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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By Emily Peck

Emily is a nutritionist, personal chef, Kitchen Assistant at the Institute of Culinary Education, and the blogger behind The Greener Palate. She’s been a vegetarian for over a decade and is passionate about plant-based, whole-food cooking.

Vegan Thanksgiving fans, anyone? From the sausage stuffing to the gravy to the big ol’ turkey, it’s hard to imagine a meatless Thanksgiving that’s still mouth-watering and traditional. If you’re someone who’s inclined to save a bird this year, you might worry that all the tofurkeys and lentil loafs in the world won’t convince your family that eating plant-based foods is in any way comparable to a juicy turkey. But it’s our duty, my fellow plant lovers, to find ways to persuade the skeptics in our lives that we can enjoy the fruits of the earth in so many unique and appetizing ways, while staying true to some of the classic holiday recipes. That’s why, when I was given the opportunity to take Vegan Thanksgiving, a course taught by Chef Peter Berley at the Institute of Culinary Education, I jumped at the chance. He shared a handful of recipes plus ideas for modifying any dish to make it both delicious and entirely plant-based. The following are some tips I took away from the course.

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  1. Innovate with herbs. Cooking with herbs has the double benefit of adding fresh flavors and nutritional benefits to any dish. You can innovate with herbs for interesting new flavors, like we did with the Roasted Vegetable Pâté recipe. The recipe called for chopped rosemary, thyme and sage, but we had a lot of basil too, so I added a handful of that plus some leftover celery leaves — the final product had a complex (and delicious) flavor.
  1. Lighten up. You can substitute heavy ingredients like cream and butter for healthy alternatives. The traditional recipe for candied yams calls for butter, but we used extra-virgin olive oil (a heart-healthy dietary fat) instead. Coconut oil is another alternative fat source that adds some nutty sweetness to the dish as well. Bonus: coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, or “MCTs,” which have been found to boost HDL or “good cholesterol.”
  1. Nix the gluten. One recipe that I particularly enjoyed was the Stuffed Dumpling Squash with Kamut, Spelt Berry and Wild Rice. The kamut and spelt berry, however, are gluten-ful grains, and while wild rice is gluten-free, store-bought mixes are often made in facilities that also make products containing gluten — which can be problematic for those with gluten sensitivities. If you’re looking for gluten-free options, opt for a gluten-free grain such as quinoa — a hearty and healthy complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index.
  1. Swap out refined sugars. Many candied yam and sweet potato dishes call for refined white sugar, a processed simple carbohydrate. Instead, try substituting maple syrup, agave or even coconut sugar for a natural, less-processed sweetener.
  1. Swap in Flavorful Cooking Methods (Like Caramelizing). Roasting your veggies for a half hour or more will caramelize them and bring out their natural sweetness. Chef Peter’s Caramelized Onion Gravy was impressive — it had a delicious sweet and savory component due to the slow cooking of the onions. The gravy was a rich topping for the squash dumplings (mentioned above), creating a unique twist on a classic dish without using a meat base.

Many families rely on their collective traditions when choosing Thanksgiving dishes. I like to create my own traditions while paying homage to the long-standing ones of my family — my aunt’s irresistible Pecan Squares and my mom’s Creamy Zesty Carrots, both recipes handed down from their mom, my grandmother. This year, I plan to recreate these dishes by substituting the dairy and any highly processed ingredients with plant-based, fresh ones. My uncle, who finds great value in keeping things simple and classic, probably won’t admit that he likes Chef Peter’s Maple Tofu Whipped Cream that I’m going to pile on top of my Vegan Almond-Raspberry Cake. But the proof will be in the pudding — or on his empty dessert plate when he’s asking for seconds. Aside from being delicious, cooking plant-based foods provides the freedom to eat more (within reason), while taking advantage of many benefits, including improved digestion due to high amounts of fiber, minerals, vitamins, healthy fats and plant-based proteins. All of this creates healthy and happy bellies on Thanksgiving.

Emily’s Vegan Almond-Raspberry Cake
Servings: 8

Ingredients:

2 cups almond flour, firmly packed
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coconut- or almond-milk dairy-free yogurt
⅔ cup honey
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces raspberries, preferably organic
Zest of 1 lemon

Optional:

Sprinkle of powdered sugar
½ cup chopped raw pistachios, almonds or pecans

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 325º F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pan (I used a spring form pan) with vegan butter or spray and lightly dust with almond flour.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and sea salt.
  • In small bowl, combine the yogurt, honey, vanilla extract, olive oil and lemon zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix well and fold in the raspberries. Pour the mixture into the pan.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cake is golden brown. Test with a toothpick to make sure it comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
  • Once cooled, slice into 8 pieces. Top with Maple Tofu Whipped Cream (recipe below). Optional: Sprinkle with chopped nuts and powdered sugar.

 

Chef Peter’s Maple Tofu Whipped Cream
Servings: Makes about 2 ½ cups

Ingredients:

½ pound soft tofu, drained
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons agar flakes
½ cup cold water
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
½ cup plain soy or almond milk

Preparation:

  • Combine tofu, maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract, lemon juice and salt in food processor.
  • Place the agar flakes and cup of cold water in sauce pan over medium heat. Stirring continuously, cook until the mixture reaches a boil. Then reduce the heat to simmer.
  • In a bowl, whisk the arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) and soy milk (or almond milk) and add to the simmering liquid. Raise the heat and whisk continually until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat.
  • Slowly pour the hot mixture into the food processor and process until smooth. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
  • Transfer the tofu cream to a clean container and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  • Process the tofu cream again briefly just before serving

Want to expand your healthy-cooking repertoire? Click here to check out upcoming recreational cooking courses.

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By Caitlin Gunther

Calling all foodies: Beginning October 13, the New York City Food & Wine Festival will be taking New York by storm. Held in the culinary capital of the world, the four-day festival has an amazing lineup that includes tastings, demonstrations, dinners and hands-on classes led by culinary experts. Over a dozen ICE alumni are participating in this year’s events, including Matt Hyland of Emily Pizza and Emmy Squared, Anne Redding of Uncle Boons and Mr. Donahue’s, Sohui Kim of the Good Fork and Insa, Miguel Trinidad of Jeepney and MaharlikaMarc Murphy of Landmarc and Ditch Plains, Julian Plyter of Melt Bakery, Amy Scherber of Amy’s BreadScott Levine of Underwest Donuts, and Eden Grinshpan, who will be hosting a Kosher Dinner at the brand new restaurant Bison & Bourbon in Brooklyn, where innovative chefs — including Amitzur Mor of Barbounia NYC — will share fresh takes on Israeli and Middle Eastern culinary traditions.

For its part, the Institute of Culinary Education will once again be hosting all of the festival’s Master Classes, including Bread Making with Bien Cuit’s Zachary Golper, a Roasting Master Class with prolific food writer Melissa Clark of The New York Times, Cake Decorating with the internationally celebrated Sylvia Weinstock and a Chocolate Master Class taught by ICE’s Creative Director and acclaimed Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis. In anticipation of Chef Michael’s sold-out course—being held in our educational bean-to-bar Chocolate Lab—we asked him a few questions about his chocolate preferences and what students will learn in his exciting course.

What can attendees of the Chocolate Master Class expect to walk away with?

Regrettably, we can’t make chocolate entirely from start to finish in such a short time, but attendees will get a crash course in the many steps and innumerable variables in play throughout the chocolate making process, touching and tasting each step from raw bean to finished bar.

Will they be able to recreate any of the in-class recipes at home?

Without chocolate making equipment at home, the process is difficult to replicate. However, I think the insight offered will radically change one’s perspective of chocolate as an ingredient. If anything, attendees can transform chocolate from our lab as they see fit in their own kitchen!

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chocolate-making-master-course

Which do you prefer (for personal consumption): dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

Dark chocolate—typically anything reaching beyond 60% cocoa solids—will always provide the most intense and complex tasting experience. But most of us were raised on milk chocolate, which has become somewhat underrated and when done well can be spectacular. One of my favorite styles of chocolate to make (and consume) is what we might call “dark milk”—a higher cocoa percentage than average, but with just enough milky creaminess to satisfy nostalgic cravings.

Any other classes or events you are looking forward to at NYCWFF?

I’m seriously considering sneaking into Sylvia Weinstock’s cake decorating class; she’s a legend in the world of cake. I’m envious of all who are enrolled in Zachary Golper’s bread workshop; his bakery Bien Cuit is one of the best in NYC. And I’ve long respected Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern; it’s exciting just to have him in the building.

michael-laiskonis

To make amazing chocolate, ICE’s Chocolate Lab is equipped with high quality products including Tomric chocolate moulds and equipment

Didn’t score a spot at Chef Michael’s NYCWFF course? Click here to check out classes with Chef Michael at ICE. 

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By Caitlin Gunther

In New York, the bagel capital of the world (nice try, Montreal), it’s only proper that the best culinary school offers an exclusive course in bagel making—which is why I found myself aproned and wrist-deep in flour on a Monday afternoon at the Institute of Culinary Education. With a mission to learn the art of making the city’s favorite breakfast food, I signed up for a course in bagels, pretzels and bialys. The class, a mix of culinary students and recreational bakers like myself, was led by ICE’s dean of bread baking and Balthazar’s founding bread baker, Sim Cass. The London native has been deemed the “prince of darkness” for his role in introducing dark-crusted sourdough to this side of the pond. He has a passion for dough and an encyclopedic knowledge of all things leavened. One class with Chef Sim will quash your fear of homemade bagel making.

bagel course at ICE

(credit: Casey Feehan @caseyfeehan)

While mixing, rolling, boiling and baking, I picked up some nuggets of bagel-making wisdom. Here are my top preparation tips for the next time you’re at home and looking for the perfect vehicle for your cream cheese and lox.

  1. Moisture: Wetter dough means crispier bagels. Contrary to what you’d expect, the higher the water content in your dough, the crispier your bagel. In the end, it’s a matter of preference, so don’t be afraid to tweak to your liking. Though the recipe we used called for 62.4% hydration, we lowered it to 60% in order to make chewier, less crispy bagels (that is, 540 grams of water, rather than 570 grams).
  2. Water temp: The colder the better. Due to the time constraints (four hours to get through bagels, pretzels and bialys) we used lukewarm water to mix our bagel dough. This activates the yeast faster. Ideally though, your water should be cold. If you have a couple hours to let your dough rest and rise, use cold water. And if later in the process, your dough is misbehaving (i.e., you’re having trouble kneading or shaping it) refrigerate it briefly and try again.
  3. Dry active yeast: Let it chill. Those tiny granules of yeast are going to have to do a lot of work; without them, your bagels would be mere bagel chips. Be kind to your yeast and give it a moment to rest once you add it to the water. Resist the urge to vigorously whisk the yeast and let it sit on the water surface and start its yeasty magic for three minutes before moving on to the next step.
  4. Flour: Embrace the gluten. Let’s step back for a moment. You’re eating a bagel. Is it really the time to start cutting back on gluten by using whole-wheat flour? But seriously, your bagel dough is going to be pulled and stretched and rolled and boiled—it needs lots of gluten for elasticity. According to Chef Sim, even so-called “whole-wheat” bagels have just a small percentage of whole-wheat flour. (Side note: when it comes to bread, Chef Sim is a rye purest himself. This class made me reconsider my own proclivities towards the whole wheat.) So unless you have a serious intolerance, just commit to having a bagel with full-gluten flour (we used about 87% high-gluten flour and 13% all-purpose flour).
  5. Mixing: Low and slow’s the way to go. To achieve that smooth, stretchy texture necessary for your bagel shaping, mix your dough using an electric mixer with a hook attachment at low speed. Think: 3 and 3. Three minutes of mixing on the lowest speed then three minutes on the second-to-lowest speed.
  6. The rise: Your kitchen climate is A-okay. According to Chef Sim, there’s no need to fret about the warmth or coolness of your kitchen. Nor do you need a special, warmed proofing box to accelerate the rise of your dough. Unless you leave the dough in your garden in the snow (Chef’s words, not mine), it’s going to rise.
  7. Flavor kick: After the proof. Once your dough has had the chance to “proof” (the baker’s term for the final rise before dough shaping), it’s time to add flavors that will be baked into the bagel, if any: cinnamon-raisin, blueberry, honey, sun-dried tomato, anchovies (weird, but I don’t know, maybe that’s your thing). Just make sure if you’re adding something oily, like sun-dried tomatoes, pat them dry to soak off excess oil—we don’t want that messing with our perfect dough. bagel-shaping
  8. Shaping: Think empanadas. Here’s the breakdown of shaping your bagel. Measure 4 ounces of dough and form it into a flat rectangle (here is where you would fold in your flavorings, if any). Then, fold the dough into an empanada shape, pinching around the edges. With generously floured hands, roll your dough to about 10 ½ inches with thin ends (like a snake). Dab cold water on one end and connect to the other to make a circle. Then roll that part to create a sealed seam.
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  9. Spa treatment: A brief boil, then an egg wash. The boiling before baking step is crucial to get that firm, crisp crust and a chewy interior. Using a spider or spatula, gently place your bagels in simmering water (not a rolling boil) for twenty seconds and remove to a lightly oiled sheet pan. Using a brush, treat your boiled bagels to a luxurious egg white wash to ensure that shiny crust.
  10. Toppings: You rule. The beautiful thing about making your own bagels is the freedom to add whichever toppings you want. I am in LOVE with everything bagels. I am NOT in love, however, with caraway seeds, and I wasted countless hours of my childhood flicking every last caraway seed off my everything bagels with cream cheese and butter (don’t judge). When you make your own bagels, you lord over your toppings with no restrictions. Salt bagel with toasted garlic? Go for it. Poppy, pumpkin and sesame seeds? Why not! You’ve done all the hard work—now it’s time to have fun.

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Place your bagels into a convection oven preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (or 400 degrees if using a non-convection oven), bake for 20 minutes and get ready to schmear your heart out.

Hankering for homemade bagels? Click here to check out ICE’s recreational baking courses.

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