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Culinary Boot Camp Offers a One-Stop Kitchen Primer
Monday, January 24, 2022


Hammering sounds echoed from the spacious kitchen inside the Sun Valley Culinary Institute.

But the only remodeling being done was that of amateur chefs remaking boneless skinless chicken breasts as they flattened them into a Chicken Paillard soon to be joined with big plump mushrooms and fingerling potatoes in a juice seasoned with herbs.

It was part of a non-stop slicing and dicing, whisking and chopping palooza that took place over three afternoons at the Institute’s new Culinary Boot Camp for food enthusiasts.

“It’s a whirlwind,” said Michael Hobbs, one of four participants. “You go in thinking you know how to cook. You instantly find out how much you don’t know. And then you come out a pretty good cook with a whole lot of new tools and techniques.”

The Sun Valley Culinary Institute has offered 170 cooking classes to the public since it opened its doors in Fall 2020. But none are more intense than the Culinary Boot Camps, which shows participants such tricks as how to easily julienne bok choy into toothpick-sized pieces for stir fry.

Chef Geoff Felsenthal puts students through a mini version of what he spends four months teaching professional students, giving students more than enough suggestions for how to host a dinner party without breaking a sweat, as well as showing them how they can take their own nightly dinners to the next level.

“It’s amazing what you learn,” said Karen Taylor, a retired attorney who grew up on a wheat farm in Washington. “You learn to read the recipes three times as you plan how to start with what’s going to take the longest. You taste as you go along. You learn that less is more. And it’s amazing to prepare so many dishes at once—Geoff’s got a 375-degree oven going, a 425-degree oven, a 325-degree oven all at the same time.”

First things first, or course, and that involved showing the students how to hold knives with three fingers on the handle and two on the blade, followed by a demonstration of how to carry a knife around a kitchen.

The workshop was riddled with fun facts: You can buy a high-end sushi knife for $2,500, Felsenthal told the students. But, generally speaking, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on knives, contrary to popular thought. And, while supermarket misting keeps herbs and produce looking good, moisture breaks down the produce. So, wrap it in towels when you get home.

Over the course of the class, students began to “rain” their salt and pepper from on high so it more evenly dispersed. They learned to trust their five senses more than written recipes. They learned to rub a measuring spoon with a drop of oil so that the honey slid off.  And they learned that 75 percent of meat is water—that an 8-ounce steak will shrink to 6 ounces during cooking.

That’s why it’s important to let it rest after removing it from heat, Felsenthal said. As it relaxes, the water goes inward keeping the meat moist, rather than spilling out as it does when cut right away.

After showing them how to bone a chicken, Felsenthal showed them how to flatten a chicken thigh, stuff it with spinach and ricotta cheese and roll it up for a dish accompanied by cauliflower rice. He showed how to create a Grilled Lettuce Halloumi Cheese, using lettuce that tasted so good barbecued it was a shame to toss it with dressing.

And he gave a primer on seafood before showing how to make a delicious Miso Marinated Salmon, steelhead baked with veggies in a bag made of parchment paper and much, much more.

“Slow roasting—325 degrees—is my favorite way to roast salmon. There’s less risk of it turning dry,” he said. “Don’t season fish in advance—it sucks the moisture out. And don’t stick your thermometer in fish like you do with meat. Pinch it, instead, to see if it’s done. Feel it from the tops and side.”

To get crispy skin on salmon, he said, make sure it’s dry by running a knife blade across it.

“There’s really two types of fish on the market: Round fish, such as salmon with two filets and eyes in front, and flatfish like halibut with four filets and eyes on top. Flatfish tends to be lean and bland so leaving fewer applications for cooking so you have to season it aggressively, Felsenthal added.

“We’re really getting our money’s worth,” said Taylor, as she took a sip of wine before opening the parchment bag that Felsenthal had promised offered hassle-free cooking for cocktail parties. “We’ve been exposed to a lot of different ingredients. The knife skills are invaluable. And I have a lot of ideas now for quick, easy, healthy salads for when my daughter’s friends come over.”


Learn to make Tortellini with Ricotta, Chicken Under a Brick and more on Jan. 28. For information, visit

And in March the Culinary Institute will offer a boot camp focusing on appetizers and homemade pasta.

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