Learning About Niçoise Cuisine at New York's International Culinary Institute

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You don’t even have to read this site that often to know that I’m a huge fan of French culture, art and food/wine. We Blog the World has a ton of content on France in general and I’ve written about the food in Paris numerous times, the most recent being my trip this summer and fall (yes, I graced Paris with my presence twice this year — be sure to read my write-up on Michelin star La Cuisine) and Normandy and Brittany in September. Also learn more about Calvados and the foodie scene from my trip.

So, whenever there is an opportunity to go deeper into the world of French food, you don’t need to twist my arm very hard to say yes. This month at the International Culinary Institute in New York City, Anthony and I attended a food event dedicated to southern French cooking, specifically Nice.

What was so magical about it was how it started….in a fog of smoke you wonder? No, not quite, but in a fog of smoking cold and scary looking frozen air so to speak. Yup — the very cool effect of cooking with liquid nitrogen.

Cooking with liquid nitrogen isn’t new but it’s certainly not common and you don’t get the experience of eating a dish immediately after the process in too many places. Apparently as far back as the 1800’s, ice cream was made with liquid nitrogen, but today, it’s really only used by the more innovative and cutting-edge chefs.

The mayor of Nice (pictured below) and the head of the Nice Tourism board flew over for the event, as did some of the best chefs in Nice.

Below, the head of Nice’s tourism board gives liquid nitrogen a try :-)

As does one of the chefs….

The result? Well, it looks a bit like smoke comes out of your nostrils after you take a bite. Below, Anthony and I play around and experiment, after all….we were there to learn, cook and of course eat and liquid nitrogen was part of it.

You might be wondering by now, is liquid nitrogen safe? Apparently so, except for its extreme temperature. It will cause any metal it comes in contact with to become freezing cold, but wearing dry gloves is enough to protect your hands from creating a “tongue stuck to the flagpole” scenario. Oh joy!

And, what about the next question that may be on your mind? WHY cook with liquid nitrogen? Here is a link to a video showing a chef cooking with liquid nitrogen from 2008 at the Tang Restaurant in Dubai, the only restaurant of its kind in the Middle East that employs molecular gastronomy. And, here’s one from the Molecular gastronomy school in Paris, where they taught students how to use liquid nitrogen to make cocktails, instant ice cream and smoky meringues in 2011. You’ll learn a bit more about the process there.

Whether you consider it a novelty or more than a novelty, we had a blast with the experience as did our fellow chefs.

The liquid nitrogen experiment seemed to go on for quite sometime (below), which is another great thing about a French culinary experience….no one is ever in a hurry.

What was interesting was the fact that they prepared each dish two ways. Below is the non liquid nitrogen version of the Provencal Onion Tart, prepared by Chef David Faure.

Afterwards, it was time for our cooking class, which was all about pastry. We were given access to a variety of ingredients, showed how to cut the dough and sent to work. I rounded up ingredients from other teams of course since the chef encouraged it…..

The result was a plate of pastries that included a mishmash of berries, spices and chocolate.

Our team below.

All the teams actually fit into the International Culinary Institute’s kitchen, the very same kitchen where you can take classes in culinary arts, pastry arts and international bread baking. Additionally, they do Italian Culinary Experience and Spanish Studies programs, Sommelier Training, cake techniques and design, advanced chef training and entrepreneurship. They also offer unique farm-to-table courses, which include fun field trips in New York and California.

Its hard for yours truly to put her phone away and so I was in fact, Instagramming my foodie shots throughout the evening.

Then, when we were done with so called “class time”, the Nice chefs got to work, which was remarkable to see. No doubt, they were having a blast on the other side of the Atlantic, where they had a unique opportunity to work together to prepare a delicious array of dishes for a hungry crowd.

The result? Traditional Niçoise fish soup from Chef Gilles Ballestra, Ratatouille Nicoise (fish and chips) with stewed vegetables thanks to Chef Jose Orsini, Beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic and herbs of Provence from Chef Frederic Galland and Niçoise doughnut pastry with fried sorbet. The main wine that was served with the dinner was a Cotes de Provence from Chateau La Gordonne.

Did we learn a lot? Bien sur, but we had a lot more fun than shall we say, studied….We left as happy campers and a cool French chef apron to boot.

Photo credits: Renee Blodgett and Anthony Compagnone.

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