Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New York Culinary Experience
Chef Joe Ng (RedFarm) prepares bacon flavored scallion pancakes, beef potstickers, and chicken/mushroom/watercress shu mai dumplings at his Dumplings Demystified class.
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For Gastronomes in Gotham: Master Classes with Over 30 Acclaimed Chefs

Meryle Evans - April 21st, 2014

"Don't use recipes," said Joey Campanaro of Manhattan's Little Owl restaurant, addressing a clutch of cooking aficionados who had donned aprons for a weekend of hands-on master classes and conversation in the kitchens of the International Culinary Center. The occasion was the New York Culinary Experience, an annual event sponsored by New York magazine and ICC, with a portion of the proceeds earmarked for ICC's Future Chefs Scholarship Fund.

Campanaro went on to explain, "A recipe is a gift to let you use your imagination," and proceeded to demonstrate the skills they would acquire preparing an ambitious menu of tagliatelle with peas, basil, and tomatoes; lobster ravioli with Sherry butter and ramps; farfalle with fried salami and broccoli raab pesto; and barbecued strip steaks and grilled corn. Making the rounds of the kitchen as his students plopped live lobsters into boiling water, and pounded pesto, he encouraged them to learn the techniques and take it from there.

In another kitchen, dining enthusiasts, eagerly awaiting the opening of David Waltuck's new restaurant, élan, were privy to a preview of the menu, making guacamole with sea urchin and Japanese seasonings; stuffed chicken wings braised with leeks and mushrooms; and seared tea-smoked salmon with sweet-and-sour vegetables and curry/tamarind vinaigrette.

The offerings ranged from traditional to fast-forward. André Soltner of the iconic Lutèce, now dean of classic studies at ICC, recalled that he first tasted the tartare de saumon on his menu for the class at the Café de Flore in Paris. He then adapted it at Lutèce, adding some raw salmon to smoked salmon and steaming it for three minutes. The tartare and garnishes were accompanied by mayonnaise-based sauce gribiche. Soltner's students also prepared côte de veau Pojarski aux épinards, a classic, seldom made, dish of veal and truffles. Down the hall, highlighting his progressive American style at Atera, Matthew Lightner focused on "Preserving Atera-Style," pickling cabbage, smoking trout, and preserving lemons. His take-home bounty, designed to keep in a refrigerator or freezer, included a sweet potato/ice cream dessert. The spuds were roasted over oak chips, their skins removed before being packed, whole, in Mason jars, covered with sugar syrup, a few oak chips and vanilla beans, then sealed and submerged in boiling water. Lightner's marshmallow/isomalt ice cream base, which, he noted, could be frozen for three months, was served with pieces of the sweet potato/vanilla butter.

Attendees with special interests had a wide choice of cuisines to tackle—RedFarm's Joe Ng demystified dumplings; for Pok Pok's Andy Ricker, it was all about modern Thai; while veggie-centric enthusiasts flocked to join Jean-Georges Vongerichten making vegetable specialties from the Jean-Georges Kitchen and ABC Kitchen's Dan Kluger concentrated on tips and tricks with spring vegetables. Two chefs flew in from Paris for the weekend—Flora Mikula of Auberge Flora—with a menu that included rack of lamb roasted with harissa michouli eggplant with jus d’olives, and Daniel Rose of Spring imagined a springtime Sunday lunch at home with roasted duck and a rhubarb/strawberry/sorbet dessert.

When they weren't cooking the New York Culinary Experience, participants could get off their feet at lunches and receptions, tuning into conversations with notable culinary personalities, including New York magazine's culinary editor Gillian Duffy, International Culinary Center founder/CEO Dorothy Cann Hamilton, chef Lidia Bastianich, author/editor Ruth Reichl, Jilly Stephens, executive director of City Harvest, and über restaurateur Stephen Starr. With over 30 establishments in four states, Starr, who began building his restaurant empire in Philadelphia, recalled that, despite a certain bravado, when he opened the 186 seat Morimoto, his first footprint in New York City, "I was scared to death." Now, with smaller restaurants more in vogue, he admits he probably won't open anything that large, but, undaunted, Starr continues to fall in love with spaces he finds and then lets the space determine the concept. The audience at ICC took note of his next venture, the Mex/American El Vez, opening soon in Battery Park City, though they may be too preoccupied practicing their new kitchen skills to dine out for a while.