Cooking school shoots for sizzling return | AspenTimes.com

Cooking school shoots for sizzling return

Aspen will once again have a cooking school when the Cooking School of Aspen opens in March — ready to feed, educate, accommodate and entertain the community.

But the cooking school's second generation will be a whole different animal than its predecessor, said owner Rob Ittner.

With plans for international culinary feasts, farm-to-table dinners and countless cooking classes, "the sky's sort of the limit with things we can do," Ittner said.

The school, which is scheduled to open March 1, will also operate as a dinner and event venue for private parties.

"There are very few places in this town to throw a party between 50 and 100 people," Ittner said. "Most restaurants are too small and most hotels too big."

The 3,000-square-foot space, located below Rustique Bistro, can comfortably seat anywhere between 20 and 120 guests, Ittner said.

Ittner, who also owns Rustique, said the two establishments will operate separately but may share staff and space every now and then.

"The idea was to create a unique culinary space and event venue to do a lot of different things with," Ittner said, including wedding rehearsal dinners, bat mitzvahs and corporate events.

While Aspen may boast an impressive number of restaurants for a town of its size, the cooking school may fill another void by preparing international dishes as part of its theme-night dinner series — Indian, Ethiopian and Cajun cuisines are among some of the culinary possibilities swirling around.

The cooking school's five or six local chefs created menus and curriculums based on what kinds of classes they would like to teach, Ittner said. Classes will be offered in three class forms: demonstration, hands-on and private.

In demonstration cooking classes, guests will sit at a table in a semicircle around the kitchen where the chef will whip up a three- to four-course meal. While the chef prepares dinner, he or she will discuss the origin of the food and share stories, recipes or tricks of the trade. All demonstration classes are paired with wine, which a sommelier will teach eager and thirsty students about.

For the hands-on cooking classes, students will divide into smaller groups and work as teams to prepare and present recipes of the day. Hands-on cooking lessons include knife skills, creative salads, pies for the holidays, baking bread at altitude, preparing fish, cooking with grains, stocks and sauces, simplified risotto-making, cupcake workshops for children and making homemade pasta.

"For a pasta class, one group may make linguine while another prepares ravioli and another makes gnocchi," Ittner said. "Then, at the end of class, they can all sit down and enjoy each other's cooking."

The public is able to rent the cooking school for private events and also may arrange private classes with chefs and sommeliers. Private cooking classes work well with group sizes between two and 25, Ittner said.

Ittner taught wine classes at the original Cooking School of Aspen, which operated in the back portion of the space currently occupied by Hops Culture, from about 1995 to 2007, he estimated.

And back then, it was just that: a cooking school.

"It was a very small location," Ittner said of the former space. "Probably an 800-square-foot kitchen, with about 20 seats around it."

With about three times the square feet and six times the capacity, the possibilities seem endless for Ittner, who has many more ideas cooking.

erobbie@aspentimes.com