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Merle's Boot Camp At The Culinary Institute of America

 Hyde Park´s Culinary Institute of America offers “Boot Camps” where you spend time learning how to cook. You don't have to be a chef to do this, as there are both instructors for the course and student chefs to assist you in the kitchen. The subject of my course was, Healthy Cooking. Although it was a four-day event, I spent one day at Boot Camp on day two. I met the other students the evening before during dinner at St. Andrew´s Café, one of the restaurants at the CIA. Each one had their own story for being there, coming from different parts of the country and some as family members.

I was first given my “scrubs” so to speak…jacket, pants (with stretch waistband), hat and neckerchief. Actually it was Chef Skibitcky that donned my neckerchief and the mom of my two-member team that I joined that made sure I looked okay. I had no idea that any of the class members were simply cooks at home.

Naturally, I brought Esther, my rubber chicken, to the classroom and introduced her to Chef “Ski” as everyone referred to him. He got back at me by constantly referring to the gelato tasting that was done the day before. There was no gelato at any of the campus restaurants. Yes, it´s a healthier way of eating ice cream as the milk fat is limited to the milk vs. cream.

Back to the classroom with a discussion on the seven principles of Healthy Cooking.

* 1. Select ingredients with care – design menus to include a large variety of ingredients, emphasize high-quality ingredients, use fresh, seasonal produce when reasonable.
* 2. Store and prepare all foods with the aim of preserving their best possible flavor, texture, color and overall nutritional value.
* 3. Incorporate a variety of plant-based dishes on the menu in all categories.
* 4. Manage the amount of fat used both as an ingredient and as part of a preparation of cooking technique.
* 5. Serve appropriate portions of food.
* 6. Offer a variety of beverages that compliment the food.
* 7. Use salt with care and purpose – explore a variety of seasonings, preparation methods and cooking techniques to reduce reliance on salt.

The last was one of the most important principles. Did you know that there is “salt” in the bones of meat? Therefore creating stocks using pork, beef, veal and chicken bones is a great additive to your menu.

Healthy food creations at the CIA - I had joined the class on Day Two and the menu for Team Two was: Grilled Tuna with Spring Herb Salad and Marinated Tomatoes; Fedelini with Broccoli Rabe, Pancetta, Parmesan, and Toasted Crumbs; Braised Belgian Endive; and Chianti Granita. To add to the “healthy” we were also making two dressings. One was a Control Recipe of Port Wine Vinaigrette with the healthy variation of a Reduced-Fat Port Wine Vinaigrette.

The Control Recipe consisted of : balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, salt, dry mustard, sugar, ground black pepper, extra-virgin olive oil, chopped chervil, chopped parsley and chopped chives. The healthy variation used arrowroot, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, chopped basil and half the amount of salt. With the healthy variation you have to first boil and cool the stock that is thickened with arrowroot.

One group had a “fried chicken” variation. The sauce was compiled of: arrowroot, chicken stock, evaporated skim milk, Dijon mustard, honey and ground black pepper. Rather than using a cut up whole chicken, boneless and skinless chicken breasts were substituted. They were basically covered with finely ground panko, chopped parsley, tarragon, basil, chives and buttermilk vs. flour, eggs, milk, bread crumbs and oil.

That same “chicken” group turned recipes for Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Strudel, Fennel Braised in Chardonnay and Stewed Chickpeas with Tomatoes, Zucchini and Cilantro.

Another group was given Cioppino with Garlic Croutons with the following ingredients: olive oil, diced onion, diced fennel, diced green onions, diced green bell peppers, minced garlic, tomato concasse, tomato puree, dry white wine, bay leaf, cherrystone clams, lobster (first cut up and disjointed), crushed black peppercorns, deveined shrimp, cubed swordfish, and chopped basil. Needless to say there was much preparation time on this one. Oh yeah, the crouton garnish consisted of whole wheat baguette, vegetable spray, minced garlic and a saffron aioli of nine ingredients.

“Chefski” cut up the protein and gave us demonstrations on how to cup up a chicken into 8 equal pieces, how to cut up a live lobster for the cioppino and how to prepare a polenta soufflé. One-year students were assigned to work with each team as well as retrieving ingredients that were not as yet in the kitchen.

There was no “Gordon Ramsey” screaming, but only letting us know how much time we had left before the lunch serving. Once the menu items were completed the boot camp folks places them on make shift tables and in the form of a buffet. We all got to samples everyone´s toils and creations.

The results? Honestly, the food tasted as if it came off the menu of one of the CIA restaurants. Each dish was plated perfectly, at the correct temperature and you would never know that they were “healthy” choices.

You can take a two-day boot camp on: BBQ; The “best” of; Holiday, Hors d´Oeuvre; and Skill Development. If you want to go all the way (there are 3-day and 4-day) spend 5 days you can opt for: Asian, French, Gourmet and Mediterranean to name a few.

By Merle Exit

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