Food and Leisure

A celebrity chef-studded New York culinary experience

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Millie & Karla Reyes - The Philippine Star

KARLA: ?Every year, The New York Magazine organizes a special event that allows you to meet, greet and cook with some of the world’s most renowned chefs. A number of chefs are invited each year to give cooking workshops and demos to participants. I had the privilege of experiencing this event seven years ago in 2009. Back then, I was able to meet and cook with chef Alain Sailhac where he shared with us his bouillabaise recipe. This dish was one of my lolo’s favorites and I couldn’t wait to come home to cook it for him. During the event, I was also able to work with octopus during the workshop with chef Michael Psilakis, where I was even featured in the LA Splash Magazine with my plated dish.

I remember being so excited to be near the celebrity chefs and how patient they were with the amateur cooks. Everything was already measured out, so all we really needed to do was follow instructions on how to put the dish together. There were two workshops per day and a demo or talk during lunchtime. I distinctly remember Joe Bastianich playing the guitar and serenading us during our lunchtime, and Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque and his sons giving a talk. I, of course, was one of the first people in line to ask for a photo. At the end of each day, there was a cocktail/wine reception for all the participants and chefs.

Last April I was able to experience this event yet again. This time, I was experiencing it from behind the scenes instead of as a participant. It was a very different experience. Days prior to the event, we volunteered to help prepare some ingredients that the participants would need in their workshops, from cleaning, chopping and measuring out ingredients to wrapping live lobsters in damp towels for chef Sailhac’s bouillabaisse class. There was a lot to be done but it was only the beginning. This was during my first week of culinary school and for me, it was the most exciting weekend so far during my stay in New York.

It was a two-day, hands-on cooking event held at the International Culinary Center, formerly called the French Culinary Institute. The participants were asked to sign up for certain classes, with each class headed by a celebrity chef. This year, some of the chefs were Dan Barber and Bobby Schaffer of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Judy Joo of Cooking Channel’s Korean Food Made Simple, Miroslav Uskokovic of Gramercy Tavern, Jose Garces of Iron Chef, Carla Hall of The Chew, Kerry Heffernan of Grand Banks, Top Chef Masters, and Wild Fish Direct; François Hiegel of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, and more.

On the day of the event, I was riding the elevator with a cart full of items I had to bring in when the doors opened, and chef Amanda Freitag stepped in. I gasped and held my breath for what seemed like 30 seconds before I could actually say something. I gave my biggest smile as I felt everyone in the elevator turn their heads to me. So I just let it out and said, “I’m so sorry, I’m so star-struck right now. I’m Karla and I’m an international student from the Philippines. I volunteered for your class but someone beat me to it.”

She shook my hand and said it was nice to meet me. It was a great way to start the morning, but I unfortunately did not have time to ask for a photo with her.

MILLIE: Karla and I have often watched chef Amanda Freitag on TV, where she is a frequent guest on the Food Network and a judge on Chopped, a culinary competition, so I can imagine how Karla must have looked as she came face to face with a New York celebrity chef.

Karla shared chef Freitag’s awesome recipe for oven-roasted duck breast with pine-nut relish prepared with white balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, sage, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, cracked black pepper and unsalted butter, which was extremely delicious.

KARLA: I was first assigned to chef Missy Robins’ class, where she made some dishes that she serves at her restaurant Lilia in Brooklyn. She gave a demo on how to make homemade mozzarella and of course, she made it look so easy. She also made cacio pepe fritelle, which are cheese and pepper fritters that are very addicting. The class also made their own ricotta gnocchi served with chef Missy’s Diavola sauce that consists of garlic, chili flakes, Calabrian chilies, tomato paste, tomatoes, fennel seed and olive oil. Since other students had done most of the prep the day before, I just had to offer help to the participants if they needed any, and take away all the equipment they used and account for them.

MILLIE: Karla also had a chance to work with Missy Robbins, an American chef who appeared on Top Chef Masters as a contestant. Chef Missy is now the proud holder of a Michelin star for each of her two restaurants, and won an award as Best New Chef in 2010. She is known for Italian cuisine and Karla could not stop bragging that she learned how to make homemade mozzarella!

Karla was thrilled to have assisted chef Missy as she prepared one of Karla’s best-ever favorite dishes: gnocchi! She shared the recipe for ricotta gnocchi made with ricotta cheese and parmigiano reggiano, served with Diavola sauce using hand-smashed tomatoes.

Karla also helped chef Einat Admony prepare some Iraqi dishes that were new to both of us, such as the beet Kibbeh dumpling soup made with beets, leeks, celery, onions, and ground beef with mint, celery and parsley.

They also made Aruk Iraqi, a potato and herb patty with scallion, parsley, cilantro and yellow onions that, one could say, is like hash browns.

They also prepared Sambusak, a dish akin to our empanaditas, made from fried dough stuffed with chickpeas and onion and seasoned with garlic, cumin, turmeric and chili flakes.

KARLA: I was also able to assist chef Alessandra Altieri. It was very fortunate that I was assigned to her class even if I was not in the pastry program. I was able to meet Patrick Keller, the general manager of the Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center. We made raspberry éclairs from scratch and the participants got to assemble it themselves. I was able to try to assemble my own éclair with the leftover ingredients. And of course, I didn’t let this chance pass. I took a quick photo and immediately ate it — yes, the whole éclair.

MILLIE: I think meeting Alessandra Altieri was one of the highlights of Karla’s culinary adventure. I recall a trip to Napa Valley two years ago with Karla and my friend Nancy Tso Rolando, and we stopped for coffee and dessert at Bouchon Bakery. It was a stop I will never forget as I ended up wanting to try almost every dessert item on display at the counter! I never wanted to leave. Hahaha!

At the end of the two-day culinary adventure, I laugh as I recall how tired Karla was from all the excitement and complaining about being on her feet all day, but I believe it was a good program for foodies because they get to meet celebrities up close and personal and learn from their experience and get more handy culinary tips. For people not so comfortable in the kitchen, it is not an intimidating environment and everyone is there to help them — between the chef, chef’s assistant and student volunteers. How I envy Karla and wish I had been there, too!














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Send email to milliereyes.foodforthought@gmail.com and quichethecook.ph@gmail.com. Find us on Facebook: Food for Thought by Millie & Karla Reyes.

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