Archive for the ‘Life in Chef’s Training’ Category


Author & Life Coach Lorna Sass, her partner Michael, and her donated books

On Friday, May 3, Natural Gourmet honored transformational life coach and renowned cookbook author Lorna Sass (Cooking Under Pressure, Lorna Sass’ Short-Cut Vegan, Whole Grains for Busy People, Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way) for her generous donation of 1000 books from her personal collection to NGI’s newly organized library. The dedication occurred at our weekly Friday Night Dinner.

Our founder Annemarie Colbin, PhD and our own resident author, instructor, and librarian Jay Weinstein personally and warmly thanked Lorna in a special ceremony for her valuable contribution to the school.

Jay Weinstein was duly impressed with the collection:

Lorna has donated just about 1000 books to the library, and you can see the range of books just by looking on our shelves. Everything from Larousse and Escoffier to Louisiana Bayou youth group fundraiser cookbooks. Mostly, I chose international and American regional titles from her enormous collection. Her most recent donated trove represents Eastern Europe, including Russia, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine, and the Balkans. . . . [Lorna] spoke . . . about wanting to place these books in a good home, and how she felt that NGI was the perfect place for them.

Perfect indeed. The books have been and will be put to good use. Our students use the library extensively to research menu plans for classes and design menus for their own Friday Night Dinner projects.

Lorna at the dedication with NGI Founder Annemarie Colbin and Instructor Jay Weinstein

Lorna at the dedication with Annemarie Colbin, PhD and Instructor Jay Weinstein

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As we mentioned yesterday, the results of our contest “How did the Natural Gourmet Institute change your life?” are in! Meet our second winner, Carolyn Gilles, who graduated from our Chef’s Training Program in 2005. It’s an inspirational and heartwarming story . . .

Carolyn writes:

In 2004, I was living in Savannah, Georgia and had begun to cook for clients and parties. I felt I had finally found something I was interested in enough to start a career. (Until that point, I had collected a lot of “jobs.”)  Being vegetarian at the time, I had zero interest in learning to cook meat, so upon searching for a culinary school, my primary criteria was that it be vegetarian (at least mostly). Much to my surprise, I found the Natural Gourmet Institute via Google. I researched the school, got a few recommendations, and took the biggest and most rewarding leap of my life to that point.

I blindly rented an apartment in Murray Hill that was available for the exact 4 months I needed it with an unknown roommate, signed up for the Chef’s Training Program, and was on my way in only a matter of a couple months. (Ya gotta follow your gut!) My program (CTP 119) started on February 1, 2005. I was 24 years old and excited about everything the world had to offer: I was truly soaking it all up.

The instructors and fellow students made the Natural Gourmet everything amazing that it was for me. The support and general sense of care was evident in every classroom and office. I never felt intimidated or scared, only supported and encouraged to try new things and push myself to grow and learn. Being a young woman, alone in a new city, I also really appreciated the weekend field trips some of the instructors would organize. It was a safe way to get to know the city and all it had to offer.

I came to the school thinking I knew healthy food . . . and that was turned upside down. I learned more than I had ever known about industrial agriculture and Annemarie Colbin’s wisdom shared in “Food and Healing.” I remember the excitement of learning all of this new information and knowing very clearly that my life would never be the same.

After graduation, I was not ready to go back to my life in Savannah. Not only did I know I had more to experience and learn in NYC, I had fallen in love with one of my CTP cohorts, Schot Hannan. We lived in Brooklyn together for 4 years after the program and in 2009 we moved to my home state of Kentucky, where he could attend medical school and get a taste of life as I knew it . . . a little bit slower paced.

With Schot finishing up his 3rd year at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine hoping to pursue a career in endocrinology and pediatrics (addressing childhood obesity), we recently got engaged and hope to be married later this year. In May 2011, I opened a small teaching kitchen here in Lexington, KY called The Wholesome Chef. I am teaching average everyday people here what real food is and how to prepare it. It is the most rewarding career I could have imagined for myself, and every day I am grateful for the experience I had at NGI and in NYC in general. Perhaps someday Schot and I will be business partners, treating his patients with good food and teaching them the skills they need to empower positive change in their own lives.

Should Schot and I find our wedding happening in New York, I’ve always dreamed of buying all the FND seats and having our rehearsal dinner there . . . back to the place that brought us together and changed our lives for the better!

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On Thursday, Chefs’ Training 211 under the direction of Chef Rich LaMarita had pizza class. In addition to the classics, students made some whole wheat and gluten-free pizzas also. Every student prepared dough, rolled out their crusts, sauced and garnished their pizzas, and practiced sliding them gracefully from the pizza peel into the oven. Pizza class always draws everyone from the staff or within smelling range into the kitchen for samples.

This class also  marks nearly the end of 2 marathon weeks of baking. By now, students have baked a wide range of health-supportive cakes, cookies, quick and yeasted breads, etc. While the experience is rewarding, most students agree they’re ready to get off the gluten.


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Part of any chef’s training is learning to cook a la minute (in the moment) or, as we say in restaurant parlance a la carte (off the menu). For a chef in training, that means learning how to set up a kitchen station for maximum speed and efficiency of plating dishes.

Here is Chef’s Training Group 202 prepping dishes for A la Carte II with Instructor Celine Beitchman. The class work involves prepping the ingredients for each dish, setting up stations, preparing the food to order, and plating each dish neatly and attractively. The menu: seared chicken breast in mushroom sauce, curried tempeh with pineapple salsa, and tofu teriyaki with stir-fry.

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One of the final rites of passage in Chef’s Training – before graduation – is the Improvisation Exam. For this test, the class is split into 2 groups, each group to create a 3 or 4 course vegan meal, balanced according to all of the criteria students have learned throughout the program.

Students are presented with a list of surprise ingredients, from which they are to design and prepare a meal that is vegan, seasonal, colorful, varied in texture, representative of the 5 tastes, and using a variety of cooking techniques learned throughout the program. It’s all very Food Network/ BravoTV.

Students have approximately 2 hours to brainstorm, design, and create their menu for critique by their instructor. For the instructor, it’s always exciting and gratifying to see the growth and proficiency the soon-to-be-graduated students demonstrate on the exam. The results are a testament to all the hard work students and instructors put into the Chef’s Training experience.

Check out these final improvisational dishes created by CTP 205:

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On Wednesday, January 31, 5-8:30 p.m., our Chef’s Training Instructor Celine Beitchman, will teach an extra-curricular wine class, The Principles of Wine for CTP students. Students can register by speaking to Jeri, Olivia, or Judith at the front desk.

Along with a formal tasting, students will receive a foundation in basic factors that influence wine styles and quality, from how grapes are grown and harvested to proper storage of bottles in your home. Other subjects covered will include the “Noble Grapes,” wine and your health, and the key countries producing and exporting quality wines.

To find out more about Celine’s love of wine and where she gleaned her expertise on the subject, we decided to ask her a few questions . . .

NGI Instructor Celine Beitchman confabs with students at PS 89 over lunch about healthy eating

Tell us about your background and education with regard to wine. You have a certification?

Having grown up in the food business, I’ve always had an interest in wine . . . more or less an end-of-shift-drink interest.  The subject of wine seemed so vast and daunting that I just kept putting off learning more, figuring I could always count on the front-of-house staff to fill me in on the very basics and enough to make simple pairings.

While I was private cheffing for the Barnes & Noble clan, I got my first taste of what wine is capable of when its well made, well cared for and, of course, well paired.  The family had an extensive cellar and, every night as they opened and decanted another incredible bottle, they’d pour a glass for the cook.  So by the sipful over a hot stove, that’s where my wine education really began.

A couple of years back, I decided to take the leap and find out what my tastings alone couldn’t reveal.  I spent about a year going through the three-level courses at the International Wine Center in NYC, finishing up with an Advanced Certificate in Wines & Spirits.

When and how did you develop your interest in and passion for wine? How did you become an oenophile?

I had taken a workshop with Sandor Katz in the public program at NGI in 2008 and read his book Wild Fermentation cover to cover. For me, there’s an amazing kind of letting-go in the process of fermentation which I think we could all take a lesson from.  I was experimenting with yeasts and bacteria in my home kitchen and started to think about tackling wines.

Pretty soon, I was swept away, and my counters overflowed with sauerkraut, kefirs and my first batches of honey wine (which caught more flies than…).   I began noticing flavor more and more, the subtleties from batch to batch, and well, in a way that was my first step towards oenophilia. Some French winemakers call themselves grape growers, not wine-makers.  I wonder if yeast cultivators would be more apropos.

What role do you think wine plays in a health-supportive diet?

Well first off, let’s not forget we’re talking about alcohol, which can be very taxing to the body-mind in excess.  Everyone needs to find their personal limit.  There’s a lot of back and forth about what safe drinking levels are – issues like reservatrol, histamines and sulfites – but that still doesn’t give the full picture and certainly doesn’t point to any significant role in health-supportive diets.

At school we talk a lot about balance and the energetics of food within the context of a contractive-expansive model.  I think that wine can play a useful part in that story. If you’ve taken my classes, you might have heard me chase you out the door with the phrase, “Go get expansive!”  Now, maybe, you know what I mean.

What wine essentials does a chef need to know?

First, I think it’s important to taste a lot.  You need to get a sense of what you like and what you don’t like.  That can only come from personal experience.  Second, know that you can’t possibly taste everything, so get some basic styles that you like under your belt and branch out from there.  When you’re in a pinch, the Old World wines from Europe, typically terroir-driven wines are a safe bet for general food pairings.  Start by looking at what foods are native to the region producing that wine you love and you’ll be guaranteed a perfect paring.

What are the challenges of pairing wines with vegetarian and vegan foods?

The challenges are not so obvious.  It will, of course, depend on the style of the meal in all cases. For instance, our 3-course Friday Night Dinners are usually filling and well-balanced enough to handle a multitude of wine pairings.

Typically with foods that combine a lot of flavors, we pair to the most dominant taste, but even in that direction there’s a lot of subtlety.  The biggest challenge is not overdoing it, since vegan and vegetarian meals don’t always have the fat and protein that’s needed to buffer the wine’s alcohol content. So when paring with meat-less meals, I recommend lighter, lower-alcohol wines or a great deal of restraint.

What are your favorite go-to resources for learning more about wine?

The internet is chock-a-block with more information than I ever know what to do with from bloggers to major publications weighing in on every aspect.  I usually start there. I also have a great wine store,  Gnarly Vines, in my Fort Greene, Brooklyn neighborhood, where the owner stocks small-batch artisanal gems that fit my budget every time.  He does multiple tastings throughout the week, and that’s where I get a lot of my first-hand knowledge by the glassful.

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Chef’s Training students Roberta Roberti (text) and Elyse Prince (photos) team up again to give you a recap of a student favorite, the Brunch Class.

Recently, CTP 197 had its brunch, our first opportunity to cook a la carte in real time. We invited friends and family to the school to enjoy our offerings and to see what we’ve learned. Guests ordered off a menu and we worked in the kitchen to give them the best brunch we could muster up. (See our menu below.)

It was a busy day, beginning at 9:15. We had an hour overview of the recipes and how things would work. Then we began prepping. We chopped, measured, assessed components, and discussed presentation of the food. Sometime in the afternoon, we got a 20-minute break (that allowed me to run out for a desperately needed cup of coffee — after all, it was going to be a very busy afternoon).

I was on the crêpe station, and my task was to turn out Moroccan-style chickpea crêpes with mango sauce. The batter was made with chickpea flour and the filling was coconut-curried chickpeas and spinach. The chickpeas, soaked overnight, were ready for a short interlude in a pressure cooker. Then, I sautéed them with onion, curry powder, coconut milk, spinach, and a few other ingredients. That simmered until it was thick and flavorful. The result was a rich and complex flavor, a nice balance between the intense curry and the sweet coconut. I wasn’t sure I’d be crazy about it because coconut curry is not my first choice of flavor profile, but when I tasted it, it really “wowed” me!

My first crêpe was questionable, but by the second one, I had it under control. It was unfortunate that not many people ordered the crêpes—I was looking forward to improving my technique with each one. But the students enjoyed the leftovers. When the time came to start desserts, the Crêpes Suzette turned out to be quite popular, so I stepped in to help with those. Again, my first one was questionable, but each one got a little better.

Everyone did a great job at their stations and we did indeed give our guests a great brunch. It was also an opportunity for students to meet each other’s loved ones. We met husbands, parents, grandparents, and friends. It was nice to see the people who my fellow students have been talking about for months!

At the end, we were exhausted but, I think, exhilarated at our first real meal service. It’s getting better and better.

CTP 197W Brunch Menu


Spinach Salad, Crisped Shiitake Mushrooms, Pickled Red Onions with a Sherry Vinaigrette
Mixed Greens, Roasted Beets and Walnuts with a Creamy Horseradish Dressing and Herbed Goat Cheese on Toast


Omelets with Choice Filling of:

Sautéed Peppers
Sautéed Onions
Cheddar Cheese
Sautéed Mushrooms

Tofu Scramble with Pine Nuts, Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic, and Spices
Belgian Waffles topped with Fresh Fruit and Whipped Cream
Moroccan Style Chickpea Crepe with Mango Sauce
Tempeh Reuben on House-Made Spelt Bread with Sauerkraut, Pickles, Tomatoes, Avocado and Russian Dressing


Chocolate Pudding with Optional Whipped Cream
Crepes Suzette with Whipped Cream

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