Valentine’s Day Cooking Class at ICE – Essentials of Burgundian Cooking

Jamie making Gougères

Jamie and I received many great gifts for our wedding, but one of the most unusual was the gift of cooking instruction. Thoughtfully, (classically-trained chef & bass player in several of my bands) Tony Gregory and the lovely Melinda Zupaniotis generously gave us a gift certificate to classes at the renowned ICE Culinary Institute.

With the tremendous number of courses available, it was hard to choose. Burgundy seemed like a great choice, because it seemed as though we’d be able to learn more than just recipes, and get exposure to some real technique. And what better day to go than Valentine’s Day?

Naturally, it was like the first day of school all over again. Small groups of people nervously eyed each other from the crowded lobby area, as we waited for our kitchen classroom to be ready. Finally, the word came, and we were ushered into a large, clean, and sun-splashed kitchen, with a long narrow table at one end covered in butcher paper. It was here that it all began.

Chef Nicole Kaplan (whom I later learned had been named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in America), had done stints at 11 Madison Park, Del Posto, and was currently at the Plaza. In the classroom setting, her approach was very enthusiastic, straightforward, and nurturing. Pretty much all levels of cooking were on display among the 16 class members, from people with very little experience, to people who clearly spent a great deal of time in the kitchen and knew their way around.

In the classroom setting, Nicole provided a cultural and gastronomic backdrop for what made the Burgundy region so unique, and then we spent the next 30 minutes methodically reading through every single recipe from beginning to end. I was later to learn that this was an essential foundational philosophy at ICE Culinary, where the chef would need to understand the dish in depth from beginning to end before touching the first pot.

The Recipes

The recipes chosen for this class were:

  • Gougères (warm cheese puffs)
  • Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Grilled Olive Bread
  • Escargots de Bourgogne au Chablis
  • Gratin Dauphinois (Potatoes with Bacon and Cream)
  • Tarte a l’Epoisses e aux Pommes (Warm Cheese and Apple Tart)
  • Beef Bourguignon
  • Coq au Vin
  • Glazed Onions
  • Gâteau au Chocolat avec Coulis de Framboise (Chocolate Tart with a Raspberry Coulis)

We were to start cooking at 10:30am, and serve the lunch at 1:30pm. Lots to do – how would we accomplish it?

The Teams

Well, the only way to make this elaborate a meal for 17 people (16 of us + Chef Nicole) in under three hours would be to break into teams.

The teams were broken out like this:

  1. Team 1
    1. Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Grilled Olive Bread
    2. Beef Bourguignon
  2. Team 2
    1. Coq au Vin
    2. Glazed Onions
  3. Team 3
    1. Gratin Dauphinois
    2. Tarte a l’Epoisses e aux Pommes
  4. Team 4
    1. Gougères
    2. Escargots de Bourgogne au Chablis
    3. Gâteau au Chocolat avec Coulis de Framboise

Jamie and I ended up on Team 4 – certainly sounds a great deal better than “Team Snail.”

Preparation

Our instructor broke out the meal steps in a logical progression in terms of greater difficulty and longer cooking time first, so we began right away with the chocolate cake. We then moved to the escargots, and then finished with the gougères.

Technique

The ingredients we were given to work with were top quality. Although we sometimes needed to wait a moment here or there as more butter or cheese was brought at a critical moment, we always had everything we needed. Nicole was also great, quick with suggestions and advice, and full of little tricks on how to do everything from melt chocolate (put a steel mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water to a better way to beat egg whites (turn the bowl as you whisk). She also demonstrated folding the egg whites into the thick melted chocolate mixture for the chocolate cake.

Basic Impressions

Overall, we really liked the class material, the instructor, and the food. It was on the heavy side, with a tremendous amount of cream, eggs, butter, and bacon, although it was very fresh and everything tasted amazing. The one aspect I found slightly disappointing was that I had been looking forward all week to learning how to cook Beef Bourguignon, having seen it discussed at length in “Julie and Julia.” Yet because we were on a different team, we were not able to have as much of a hands-on sense of how it was made. On the plus side, Chef Nicole did take us through the preparation step by step as we read through the recipe together, another great reason why you should always do that before you cook…

Overall, I’d recommend the experience unreservedly to anyone interested in getting hands-on with their passion for food.

And a big thanks to Tony and Melinda – you guys have a home-cooked French meal coming your way!

The Photos

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