By Emily Peterson — Lead Chef-Instructor, Recreational Cooking

My favorite part of the back-to-school routine is treating myself to a new lunchbox. I haven’t been a student for a long time. Nonetheless, the chill in the air and the tips of the crisp leaves as they start to change justify a shiny, new lunch tote.

I bring my lunch lots of places — to work, on drives lasting longer than an hour or two, to the pool when I have the chance to catch my kid’s swim practice. This doesn’t come naturally to many of us, especially in the age of Seamless and Ritual. Don’t get me wrong: I love skipping the line at Go! Go! Curry as much as the next person. But reserving my dining-out options for truly special occasions means I have more control over my budget, my waistline and ultimately, my happiness. And there’s science to back me up.

knife skills

Robert H. Lustig, professor in the Division of Endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, recently published a book called “The Hacking of the American Mind.” In it, he draws a distinction between pleasure and happiness. Dr. Lustig argues that repeatedly exposing ourselves to easy-access pleasure is undermining our sense of contentment and our chances for being truly happy. Takeout lunch? Pure pleasure: short term, addictive, delicious, but ultimately empty pleasure.

salmonLuckily, Lustig offers us a roadmap: four keys to long-term happiness. On that short list is cooking. What better motivator is there than long-term happiness? By signing up for an ICE recreational cooking class you’ll be learning a skill that will make you measurably happier. With that in mind, here are some of my recommended courses this fall at ICE.

If you’re just starting out in the kitchen, consider taking Knife Skills 1, a slow-and-steady, methodical class designed to give you the attention you need to get the most out of the most important tool in the kitchen. Next, try a one-day Essential Skills class, a 5-day Techniques of Fine Cooking, or a 15-session deep dive in Introduction to Culinary Arts. If you’ve got a hankering for a culinary getaway, try one of our Essentials of… (Mediterranean, Tuscan, Thai, etc.) courses. And for the romantics, we offer couples cooking classes, where you can roll up your sleeves and cook alongside your loved one.

Check out all of our new recreational cooking + baking courses here.

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Football season has finally returned and you know what that means — tailgating time. To make each game day delicious, ICE and the New York Jets are teaming up for a new season of The Official Jets Cooking School. Learn how to tailgate like a pro alongside the pros — ICE chefs and pro players from the J-E-T-S (Jets, Jets, Jets!).

In anticipation of this year’s Jets Cooking School, we caught up with former Jets player Erik Coleman, who will be whipping up the ultimate wing bar with us at Wings and Beer Night on Thursday, October 12, 2017. Erik gave us the lowdown on his winning game day eats.

Erik ColemanTell us about your go-to dish for game day.

For game day, I’m a barbecue wings and seven-layer dip kind of guy. I like anything that means you don’t have to commit to sitting down at the table or getting out your silverware. You can just keep snacking as you pass by the food table.

Chicken wings: hot or barbecue?  

Definitely barbecue. I love the combination of sweet and salty, and when I eat spicy food, I start to sweat — which I like, too.

Your backyard grill is fired up: what’s on it?

Chicken and ribs, definitely. My wife is Italian, so we usually have Italian sausages on the grill, along with some burgers for the kids.

Any special grilling techniques?

My best grilling technique is to sit back and watch the pros do it. My father and brother are the grillers in my family. I just sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

With all this food, you’re obviously thirsty – what’s your essential beverage?

I drink a ton of water throughout the day, but I do love a good scotch or bourbon with a cigar while watching the games on my back porch.

Music’s essential for tailgating: what’s your soundtrack?

I grew up listening to my parents play R&B while barbecuing, so I like a mix of that, plus some good dance music. 

Don’t miss out on this season of The Official Jets Cooking School — register today!

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ICE and USHG have paired up to offer Understanding Wine: a unique wine course led by James Beard Award-winning Wine Director and Master Sommelier, John Ragan. The course is based on the same insider educational curriculum taught to all USHG sommeliers, and ICE’s Content Manager Caitlin Raux had the chance to tag along on this 10-part voyage into the world of wine.

By Caitlin Raux

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” It’s a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche and not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a sommelier trying to sell you on Riesling. But when that sommelier is Paul Grieco, described by the New York Times as the “high priest of the American Riesling revival,” you can bet your Bordeaux you’ll start questioning your own convictions — especially if you’re still a non-believer in Riesling. Paul, a sommelier at the TriBeca winebar, Terroir, was the guest presenter at Week 6 of Understanding Wine, a 10-part series of wine classes led by USHG Wine Director and Master Sommelier John Ragan. Sporting a mechanic’s shirt and a long goatee, Paul’s wine preferences seem as irreverent as his fashion choices, but spend some time soaking in his Riesling gospel, and you just might become a believer, too. I myself started to see the light by the end of the evening.

white wine USHG

 

Every Tuesday night, a roomful of food and wine lovers like myself gather at ICE to spend a few hours smelling, tasting and learning to talk about wine. Each week, the focus shifts to new regions or grapes — Wines of Italy; Burgundy and Bordeaux; New World Wines, etc. — and a different local wine expert joins the class: Kyungmoon Kim, sommelier at The Modern, and Jenni Guizio, Wine Director at Maialino, to name a couple. On this particular week, a post-work meeting had me doubting whether I would be able to make it. But I’ve come to look forward to this weekly wine ritual — you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to enjoy eight delicious wines. I hustled to make it just in the nick of time and settled into my seat with the half-glass of sparkling wine that greeted me as I entered. When I flipped open our course binder and discovered that the night’s theme was The World of Riesling, I sighed quietly and sunk into my chair, wishing that the meeting would have gone long. I felt about Riesling the way I do about cole slaw — sure, I’ll take it if it’s in front of me, but I’d never order it. It’s too sweet, so I thought, and just not my thing. 

Hoping for the best but prepared for the unremarkable, I joined my classmates on a voyage through Riesling vineyards in Germany. “Riesling is the most glorious white grape in the world,” Paul proclaimed. Boom. But what about those white wines from France we tasted a couple weeks back, made with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? We began swirling, smelling and tasting, to see if he could convince us on the grape’s merits: versatility, yumminess (his word, not mine) and potential to express its home turf or terroir.

The first three wines, all from the Mosel region of Germany, shook my wine world. I thought Rieslings were supposed to be cloyingly sweet — these wines were anything but, and super versatile. Though produced in nearly identical conditions — same grape, same vintage (2015), same producer, same vineyard — the grapes of each wine were picked 10 days apart. John explained that the difference in ripeness accounted for the huge variation between the wines. All were high in acidity (that thing that makes your mouth pucker and water after a sip), but completely different in terms of intensity: from light and elegant (“Kabinett” style) to dry (“Trocken”) with intense orchard fruit flavors.

USHG Understanding Wine

Understanding Wine tasting chart

As we headed southwest to the Alsace region of France, I started to convert — I started to become a fan of Riesling. According to Paul, whereas German Rieslings are characterized by unbridled acidity with the potential for residual sugar, Alsace Rieslings are all about the power (read: alcohol). Wine 5 — a 2005 Brand Grand Cru Riesling from a third-generation producer Albert Boxler — was downright yummy. I couldn’t have put it better than Paul, who described it as “fully ripened grapes in a glass.”

From there, we flirted with comparable grapes — Gewürztraminer from France and Grüner Veltliner from Austria, while slurping up cold sesame noodles flecked with spice, courtesy of the hit restaurant, Untitled — a perfect pairing for the fruity, aromatic Gewürz. We nibbled and listened as Paul filled us in on the winemaking history in Austria. Austria was enmeshed in a grape juice scandal back in the 80s, when several winemakers were caught adulterating their wines with diethylene glycol — yup, that’s toxic — a trivia tidbit that prompted Paul to ask the class, “What’s your favorite scandal?” “The OJ scandal!” chirped the aspiring somm in the front row. We were six wines deep at that point and emboldened by sprightly white wine. “Let’s scale it back,” Paul joked, and we forged on.

Our Riesling guide, Paul

Our final wine was far less scandalous than the Juice (the football player, that is) and far more crowd-pleasing: a reasonably priced 2015 Bründlmayer Riesling from the Kamptal region of Austria. My tasting notes read: high acidity, dry, only a touch sweet — love (underlined). By this point, Paul had won me over. Best part, with the low alcohol levels of all of the wines, I had no semblance of a hangover the following day. Now that’s a happy ending.

If you’re an aspiring sommelier or a wine lover looking to take your wine knowledge to the next level, register for Understanding Wine.

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By John Ragan — USHG Senior Director of Operations and Master Sommelier 

John Ragan MS teaches Understanding Winea 10-week, in-depth course developed in collaboration between ICE and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). As USHG’s senior director of operations and master sommelier, John works with each of USHG’s restaurants to evolve their exceptional wine programs. 

We’ve all been there: You’re sitting down to a high-stakes dinner — maybe you’re meeting the in-laws, closing a deal or just trying to make a really good first impression — and someone hands you the wine menu. Ordering wine in a restaurant can feel a little intimidating, especially if you’re making decisions for a group. But with a few key tips and guidelines under your belt, ordering a great, versatile bottle with outstanding value can be a breeze.

John Ragan

John Ragan

I’m not fluent in wine speak. How can I effectively communicate what we’re looking for without seeming like I don’t know what I’m talking about?

Don’t try to use language you’re not comfortable with. Restaurant professionals have heard it all and good restaurants can decode your language and translate that into good wine. Use the words you’d normally use to explain what the wine smells and tastes like to you and it helps if you can contrast what you’re looking for with what you’re not looking for. For example, whether you say soft vs. heavy; light vs. full-bodied; or delicate vs. rich – you’re going to get your point across.

I’m ordering in front of a group. How do I gracefully communicate my budget to the sommelier?

If you want to be discrete, you can always point at a wine in the menu and say “something like this.” But if you’re comfortable with a little more transparency, I find you’ll always get a better outcome by being clear and direct. If you tell me you want a great red for $65, that’s game on for me. Most sommeliers like that challenge and will rise to the occasion. When you name the target price explicitly, you’re speaking a universal language and you can’t go wrong. But if you ask for a “midrange” wine, a server might interpret that as $80 when you meant $60. Now you’re speaking a subjective language that could lead to misunderstandings.

Understanding Wine

I’m ordering steak, he’s opting for fish and she’s a vegetarian. What can I order that will please everybody?

If there’s one overarching element that will make just about any dish taste good, it’s acidity! Grapes grown in cooler climates (whether red or white) have a higher natural acidity and tend to keep the wines crisp and more refreshing. Next time you have a mixed table, don’t focus on red or white but rather something with great acidity to keep everyone happy. Cool climate grapes to look out for include Chenin Blanc and Gruner Veltliner for whites, and Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley in France for red. And don’t miss reds from Sicily — though it’s a warmer climate, the high elevation of those vineyards can produce remarkable acidity in the wines.

Why do people swirl the wine when a taste is poured in the glass?

When a bottle is opened, especially if it’s a few years old or more, the wine’s aromas aren’t immediately accessible. Swirling a glass of wine opens up the aromas. But don’t shake the wine excessively. Three loose turns should do the trick.

I really want to hit it out of the park. What are some amazing pairings that will impress my dinner guests?

A few classic pairings have truly stood the test of time: lobster and Chardonnay, white truffles with Nebbiolo and foie gras with Sauternes — these pairings never disappoint. But sometimes the best pairings are unexpected — great wines with simple, soulful foods can produce memorable “a ha” moments. A great Chablis with fresh oysters (ideally near the source!) is a pairing that really drives home the seabed terroir of the wine. A mature Chianti with a great pasta Bolognese will transport you to Tuscany for the price of a nice bottle. My favorite pairings happen when a few great ingredients can conjure even greater complexity from a wine and vice versa.

Ready to take your wine knowledge to the next level? Click here for more information on ICE + USHG’s Understanding Wine course.

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By Caitlin Raux

On a Friday evening in November, when the weekend held the promise of a just-ordered ShackBurger, I nabbed a seat in ICE Director of Wine Studies Richard Vayda’s course: Great Holiday Wines for under $20 and over $50. Armed with an open palate, I tasted nearly a dozen wines, from sparkling rosé and viognier to rich red and sweet fortified; two of each, one a (relative) bargain, the other a splurge. While we swirled, sniffed, sipped, and nibbled, I gleaned some grape wisdom — about wine varieties and my own tastes. In the spirit of holiday giving, here are five surprising takeaways from my wine course at ICE.

Wine Course at ICE

  1. Catalunya makes impressive under-$20 sparklers. The moment you utter “sparkling wine,” everyone’s mind zooms off to the famed region of France: Champagne, where due to a combination of tradition and soil, the best sparklers in the world are made, so they say (especially if “they,” like my wine course companion, happen to be French). But at $18, a Catalunya-grown Brut Reserva Rosé made by Marqués de Gelida was a delicious steal. Really, I was tempted to steal the bottle (but I didn’t, of course). Medium-bodied, refreshing and with a faint aroma of ripe cherries, this wine is the perfect choice to kick off any holiday dinner.
  2. There’s a world of white wine outside sauv blanc and alby: Meet viogner. To be honest, when it comes to white wine, I tend to stick with my tried-and-true arsenal — sauvignon blanc from New Zealand and albariño from Spain. So when Richard said we’d be trying two viogniers, I was pumped to expand my list of white wine go-tos. When I realized that my preferred viognier — La Linda Viognier from Mendoza, Argentina — was the bargain bottle ($13), I felt happy as a girl with new pajamas. Light and not too sweet, like a fresh, herbal tea with hints of lemon, it’s the kind of bottle to stock up on before any holiday party.
  3. Blind taste testing opens your mind + palate. The good thing about blind taste testing is that your usual proclivities go out the window. My own love affair with Spain, a place I called home for two years, means love at first sight whenever I see a label from the Iberian Peninsula. As we swirled and sniffed the three rich reds, I could identify a young wine, a middle-aged wine and an old wine, with a distinct red-orange color. Unlike white wine, which gains color, red wine loses color as it ages. The older wine, which turned out to be from Rioja, the renowned Spanish wine region, did not make me as weak in the knees as I anticipated. I preferred the 2012 Châtaeu d’Arcins Cru Bourgeois from Bordeaux to the 2001 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from Rioja. Either my palate isn’t refined enough to appreciate the nuance of this aged red or I just don’t love the stuff — either way, my preferred bottle ($14) was considerably more pocket-friendly than its Spanish counterpart ($80).
  4. Blonde ports have more fun. Or more aptly stated, I have more fun drinking these light-colored port wines. Port is a fortified wine produced in the Duoro Valley of northern Portugal. Before this class, the luscious, dark red-purplish port, Graham’s Six Grapes Porto ($20), said older and better to me. Think again. Like red wine, port wine loses color with age. The lighter colored 20-Year Old Tawny Port made by Taylor Fladgate ($50) had a rich, nutty flavor, probably due to its extra years in the barrel, and was much more to my liking. I guess I’m more a peanut butter than a jelly girl when it comes to port. Fun fact: Tawny is generally enjoyed as a dessert drink — but as Richard would tell you, there are no hard-and-fast rules to wine drinking, so you can drink it throughout a meal if you like. Had the pours been larger or the bottles left with us, I could have sipped the Tawny all class long.
  5. I am not a “super smeller” – but I can still identify over 1000 smells. Super smellers, for better or worse, can identify over 6,000 smells. That’s an exhausting amount of olfactory stimulation. I pity the super smellers in the East Village on a steamy summer morning. But it certainly helps them to enjoy a glass of wine — after all, appreciating wine is more about smell than taste. Though I can’t identify over 6,000 smells and am still trying to expand my vocabulary beyond flowery, bright … strawberries!!, this class proved to me that I know more about the nuance of wine than I previously thought. In fact, the average person can identify at least 1,000 smells. The more I taste, the more I articulate, and the more I can appreciate. Bottom line: taste more, talk more and always enjoy.

Ready to take your wine knowledge to new levels? Click here to register for a wine course at ICE.

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