Cooking without a recipe in the CIA kitchen |

Why did the host of a new CNN program, “Nomad with Carlton McCoy”, who happens to be a master sommelier, lead a hands-on cooking class at the CIA in Copia called “Southern Home Cooking Secrets” and not a course on, say, bourbon appreciation?

Partly because Carlton McCoy’s choice of refreshment might be wine, since he’s the managing partner of St. Helena-based Lawrence Wine Estates, which owns Napa wineries such as Heitz Cellar, Burgess and Stony Hill. . He became a master sommelier in 2013 at the age of 28, making him one of the youngest and the second African-American to do so. But he didn’t grow up in the boardroom of a winery.

The other reason is that his first love was cooking, learned from his grandmother, who raised him and ran a restaurant business. McCoy won a citywide cooking competition in Washington, D.C. that paid his way through the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, where he also took his first wine class, which opened the path that finally drew him to the world of wine.

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But, after graduating from the CIA in 2006, McCoy continued his grandmother’s craft, honing his cooking skills in some of America’s most famous kitchens, including Per Se by Thomas Keller, Aquavit by Marcus Samuelsson and Tom Colicchio’s Craft Steak, all in New York.

But it was at CityZen, a formal restaurant located in the Mandarin Oriental Washington hotel in Washington, DC (now closed) that he began studying for the Court of Master Sommelier certifications, guided by Andy Myers. McCoy says of Myers “It was because of him that I really became part of DC’s vibrant wine sommelier community.”

Focusing his attention on learning about wine, McCoy joined the team at the famed The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado in 2011 because of the hotel’s wine program and reputation as a training ground for masters. sommeliers. In a relatively short time, he achieved the demanding title of MS in 2013, which led to his promotion to Director of Wines, where he oversaw a team of 150 people. In 2018, McCoy got the call to become president and CEO of Heitz Cellar in Napa. .

In an email interview, I asked McCoy to become the next Anthony Bourdain, since Bourdain, also a CIA-trained chef, had been the star of his own program on the same network that went beyond the food: “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown”. Both shows are also produced by Zero Point Zero Productions, which has created a long list of documentary-style cooking and travel shows, including Emmy Award-winning “The Mind of a Chef.”

“I don’t really have any aspirations to be the next Anthony Bourdain because no one can take his place.” McCoy replied “He created the genre and everyone who has made a series of journeys since him will always be indebted. All I can say is that I am very lucky and grateful to share stories from around the world. I think for us to understand other people and cultures, we really have to tell their stories and also listen to their stories.

The promotion for the new show states that “McCoy is looking for authenticity in destinations around the world”. I pointed out that authenticity is a very subjective word. What is it and how do you find it in something as big as a state like Mississippi?

McCoy replied that “authenticity is about being true, original and unique to your culture. This changes frequently, so our goal is to provide insight into what authenticity is at this time using various cultural pillars. I love using food, wine, music and art to tell these stories no matter where I am…it could be Mississippi, Paris or Washington DC.

McCoy may be master sommelier and managing partner of a winery group, but working in Copia’s professional kitchen took him back to his early days. “I will always be a chef,” he said. “Cooking is my first love and remains my favorite pastime. I loved being in the kitchens, but eventually I quickly realized that being upstairs made more money and that I needed to help support my family. Failing was not an option for me after cooking school, so I decided to move from the kitchen to the dining room floor.

He adds, “What I learned is that wine is food. My knowledge of wine helped me connect even more deeply to the cultures I had already admired through their cuisine.

cooking grandma’s recipes

At CIA Copia, McCoy led a group of 20 students in four groups in Copia’s Hestan teaching kitchen, through a menu he learned from his grandmother.

I’ve taken countless cooking classes in several different countries, including previous classes I took at the CIA, but this was the first time the chef said there were no recipes or documents.

“It’s about connecting with food and learning techniques,” explained Chef McCoy. Later I thought of Judy Rodgers, who wrote in “Zuni Cafe Cookbook”: “Recipes don’t make food taste good; people do.”

So he showed our group how to braise the collard greens in the ham hock broth the staff had prepared the day before. We also started the butter beans that had been soaking since yesterday, soaking in more ham hock broth as the cooking liquid.

These dishes take the longest to finish, so we had to put them on the stove right away. Our group cooked these dishes and then waited for the chef to return after repeating it for the other groups. He was ably aided by a team of CIA chefs, but since the recipes were only in McCoy’s head, there was little they could do.

The star of the show was Grandma’s Fried Chicken. And, while this isn’t my usual post with recipes, I feel compelled to share this recipe, even though, as you know, there is no recipe.

The all-in-one flour got spiced with the generous addition of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, Mrs. Dash Original and black pepper (I think I captured it all). You measure quantities with the naked eye, no measuring spoons or cups were allowed.

The problem with no written recipes is that you try to cook and remember the ingredients at the same time. Oh, did I mention the chicken was soaked in buttermilk overnight? This tenderizes the chicken while keeping it moist. Flour and spices are carefully mixed, each piece of chicken is completely covered in flavored flour, then placed in a grocery paper shopping bag. (No, the store brand doesn’t seem to matter.)

The remaining flour was poured into the paper bag and all of the chicken pieces and flour were shaken vigorously.

Pro tip: Roll the top down to keep the flour inside and place one hand at the bottom of the bag before shaking. One group got a little carried away and had to find another paper bag and sweep up some flour (and maybe some chicken: they didn’t say.) The chicken then sat down soaking up the flavored flour while waiting for the canola oil to heat up in deep cast iron pans.

I made sure it was me who was at the stove when we started dropping pieces of chicken into our two pans half filled with oil. No thermometer was in sight, so we measured the heat by dropping a little flour into the oil to see if it was bubbling (good) or drifting silently in the stream of oil (not good).

Carlton’s rule is that you only flip the chicken once, so I kept checking the color and only flipped when it looked browned, but when I removed my first piece, the chef opened it to reveal that it was not done on the bone so, back in the oil.

The fix was reducing the heat a bit to allow the meat to cook fully before the shaggy exterior goes beyond golden brown to burn.

We ended the session by making cast iron cornbread and poached peaches with corn cakes. After lunch, I didn’t see any plates with leftover food when we walked away from the table.

In addition to the hands-on cooking class, Mr. McCoy hosted a screening that evening of the first episode of his CNN series, which takes place in several towns in the Mississippi Delta, where he explored his culinary roots and showed a modern state and energetic. .

Also part of the day’s festivities, CIA beverage expert Traci Dutton examined the New South through the history and technique of classic Southern cocktails (yes, classroom work, including tasting ).

The day ended with a VIP dinner in the Copia garden with essentially the same menu of grandma’s favorite dishes that we cooked that morning (and frankly I think we did a better job on the leaves braised cabbage and ham hocks, but the chicken turned out just right).

There was the notable addition of fried green tomatoes, something my dad loved but the rest of the family never embraced. But served as an appetizer salad it was a tasty dish. The evening was enlivened by energetic blues music from the JC Smith Band.

This is the first of three courses the CIA is calling “American Bounty: Celebrating America’s Regional Cuisines” as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the opening of the American Bounty restaurant on its Hyde Park campus. His goal then and now was to demonstrate that “American cuisine was a cuisine deserving of both recognition and celebration.” CIA in Copia offers these new annual summer dining experiences to celebrate the next generation of American cuisine innovators.

Coming :

— Saturday, September 24: Nixta Taqueria Pachanga with special guest Edgar Rico for hands-on lessons, demonstration, live regional music and VIP dinner

Edgar Rico is the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, TX. He’ll be joined in the kitchen with Nixta Taqueria co-owner Sara Mardanbigi, preparing real Tex-Mex, including homemade tortillas using traditional methods and ancient corn with modern flavors and ingredients. Latin Grammy Award nominee Gabriel Navia joins the festival with a special performance.

— From Saturday October 15 to Sunday October 16: Celebration of the grape harvest in the wine region with Dominic Orsini

CIA at Copia’s new executive chef, Dominic Orsini, who is also a Level I sommelier and wine pairing expert, will lead this two-day celebratory harvest. Look for a hands-on food and wine pairing lesson with Dominic, as well as beverage lessons from CIA experts.

Orsini will also lead a dinner at the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum with a menu based on classic dishes from the wine region. And the outdoor Jackson Family Wines amphitheater will be the scene of live music, local wineries and food from the CIA’s Live Fire Kitchen.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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