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Food + Cooking

Cooking Asian in the Napa Valley


When I found out that Greystone--The Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley--was launching a new series of cooking classes for the public, I decided to check it out. "The Sophisticated Palate" includes five different programs, and I chose "Exploration of the Flavors of Southeast Asia." The teacher was the intrepid John Ash, author, journalist, and former culinary director of Fetzer and Bonterra vineyards. Before getting started, our group of ten students were given a brush-up course on knife skills and an overview of the flavors, herbs, and spices of the cuisine. I teamed up with a cookbook author to make a Soy Poached Chicken Salad with a sweet chili-ginger vinaigrette. Our dish was filled with exotic flavors and, while it took a few steps, it was definitely something I would make back at home in San Francisco. The dish I found most appealing, thought, was Vietnamese grilled pork balls, which involved roasting jasmine rice and grinding it into an earthy powder to be mixed in with the ground pork and herbs. The second morning's class dealt with noodles, rice, and grains, along with an introduction to Southeast Asian curries and dipping sauces. On the third day, Ash discussed wines that marry well with Asian foods--rose, a light pinot noir, a good white with a bit of sparkle to it. On the fourth day, students went to the St. Helena Farmers' Market and chose ingredients for a Southeast Asian meal using techniques learned in the class. The session was followed by a class on the art of making chocolate truffles. The day I attended, we visited a private olive oil estate where we learned how to properly taste olive oil. I didn't really understand the connection between olive oil and the cooking of Southeast Asia, nor for that matter what chocolate had to do with these delicate cuisines. But I also realized that for people traveling from out of state, it would be a shame to visit the Napa Valley and not partake of some of its splendors. Upcoming courses, which are ongoing through next year, include: "A Taste of Northern California," "Flavors of Spain and Portugal," "The Ancient Cookfire," and "Cooking for the Next Half of Your Life."