Thursday, January 15, 2009

Me as a Parisian Breadmaker

This week, I had the distinct pleasure of doing something very special--I took a Parisian Bread Class at the International Culinary Center in SOHO. The ICC is a respected cooking school in Manhattan, with the French Culinary Institute, The Italian Culinary Academy and the newly created Recreational Division under one roof. I guess that's why I've never heard of it before--but after this week's class, I'll keep it top of mind for future culinary learning.

The Facilities:
The school is pretty nice but nothing fancy. The equipment is good but basic, which I liked because you could visualize yourself replicating the experience at home. I also liked that our kitchen was directly across from one of the pro-classes, where we got a whiff of the raw, uncut atmosphere that professional chefs are exposed to. Although we overhead a couple of stern shouts and clambers, it added to the authenticity of our experience. Everyone ate it up (pun intended).

The Instructor:
As with most activities, either for work or fun, it's all about the people that you work with. Our instructor was a young-looking yet experienced baker named Johnson Yu. He's been on the bread scene for quite a while, working at various New York restaurants before going on to work in renowned California bakeries such as Thomas Keller's, Bouchon Bakery.

My classmates and I very much enjoyed and appreciated Chef Yu's teaching style--he was informative, knowledgeable and approachable. He seemed a bit closed off in the beginning, but warmed up after a short hour, providing us with all sorts of helpful insights and techniques to bread baking. It was obvious that he was a master of his art, his love and appreciation for bread shining through from the beginning.

The Bread:
We did a lot in four hours! From making our own dough from scratch to shaping the bread, baking it and eating the finished product, it was an all-inclusive experience. About three quarters into the class, we took a rest and ate a delicious dinner, courtesy of the professional students. Although it was presented in a cafeteria-style setting, the food was top notch. And the best part was eating the fresh bread from our class with it.

Throughout one class, we made two different types of bread--le pain de mie and a classic baguette. I was glad that we got five generous baguettes each from our individual dough and about two large loaves of le pain de mie. But that's not to say that we didn't take more home. Chef Yu told us that we were welcomed to take home as much as we could carry--so in addition to the two breads mentioned above, I brought back a sweet cherry-nut bread, a dark wheat loaf and rolls. All in all, it was about 8 loaves and by the time that I got home, I was covered head to toe in flour.

I'd love to go back and take another class--although they do come at a premium, you learn a lot and get a truly wonderful experience. For my next one, I'm already thinking about desserts--chocolate in particular. Mmmm.....

Click here for a schedule of classes. The Parisian bread class will be offered again on January 27 - January 29 from 5:30pm - 9:30pm.

International Culinary Center - 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013
6 Train to Spring Street or N/R/W/Q to Canal Street

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