At the core of a chef’s passion for food is a story—about tasting something so delicious it changes their whole world; or a desire to master a cuisine that is so insatiable it takes them to another continent for years; or simply the chase for the pleasure derived from feeding friends and family a nurturing meal.
Last week, our ExpandED Teen Apprentices in the Bronx learned from two superstar chefs—Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma, and Michael White, owner of Altamarea Group. In each master class, the chefs shared their personal philosophies about food and cooking while teaching the students some very technical culinary skills.
Claus Meyer, one of the founders of the world-renowned Danish restaurant Noma, taught a Nordic-themed cooking class focused on healthy salads and simple, seasonal soups. Chef Claus emphasized the utility of both soups and salads as simple ways to compose quick and nutritious meals. He discussed the differences between flavors and aromas with the students, explaining that sugar as an ingredient has one of the least complex flavors due to its lack of aromatic compounds, while a carrot “gets its carrot-ness from the hundreds of aromatic compounds” it possesses. “Flavor,” Chef Claus explained, “is all of the taste stuff and the aroma stuff.” He regaled the students with stories of first discovering good food when he was a young man in his twenties living in France, which ultimately inspired him to change the culinary landscape in his home country of Denmark.
Chef Claus and the teens worked together to create a delicious meal including: onion soup with cheese toasts, root vegetable soup, barley salad and a beet tartare with freshly grated horseradish. The students loved cooking side by side with a world-famous chef and worked extra diligently—impressing Chef Claus with their excellent knife skills as they meticulously brunoise diced beets and apples. Although some of the students found the unusual flavors of the raw beets and fresh horseradish challenging, all of them were excited by the opportunity to work with Claus and to try new recipes.
In our second master class, Chef Michael White, of the Altamarea Group, taught the other Bronx ExpandED group. Chef Michael is a warm, natural and engaging teacher who seamlessly tells stories about his own culinary experiences while instructing students about the delicate process of making potato gnocchi from scratch. Students learned that potatoes should stay warm during the process to better bind to the flour and how to evenly apply pressure to the dough while shaping gnocchi. Chef Michael expressed his genuine love for the culinary field, telling students how he feels he hasn’t really “worked” for the past two decades because he finds his job so fun. He promised students serious about pursuing careers in the culinary field that the hard work and long hours can lead to life-changing experiences—using his own example of living in Italy for 7 years to immerse himself in authentic Italian cuisine, and cooking for celebrities (like rapper Fetty Wap and actor Robert DeNiro). The students were duly impressed.
Chef Michael and Altamarea corporate chef, Amador Acosta, kept the students working and laughing throughout the entire afternoon. The final dish, gnocchi al pomodoro served with fresh basil and Parmesan, was delicious and pillowy. The chefs and students ate together, standing at their workstations, much like chefs do in a professional kitchen before service.
Despite the vast differences between the cuisines and styles of Chef Meyer’s and Chef White’s approach to cooking, the master classes were bound by the same sentiment—a profound respect for well-crafted, healthy food and good company to share it with.