By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Edible Critic, Sensi magazine, 2/17) When I’m chopping onions with my chef knife I often don’t always glance down at my fingers. I’m looking for the next thing I’m going to slice or thinking about the next story I have to write. It scares people who watch me do it but I don’t cut myself because my hands remember how to do it.
I didn’t master using knives from reading any of the great books on the subject or watching a video or seeing it demonstrated. I was working in a Boulder restaurant kitchen years ago and the chef made me learn how to slice so I wouldn’t lose any fingers. He would yell at me if he saw me do it incorrectly. Eventually I instinctively curled my fingers and bumped the blade’s backside against my knuckles as a guide. I shed some blood learning that dull knives are dangerous knives.
Because of that one skill set endlessly repeated I have eaten healthier, cheaper and more sustainably for decades. I use whole vegetables and meats and cook from scratch. I don’t pay extra for someone else to cut up my cabbage except at a restaurant.
Over the years my best “a-ha” culinary learning moments have been hands-on and often elbow-deep. The first time I pulled cheese curds from warm salty I finally understood mozzarella.
Cooking classes are a joy and perfect for dipping your toe (or maybe tongue) in a new area of food. I have taken and taught recreational cooking classes but they tend to be more demonstration and less about hardcore skills acquisition.
Learning how to make cheese, butcher a chicken, pair wine with food or craft popovers could can lead to a profession in food and drink or at least mind and taste bud expansion. Trust me: People like people who know how to bake pies. You also become connected with your tribe of like-minded maker-foodies who are interested in sustainable farming or making chocolate truffles.
There is one other good reason to pick up some kitchen skills: You can pass them hands’-on to family and friends. My 22-year-old son knows how to shop, cook and chop and has a good palate. That makes me pretty damn proud.
Colorado is a wonderland awash in stellar culinary learning opportunities including internships and experiences for families who want to know where food comes from. Here are just some of the possibilities.
Make friends with your knives
You’ll learn which knife to use, how to sharpen, clean (i.e., not in the dishwasher) and store them (i.e., not in a drawer). As your hands (and eyes) comprehend how to mince, dice, slice and julienne you’ll be preparing dinner you will get to enjoy with wine. Several Denver-area cooking schools and cookware stores teach Knife Skills classes including Cook Street (cookstreet.com) and The Seasoned Chef (theseasonedchef.com).
The sweet, even-tempered chocolatier
Everybody loves chocolate in their mouths, but chocolate has a dark side when you actually try to make cool things out of it. It can react badly unless you know what you are doing. That knowledge is available at Boulder’s Piece, Love & Chocolate which offers serious workshops on Tempering and Chocolate Decoration and Techniques and Tasty Truffles. Details: pieceloveandchocolate.com
Farming for fish in Denver
You say you want locally sourced fish and vegetables. How about homegrown? Aquaponics combines growing both together in a recirculating, soil-free, sustainable system. At Denver’s GrowHaus you can learn how to build a system for your home and harvest from it safely. coloradoaquaponics.com
Do you know your nigiri from your sashimi?
Anyone who has stood in line to get some uni at Sushi Den knows that the Denver eatery is on the map as one of the nation’s top raw fish establishments. You can get schooled by Sushi Den’s experts during an entertaining class on creating various styles of sushi. They also patiently answer all the never dumb sushi and etiquette questions. The class group sits down for a sushi meal afterwards. sushiden.net/sliced
A little lamb from the shank to the loin
It may not be for the squeamish, but basic butchery instruction about the various tasty animals we like to eat are really useful. The Boulder Butchery Guild provides classes for small groups including an April 8 Whole Lamb Butchery workshop. Beyond knowing the lamb cuts and cooking techniques, you’ll learn about animal breeds and sustainable animal husbandry. boulderbutcheryguild.com
Drinking wine for a living
Tasting wine is serious business at Denver’s International Wine Guild, a unique college-level vocational school whose graduates become restaurant sommeliers or work in the wine industry. Major enthusiasts can train to be a certified competition wine judge. The classes do involve a lot of sipping (as swell as spitting) and sometimes first thing in the morning. The Guild holds free open houses the third Monday of the month if you want to whet your palate. internationalwineguild.com
Baking like Great Brit
Raise your spatula if you are a secret fan of the hugely popular “The Great British Baking Show” airing on PBS and the fierce tests that the amateur bakers endure. If you want to know how to bake breads, cookies or pies, local cooking schools offer plenty of class options. However, if you want to ascend into pastry geekdom and know crumpets from croissants, check out the pastry degree programs at Boulder’s Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts (escoffier.edu), and the Art Institute in Denver (artinstitutes.edu/denver) and Johnson and Wales University (catalog.jwu.edu/Denver).
Learning to be a cannabis cook
The idea of actually cooking with cannabis can be a little intimidating to the novice. The Introductory Cooking with Cannabis class with chef Torrin Panico is a hands-on class focuses on methods of infusing cannabis into food and drink with attention toward taste and dosage. Because the class takes place in a private industrial kitchen space in Denver, attendees can sample the foods while making them. The Advanced Cooking with Cannabis includes making a 3-course infused meal. coloradocannabistours.com
Know your way around curds
Anybody can buy a great piece of cheese and share it, but only the committed and inquisitive get so say: “Try a chunk of my aged cheddar.” The experience of hands-on cheesemaking classes at the Art of Cheese in Longmont is amplified because the class space is located in Haystack Mountain Cheese‘s new creamery. The range of classes run from the relatively easy Feta and Queso Fresco to the more challenging Intro to Hard Cheeses. Curd nerds can sign up for a 3-day concentrated Cheesemaking Bootcamp to learn several cheesemaking styles. Constant sampling of cheese is required part of the curriculum. theartofcheese.com
Parting a chicken
Besides making magnificent artisan cold cuts from mortadella to soppressetta, Il Porcellino Salumi in Denver offers an immersion class in the whole chicken. The feet-on chicken butchery workshop is geared to home cooks who want to learn how to use the whole bird, make stock and properly roast it. You go home with two birds you’ve cut into parts. Il Porcellino also offers sausage-making seminars. squareup.com/store/il-porcellino-salumi
Berries, Beds and Botanic Boot Camp
If you’ve finally decided to grow your own there is no better place to learn than the world-class Denver Botanic Gardens especially if you are new to Colorado’s mercurial growing conditions. Upcoming classes range from Berries and Grapes for the Front Range (Feb. 11) to Raised Bed Vegetables (March 7). Consider the in-depth New Gardener Boot Camp (Feb. 25). The Gardens also offers Kundalini Yoga classes but those do not involve fruits and vegetables. botanicgardens.org/calendar
In the old days almost everybody had something growing at home ranging from sourdough and wine to sauerkraut. This hands-on interactive 4-hour workshop in Denver shows you how to safely make yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh and other probiotic foods and beverages. Plus: You get to taste examples.
Bring the Family: Goat Farm Edition
Give your kids a glimpse of the homestead life for a day. Milk a goat, make mozzarella and chevre and have brunch on a 5-acre goat farm in Penrose south of Colorado Springs. thegoatcheeselady.wordpress.com
The award-winning Avalanche Cheese Company’s Paonia farm rents a comfy four-person cabin that is available on Airbnb. Guests can help with the chores including gathering eggs, feeding goats and chickens and milking the goats. avalanchecheese.com
Buena Vista’s Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy offers cool farm and creamery tour including a chance to help with the dairy goat herd during summer afternoon milkings. jumpingoodgoats.com
John Lehndorff can chiffonade fresh basil, flip eggs without a spatula, make baked Alaska and grow mirasol chilies on his patio. He hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org). Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
OTHER CULINARY LEARNING EXPERIENCES
Internship with the Earth: Fruition Farms in Larkspur supplies several restaurants and offers volunteer on-farm internships in natural farming and sustainable practices. fruitionfarmsdairy.com
Wine and Cheese: Schedule a fun class to make both red wine and mozzarella in one fun class with a follow up visit to cork the bottles at Denver’s Wine & Whey. wineandwhey.com
A Better Buzz: Make truly local honey after taking beekeeping classes in Boulder and planting a pollinator-friendly garden. growinggardens.org
Farm to Table College: Boulder’s Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts professional training includes time working on the farm. escoffier.edu/about/farm-to-table-experience