If you thought the Culinary Institute of America was
for professionals only, think again. The CIA began offering a series of cooking and wine classes this year geared to food and wine enthusiasts with no prior training. These courses range from two-hour to full week and customized courses as well. One of the great things about taking courses at the CIA is that, as the leading culinary teaching institution in the U.S., a student can count on having some of the best instructors available. One of these instructors is Chef John Ash, the James Beard Award – winning author, chef, teacher and founder of his namesake restaurant John Ash & Co. which is close to celebrating its 30th anniversary. Chef Ash was one of the earliest proponents of “Wine Country Cuisine” using fresh, locally available products and pairing food with wine.
One of the courses Chef Ash teaches at the CIA is A Journey into Sensory Awareness: Food and Wine Pairing. If you have watched any of his television shows, it would be hard to imagine that he could be more engaging and humorous in person, but he is. Chef Ash empowers students from the outset by poking fun at the so-called “wine weenies” and by using aroma exercises to help students better describe flavors and expand their wine vocabulary. By being better at describing flavors he says, the students “can get what they want” in a restaurant or retail store.
Chef Ash introduces the students to the basic concepts of complimentary vs. contrast food and wine pairing. He then delves into his six major categories of taste and how one can make any food go with any wine by adjusting the flavors of the food. To demonstrate his theories, students are given a tray of 17 different foods and flavorings, and six white and red wines. Chef Ash begins with specific food and wine combinations, then guides students to re-taste after adjusting the food for seasoning, all the while encouraging and cajoling students to describe what they’re tasting. It is quite revelatory.
In a short two and 1/2 hour session, there is less theory and but a lot of learning and confidence-building through practical exercises and personal discovery. This is a feel-good class where students not only learn valuable information from a renowned master chef but are very much entertained at the same time.
The classes are held in the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA’s Saint Helena campus. Classes are now scheduled one Sunday a month for the first four months in 2010 and cost $95/person. Information and registration is online.