As a birthday present last month, my parents decided to give me a 1-day class at the Culinary Institute of America. The CIA has a series of Saturday hands-on “Enthusiast” classes, in addition to 5 day Culinary Boot Camp and others. I chose to do one called Flavors of Southeast Asia: Thai and Vietnamese because I love most Asian cooking (with the exception of Chinese) and really would like to be able to create that kind of yummyness at home. Also, I knew nothing about Asian cooking methods. My parents and a couple of their friends also decided to join in on the fun and signed themselves up for classes.
After waking up at the crack of dawn to drive to Hyde Park, NY, and one large iced coffee later, we arrived at the Culinary Institute. First of all, the campus is gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. It sits on top of a hill next to the Hudson River. We wandered around the buildings for awhile before our classes started, checking out the kitchens and such. Man, there were ALOT of kitchens and classrooms, some especially for pastry, some for fish, etc, etc. The fish classroom was smelly…

Anyways, we all separated for our different classes. Mom took Gourmet Meals in Minutes, A. took Artisan Breads, and their friends took Breakfasts and Brunches. I had a great chef/teacher- Hinneck von Bargen , a German trained chef who had worked in hotel restaurants and lived in China for 3 years. He’s been teaching at the CIA for 7 years. He was hilarious and very entertaining, along with being extremely knowledgable, professional and helpful in the kitchen. We were split into groups of 3 and given a set of recipes to prepare. Everything from Thai basil to the different types of chilis to various curries was explained before we started on our menu.

We were in one of the classroom kitchens-a very long room with prep tables set up in the middle and every kind of pot, pan, knife, or Asian ingredient you could possibly need. We had a table full of fresh cilantro, mint, limes, lettuce, fish sauce, palm sugar, and a ton of veggies. Everyone pretty much worked in their own little groups, and Chef von Bargen would occassionally call us over for a demonstration of how to make Egg Rolls, Vietnamese Summer Rolls (my favorite!), or Shrimp Paste.
One of our group members using the Wok grill, which was rather intimidating to use but still very cool. This is the Spicy Eggplant dish that we made:

After a few hours of active cooking, we got to eat everything we made! My group made a lovely Yellow Curry with Shrimp, Spicy Eggplant, and Pho Ga (what I always order at Vietnamese restuarants, it’s basically Chicken Noodle Soup but it’s SO amazing). Also on the buffet table were Hot & Sour Soup, Pad Thai, Cucumber Salad, Warm Vegetables on top of Cold Noodle Salad, Thai Beef Curry, and some other delicious dishes. I didn’t take any pictures of them, mostly because I couldn’t wait to eat! I can’t even describe to you how great the food was…So much better than going out to eat in any Thai or Vietnamese restaurant.

Everyone else thoroughly enjoyed their classes, and A. walked away with a huge sack of freshly baked breads including whole wheat semolina, whole grain rye, baguettes, flatbread, and a ton of others. If you’re interested in taking a class at the CIA, definitely do it- they’re offered in the Fall and Spring.

What a fabulous day!