Jean-Georges Makes Spices Comfy

Last weekend was the second annual New York Culinary Experience at the French Culinary Institute, where participants attended hands-on cooking classes taught by famous chefs. Among them were Marcus Samuelsson, Zak Pelaccio, and Jacques Pépin. I got the chance to check out the Jean-Georges Vongerichten session on Saturday morning, and April Bloomfield from the Spotted Pig’s pork-focused class the following day. It was a great juxtaposition of refined versus rustic.

Jean-Georges led his class through three dishes that contained his characteristic use of Asian-influenced spices. “People buy these spices, and then they sit on their shelves for a year, and they don’t know what to do with them,” he said. “I want people to feel comfortable with them.”

The first dish was tuna tartare, cut into ribbon shapes, with an intensely gingery dressing made in the blender. Next, he showed the class how to dredge fish in ground, toasted nuts, and coriander seeds, pan-fry it, and serve it with a mushroom broth liberally built with melted butter. The last was squab with a sauce of orange juice that had been steeped in smoky oolong tea. Jean-Georges, calm and cheery, noted after the class that he was opening no less than five restaurants in the next three months, and that he is very excited about the black pepper he is importing for all of them from the city of Cochin, in the Southern India state of Goa.

Bloomfield’s class put less emphasis on buttery, delicate, sauces, and made simple, gastropubby dishes of root veggies and meat that would go great with beer. First was roast pork loin with fennel-rubbed skin on that got crispy, served with a spicy tomato sauce and roasted chunks of fennel, carrot, and onion. While that was in the oven, the class made a pork hock and apple soup in which the hock is used to make the stock, and the root-vegetable-laden soup is finished with prepared mustard. The last was shockingly easy meatballs of ground veal and pork cooked in tomato sauce, draped in blanched chard.

The chefs’ very different presentations represented, to me, the two sides of home cooking: the stuff you make when company comes over (Jean-Georges), and what you make for your family every night (Bloomfield.) It’s good to develop both ends of your repertoire, and not diss one or the other.