Jim Lahey and NYCE

Jim Lahey and NYCE

The New York Culinary Experience was this past weekend. It was a cozy event with about 100 attendees, and I was able to join in on a bread class on Sunday morning. Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery here in New York City. Most of the classes this past weekend had 24 participants, but for a no-knead bread class at 9am on Sunday? Two participants. It was a small and intimate. I prefer sleeping in on Sundays, but I had a blast getting up early and listening to Jim talk about bread.

Jim started off the class by giving the participants some pastries from the bakery. Lucky for me, since there were only only two participants and maybe 20 pastries. Mmmm… the doughnut filled with jam was delightful. Soft and pillowy dough with some jam in the middle. Slightly too much jam but it was easily mended by squeezing some out.

He started the session by talking about the no-knead method and how he believes this was the way bread used to be made. He also showed us his bread starter. It’s from the early 90’s. I can’t imagine keeping something like that around for over ten years… it’s kind of mind boggling.

Jim Lahey brought along a pH reader and showed us that the pH of his bread starter was 4.0. Imagine keeping that thing alive for years and years… To keep things fresh, he made an analogy between bread and toilet paper… about how sometimes we’re careless about the kind of bread we put on our plate… and the kind of teepee we put on our… Yea, easily the greatest analogy I’ve ever heard at 9am in the morning. Too bad regular school is not as interesting as hearing about bread. He also talked about the science of the fermentation on a molecular level but it was too much for me so early in the day.

In between serious bread talk and mini-rants about his feelings on the world, Jim Lahey was also kind enough to do faces for the camera. I’m a big fan of making faces at the camera. Jim’s specialty is ogre-like facial contortions. It helped to lighten the mood and make picture taking more fun.

The class covered how to make bread, and Jim Lahey also took some of the no-knead dough to make some mushroom focaccia as a snack. Right from the oven it was serious eats, and I wished for larger pieces. While snacking on the delicious focaccia, I had the chance to ask him about his new pizzeria called Co. He said he has an idea for a pizza called ‘Ham and Cheese’ that involves three types of cheeses and prociutto. Jim Lahey also said he hopes it can be open in a month if things go smoothly.

After seeing firsthand how knowledgeable Lahey is with bread, I can imagine that he can get just as obsessive about pizza making. And if his pizza is anywhere as good as his bread, we will be in for a treat.

The NYCE was a great experience. You also see how these chefs are really friendly with each other. At the end of the demo, Peter Endriss (of Per Se and Bouchon Bakery) walked into the kitchen. Two of the biggest bread masterminds in one room, chatting it up. How cool is that?! (Note, if you’re not a foodie, yes, it’s just dorky). Not taking away from the all-star caliber lineup of the other chefs there, I think a lot of participants missed out on a great class. Jim Lahey’s passion and expertise was on display and the snacks were delicious. If you are able to attend food events like this, look for the hidden gem classes where you get sick teacher-to-pupil ratio (1:2 in this class!!) and time to talk to the chef about your questions.

Lastly, I also need to thank NYMag for organizing the event, and FCI for hosting. And big thanks to both of them for letting me sit in on this class.

Posted by Danny on September 23, 2008 at 3:54 pm

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