Thursday, December 29, 2011

The chemistry of food

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2011 at 2:25 PM

In this week's Side Dish column, I mention Conscious Table's newly announced lunch hours, beginning Jan. 10.

In related news, Indy CEO Fran Zankowski and I attended the "chemistry of food" cooking class at the restaurant last night, to survey the teaching style and structure while also getting to enjoy some eats, drinks and a lengthy educational lecture.

A daily special chalkboard features some pricey plates, justified in part by the sourcing of local and sustainable (and often more expensive) products.
  • A daily special chalkboard features some pricey plates, justified in part by the sourcing of local and sustainable (and often more expensive) products.

Here's a brief rundown of our experience and impressions, and in the interest of transparency, I'll go ahead and disclose once again my prior personal and business relationship with Conscious Table chefs Brent Beavers (not present last night) and Aaron Retka: I used to work with both of them at Sencha prior to its closure and sad transformation into an Arby's. As well, Retka and I attended Colorado College together, where we played in a surf rock band, made student films and ventured on more than one road trip.

So it is possible our experience last night was abnormal in some way due to old friendships, even though four other students were in attendance? Sure. So make of this mini-review what you will.

Firstly, we left feeling that the class was a great value at $39 a head, as that price included four small courses of food paired with two wines poured generously, and around two hours of informal lecture time.

At times, we'd gather around a portable burner for a quick demo, and otherwise we'd sit at dinner tables and watch Retka scribble chemistry diagrams on the restaurant's chalkboard and talk about the nuts and bolts (molecularity speaking) of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, free radicals and the like.

I won't go into all that here because that'd be stealing the restaurant's thunder (read: go pay for your own class), but suffice to say it was heady, informative and Retka eventually wound it around to applying that info to cooking techniques.

I also won't belabor you with food descriptions, as every class' offerings will of course be different.

What we left feeling good about was having a better understanding of what goes on when we do certain types of cooking (the Maillard reaction and all that) — essentially grasping a little more of the why behind why foods do the things they do when heat is applied, or salt, or an acid or base, etc. etc.

You might be great at brining or braising, but if you want to know exactly what's happening structurally in a pot or pan, and why "low and slow" is a good rule of thumb, this class is for you.

Too bad it's not on the schedule again for the next couple of months, but you can always call to customize your own class.

Other topics coming soon: a two-night bread class, sauce basics, classic French and curries.

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