Passion Points: Food/Wine
There is a reason why many dinner parties inevitably culminate with guests crowded around the kitchen: the warmth and informality set people at ease. It’s the room where the jokes get told and the gossip is served.
I just returned from Winvian, in rural Litchfield Hills, CT, where I spent an afternoon with head chef Chris Eddy. Chef Eddy is someone that you want to stand around a kitchen with. In a stroke of brilliance, Winvian has decided to capitalize on its charming chef and easy location (equidistant between New York and Boston) by launching the Winvian Cooking School. Now guests and neighbors of the whimsical resort have access to afternoons with chef Eddy, who comes with the culinary pedigree to impress even the snobbiest foodies (if you like Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, that is). There is nowhere else on the East Coast where amateur chefs have access to a professional of this caliber in a setting as unique as Winvian.
The army-brat son of a Catalan mother and Vermont-born father, chef Eddy was born in El Salvador and grew up all over. He has the fiery passion of a coastal European with an approachable earthiness of rugged New Englander. His shaved head and sharp features evoke a certain toughness, but there’s no trace of ego (normally associated with celebrity chefs); instead chef Eddy is as charismatic as a Food Network host and, of course, incredibly talented.
The father of three young girls, he’s patient, gentle, and passionate about changing the way Americans feed themselves. “If everyone was cooking more for themselves, it would have a dramatic impact on our environment. The rest of the world has been eating locally forever, and now Americans finally think it’s cool.” His food philosophy starts in the garden, which has a view of the dining room. With a ¾ acre vegetable and herb garden, guests of Winvian restaurant could consume fresher food only if they didn’t mind shaking off the dirt. He strives to run a self-sufficient operation: all food scraps are composted back into the earth and eggshells are ground into powder to enrich soil with calcium.
This logical old-fashioned strategy of his garden-to-table style is consistent with chef Eddy’s new cooking classes. During my pasta-making course, we worked with five ingredients, and the word “recipe” was not used once. Crowded around the long industrial kitchen table, our class began with an informal discussion of the base ingredients. Chef Eddy talked about flour, water, eggs, salt and tomatoes, and it was fascinating. He lamented about what kind of ingredients to use, and why, what is used in Italy, about what to skimp on and what to invest in (buy the best organic tomatoes you can find, use only “00” flour for pasta, and know that safflower oil is a budget-friendly option for sautéing so you can conserve your best olive oil for finishing.)
As our group peppered him with questions, his responses were jovial and enlightening. “How many portions does this make?” inquired one student, to which chef Eddy quipped “Well, that depends if you are feeding football players or ballerinas.”
Chef Eddy’s teaching model doesn’t reflect the standard cooking class. His refreshing approach taught me that making fresh pasta is actually quite simple. We got our hands dirty and gained a tactile reference to what the dough should feel like at different stages through the process. Then, we created raviolis and tortellini and penne and farfalle, we cut strips of tagliatelle and ribbons of pappardelle, and grinded long banners of dough into delicate strands of spaghetti, while tomatoes simmered on the stovetop for our simple sauce.
Even for those of us who spend a lot more time in the dining room than in the kitchen, Chef Eddy’s class cultivated an appreciation for the process of cooking. Later that evening while the fireplace crackled, we sampled the finished product of our labor. Tasting our simple homemade linguine with tomato sauce in succession with Chef Eddy’s courses (like his citrus shrimp salad—the best salad I have ever tasted) was inspiring.
I have taken dozens of cooking classes, from delicately folding gougères dough for a French essentials class at The Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan to laboring over a mortar and pestle to make green curry paste on the Thai island of Koh Lanta at Time for Lime. Chef Eddy’s class at the Winvian ranks as one of my all-time favorites—for his tangible culinary advice, his ambition for cooking at home, and his bucolic approach to fine dining.
The Winvian Cooking School offers classic two-hour introduction classes, three-day programs covering the staples of the French chef, and an intensive Wednesday class spanning six weeks. All classes take place in the Winvian’s new instruction space, which is decked out in Viking accoutrements. The 113-acre property has wide-open green meadows and hiking trails winding through the woods. Tucked into the trees are eighteen unique luxury cottages ranging from majestic to playful, each individually designed by a different architect. It’s a family-owned business, and a truly special property. Owner Maggie Smith had no prior hospitality experience, but her Greenwich home was the hub of activity for friends, neighbors and kids. “We wanted to create a place for people to gather with friends, or disappear into a corner. Winvian should feel like you’re coming home—except the food and the wine cellar are much better.”
For information, visit www.winvian.com or call 860-567-9600. Prices from $150.
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