Fresh from the farm to the kitchen
July 14, 2007
It’s a chance to learn the practice of culinary techniques like "blanching" and "emulsification," a chance to make new friends and exchange recipes, and a chance to cook locally, from scratch.
Two couples Elaine and Floyd English from Texas and John and Helen Lippas from Australia signed up for the first Washington School Inn "Fresh from the Farm Cooking Class Getaway" a class that begins with a stop at the Park City Farmers Market to shop for dinner ingredients from local growers at 2 p.m. and returns to the inn’s kitchen at 4 p.m. for cooking lessons.
The inn’s executive chef Steve Vierk oversees the process from picking the produce to the stove.
"We began this class to teach people about sustainable cooking techniques," he explained. "Teaching is just a great way to get people involved and get them excited about their local markets most people don’t know what to do with the produce they find there."
Vierk joined the Washington School Inn in March after owning and operating his own French restaurant in Ithica, New York, and is the first trained chef to be hired by the inn. He says he enjoys focusing on the use of all-natural ingredients without sacrificing flavor or creativity and the element of surprise in a meal based on what foods are in season. He’s been shopping at farmers markets for 24 years, he says, and refuses to cook with out-of-season vegetables, like tomatoes in winter.
"People are used to genetically altered tomatoes that are immune to diseases and perfectly ripened," he says. "It makes a tomato mealy and tasteless."
Recommended Stories For You
"Pure bred" heirloom tomatoes, unique and "gnarly" are the kind Vierk chooses to cook with in the summertime.
This first class’s agenda was to make potato gnocchi and vegetables in a white-cream sauce, fresh salad with mustard vinaigrette and apricot and raspberry pie for the dessert, with fruit from the market.
Not all the ingredients are from the market, but all come from local Utah farms and from the inn’s private herb garden. The inn supplements their market bags with weekly produce boxes from the community supported agriculture (CSA) program from Zoe’s Garden near Salt Lake.
Though they own a vacation home in town, it was the first time the Englishes cooked with food from the market. Floyd English, who says he grew up on a farm in Northern California, remembered cooking with his mother as he rolled the dough for pie crust.
In addition to being put to work, Vierk demonstrates honing techniques to keep knife blades sharp before mincing a shallot. The less chopping, the more the food maintains its flavor, he explained, so he limits himself to three cuts.
He cuts horizontally, then vertically, then he chops. The shallot, along with Dijon mustard is an emulsifier for the dressing part of the process that creates a dressing.
"Emulsification" Vierk explains, is about suspending a solid in a liquid.
The tutorial on dressing is followed by one on blanching, a method used for vegetables that involves boiling the vegetable for a few minutes before shocking them in ice cold water. The process brings out the flavor of the food without cooking it entirely. Vierk recommended blanching for party platters, to soften the vegetables for dipping.
Later, gnocchi cooked, pie baked and table set, the four chefs sat down to a quiet dinner in the dining room to enjoy their dishes, the reward of a day’s work and a good meal.
The Washington School Inn hopes to revive some its academic legacy with classes for guests, and the new cooking class getaways are the beginning, says innkeeper Jean Carlan. The school was built before the fire of 1898 and was one of the few structures that survived the disaster. Originally, it held classes for students from first grade through fifth grade.
"We get a lot of young couples here who haven’t really been cooking on their own yet," she said. "Cooking getaways are something that seem to be popping up everywhere."
In the future, the bed and breakfast also plans to offer private dinners for honeymooners, she said.
"Fresh from the Farm Cooking Class Getaways" will be available on July 25, August 8 and 22, September 5 and 19, and on October 3 and 17. The package prices of $240 per couple includes a Wednesday night stay, two hours of guided culinary shopping, a two-hour cooking class, a gourmet dinner and breakfast the following morning. For details and reservations, go online to visit http://www.washingtonschoolinn.com .
"Fresh from the Farm" tips from Chef Steve Vierk
Blanching: a technique that involves plunging vegetables into boiling water for a minute or two and then shocking them in ice cold water. Blanching can enhance the flavors and color of green vegetables like broccoli, and also prolongs the shelf life by neutralizing bacteria and enzymes present in foods, delaying spoilage.
Mincing: the fewer the cuts, the better, according to Chef Steve Vierk. Before chopping his shallot, Vierk slices horizontally, then vertically, then chops. Too many cuts means the flavor gets released too soon and lost in the cooking process.
Pie/pastry dough: Vierk says be gentle about mixing and rolling pie crust. He uses plastic to keep the dough together and to protect it from sticking to the roller and allows the dough to cool in the refrigerator before using it in a pan. Too much mixing makes dough too tough he says. The idea is for the dough to be flaky and layered.
Cutting board tip: before using his cutting board, Vierk wets a paper towel and sticks it beneath his board. The wet towel keeps the board from sliding.
Chef Steve Vierk’s recipes
1 pound potatoes
1 1/4 cups of flour
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon butter
Cook potatoes in salted water until tender for about 20 minutes. Peel potatoes and dry them in the oven for about 10 minutes. Knead with flour in large bowl. Mix in egg yolk and butter with dry ingredients until dough forms. Knead on flour surface for about five minutes. Cover and let rest for another five minutes. Divide in four and roll into one-inch diameter ropes. Working with one rope at a time, cut the ropes into one-inch pieces and roll them over the back of a fork to shape. When all gnocchi are formed, drop in boiling water immediately, or place in sealed container in refrigerator for up to 24 hours or freeze.
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot finely minced
1 teaspoon fesh thyme
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 half cup extra virgin olive oil
Blend all ingredients except oil in a blender. With blender running, slowly add oil until incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.