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ON THE SCENE: Explore the culinary arts with Chef Hemm

January 11, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Ever wonder how great chefs create those delicious meals?

Rarely can the answer be found in televised food shows. Yes, there is a lot of razzle-dazzle, but after watching it, do you feel that you can go into your kitchen and create the same?

Televised chefs often list ingredients and seasonings that few people stock, that local grocery stores and chains hardly have on their shelves. How many people have the professional ranges they use - Jenn-Air, Thermador, or Wolf that easily cost from $5,000 to $15,000. The pots and pans they use - a basic set of Le Creuset - will set you back $2,000. Then there are the knives: $150 to $200 a knife. Sure. Why not?

Article Photos

Chef Curtiss Hemm with Doug Roode, Susan O'Brien, Jeff Reynolds, and Jeanne Russo
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

If you'd like to walk away from a cooking class confident that you can create a mouth-watering meal with ingredients available in local stores using pretty much what you have in your kitchen, then the Mirror Lake Inn as the perfect opportunity for you. The inn, ranked as one of the best in the nation by Conde Nast Traveler for example, has partnered with the Carriage House Cooking School to feature Chef Curtiss Hemm leading a series of cooking classes that will have you dazzling your family, friends, and stomachs in no time.

"Our goal with the cooking classes is to make someone a better home cook," says Hemm. "That's my passion. I love teaching people. I've done it on the college and commercial levels. But this is a different venture: creating and writing recipes for people who cook at home. Along the way, attendees will learn new recipes and a thousand tips and tricks and tips that ultimately will make them more successful in their kitchens."

Hemm said he felt more people are cooking at home these days for a number of reasons, including accessibility of good produce, such as here in the Adirondack Park. People are making a priority of eating healthful, non-processed food. People are cooking more to provide time with their family and friends. They love being in the kitchen. It's relaxing.

Hemm is the former dean of culinary arts and director of online programs at the New England Culinary Institute and a former culinary instructor at Paul Smith's College. He authored "Garde Manager: The Cold Kitchen," a leading textbook for culinary students and reference for professional chefs. It covers a broad base of culinary skills, from basic cold food preparations to roasting, poaching, simmering, and sauteing meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, and legumes as well as nearly 450 recipes.

Hemm has been inspired by others, such as the 1980s internationally recognized French-born American chef Jacques Pepin, television personality and author Julia Child, and long-time Paul Smith's College dean of culinary arts Paul Sorgule. What Hemm learned from them was the importance of technique and knowledge of ingredients.

"I think about cooking often," said Hemm. "I could be brush-hogging the woodlot and thinking about the next recipe: how it looks, how it feels, what the tastes are, what technique imparts that taste. Anyone who wants to cook, don't be afraid to fail. You will fail. It happens to all of us. The very first bread loaf I made in our new oven looks beautiful on the top. Oh my god, gorgeous! But on the bottom, it was burnt black as can be. In the middle, it was raw. So, trust me, we all make mistakes. But they're a great learning opportunity. We need to celebrate that."

What makes Hemm's classes extra special is his being local. He was raised in the Clinton County town of Peru and still lives there. As a consequence, he knows where to source ingredients and the most affordable places to get whatever you need in your kitchen. His demonstrations are cooked on a of couple basic gas burners, the equivalent of what most people have at home. This is also true for most of his utensils, quite many of which he purchases at garage sales and flea markets.

Hemm is as relaxed and down-home as you can get, the type of person you might find in a local hardware store chatting with the clerk. He rarely uses a measuring cup or spoon; what he does use is a tablespoon, a left-over plastic pint container from take-out soup, and his three fingers to pinch what he needs. Hemm is a great teacher, walking you through each dish, welcoming your standing up close to watch and ask questions about all aspects of his process.

Last weekend, on Saturday, Jan. 5, I caught his second class at the Mirror Lake Inn, ADK on Tap: Cooking with Adirondack Artisan Beers. Three dishes were prepared. First, there was Ubu Ale and cheese soup, a Canadian-style soup that featuring a sharp cheddar cheese. Then there was a reverse-sear New York strip steak with Ausable Brewing Company Autumn Session Porter au poivre sauce and aligot potato. And finally, there was a Paradox Brewery pilsner crepe served with a warmed "Fruit Fool" compote, sliced almonds, and chantilly cream.

If that wasn't enough, each table featured a plate of local artisan cheeses, sliced sausages, nuts, pretzels and bottled water. Glasses of wine or beer were available from the Bistro.

The tips were non-stop. We learned the best way to hold a knife, how to use the flesh in your hands to determine how well a steak is done, how to cook a perfect steak every time, how to hold the bowl and use the whisk to make whipped cream effortlessly, where to get the best bone broth, the quickest way to skin a potato, which potato to use, which salt to use, which peppercorns to use, how to make a perfect crepe batter, and on and on.

Hemm loves savory food - food that's full of flavor and not too salty or sweet. It was a surprise to watch him toss a pinch of ground pepper into the fruit compote being created for the crepes, helping to bring out the flavor of the peaches. He also wants you to taste the ingredients so when the dish is served. You have the bang of the overall flavor yet taste its melody of ingredients.

"I would recommend this class to anybody," said Jeanne Russo, a fellow participant. "The class was delightful. Curtiss is very informative, easy going. He made it quite enjoyable. He knows how to cook. The food was delicious, and I learned what you could do with beer."

"Hemm was very informative, down to earth, and gave us recipes we can do and techniques that we can use," said Jeff Reynolds. "I was amazed to learn how you can cook meat inside water because it's something you just don't think of doing! The class was excellent, well worth the time."

"I could apply everything I learned today," said Doug Roode. "I came away with many new ideas. The way Curtiss did the meat was phenomenal as was the ways you can use beer. I'm going to use a lot more fresh herbs, especially sage. I loved his focus on savory. He made it look so easy, too! Curtiss is so non-threatening. He's a great asset to have in this area."

The classes are posted on the Mirror Lake Inn's website. On Jan. 12, the focus is Italian, and on Feb. 9, it's all about the French Bistro.



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