautiful spinach soufflés that perfectly peaked out of the ramekins they baked in, stirred risotto until it was soupy but not sticky and filled with natural flavors, and steamed mussels in a creamy coconut broth just until they popped open. Every day was filled with something new and dreamy.
Though I’m ready to enjoy summer with my boy and be back in my home kitchen cooking, I will miss many things about my experience at Culinary School. The extravagant lunches, fellow students whom I could talk hours with about food and they wouldn’t bat an eye, the beautiful evergreen tree lined road that guided me to school every morning, and the constant growth in knowledge and skill that I was challenged to every day. It was a glorious experience and one that I will always look back fondly upon!
Here are links to all of my past culinary school posts, which all include tid-bits from what I learned: