I’ve said a million times in this column that I like to cook.
Whilst being a long way from aspiring to the profession, I do try new and sometimes complicated recipes. I like a lot of things that other people don’t – liver, kidneys, oily fish, pigs’ feet, etc. You get the drift. So I’m fairly adventurous with almost any cuisine.
My wife, Terry, enjoys spicy food – the five-alarm kind that induces ear ringing, sweat beading, nose-scathing and tongue-blistering results. And that’s just eating it!
The rest of the family is more tempered in their approach but we’ve developed a fairly broad reach in our tastes. Being an ex-pat Brit, I love curries (not too hot remember). We all eat sushi, with the exception of one of my daughters, who considers it to be bait.
Mexican food is enjoying a new regional appreciation rather than the TexMex variety that has served us for years.
So among us, I consider we have a reasonably global embrace and mealtimes are rarely boring.
We enjoy Asian food and I’ve tried many times to replicate the complex flavors that pervade this region and all its differences.
Chinese Szechuan food is as different as it can possibly be to the Vietnamese or even Chinese Mandarin tables. They range from street food; served on the run, to sumptuous, time consuming feasts.
And I’ve never really nailed the ability to recreate any of them.
So Terry sent me off to the Culinary Institute of America for one of their weeklong Boot Camps to study Asian cuisine. She did the same for French cuisine a few years ago.
The campus, founded in 1948, sits on the banks of the Hudson River in what is normally one of the prettiest parts in upstate New York, grown out of what was once a Jesuit monastery and abbey. I say ‘normally’ because during my stay we were visited by the worst snow storm of the year, blanketing everything in a 3-foot-deep carpet, drifting to 5 feet and which managed to curtail the course by a couple of days – the first time they’ve closed for two days since they opened the college.
The ‘students’ were a mixed bag of some 15 attendees ranging from kitchen enthusiasts like me to a Danish fellow who owned some five restaurants.
There were a couple of older guys (older than me), one a practicing oncologist and the other retired but gourmands, both. One even brought a half case of Domaine de la Romanée Conti to make their hotel stay a little more palatable.
It’s surprising what you can learn in a week (minus two days) when you’re plunged in at the deep end of a commercial kitchen. First you learn to assume that everything is hot!
And the towel that tucks into the apron string of the full chef’s whites regalia (including a toque) is not for wiping your hands – it’s for picking pans up and opening oven doors and the like. Kitchen disciplines are soon learned when necessity prevails.
The main business of the college is to produce fully degreed students in every aspect of food preparation, service, business management and hygiene. It’s a wonderful place and just being a part of it for a week imbued me with a sense of able adventure.
I spent over $150 at the international market on my return just to stock the pantry with the necessary stuff to create the flavor profiles found from Hyderabad to Hong Kong and Beijing to Bangkok.
The food is based on great taste but also to promote good health. Perhaps I’ll last long enough to test both.