Famous chef seasons cooking school | AspenTimes.com

Famous chef seasons cooking school

Naomi Havlen

Chef Marcel Bir of Sheboygan, Wis., wields his weapons of choice Tuesday in the herb garden at the Cooking School of Aspen. Bir will be teaching a class at the school this week. Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Chef Marcel Bir discovered an Aspen-based salt-trading business before discovering Aspen.The acclaimed chef and host of “The Kitchens of Bir” on PBS flew into town Tuesday as a guest of the Cooking School of Aspen to teach two classes during a national book tour. So what’s so great about a little thing like salt? Bir is happy to explain that salt is much more than the cartons of finely ground crystals you’ll find in the supermarket, and it’s developing its own gourmet niche.Nobody knows that more than Aspen chef and former owner of the Cooking School of Aspen Rob Seideman. During his eight years with the school he began pursuing specialty salts – natural sea salts in wildly different flavors and colors. Together with wife Kelly Hall, Seideman created Salt Traders Inc. and contacted Bir about using the specialty salts in his recipes.

Bir, who loved the quality and variety of Salt Traders, has been using (not to mention promoting) the specialty salts ever since. One of his recipes for heirloom tomatoes with tomatillo salad uses seven different kinds of salts.”There are different meals you can create with different salt,” he said on Tuesday, sitting outside the Cooking School of Aspen. “Salt was more rare than gold in the 1500s, and you could trade everything in exchange with salt. It was the ‘white gold.'”For the last couple of years, the public is getting into fancy, organically based cooking, he said. Artisan bread, unbleached flours and organic produce are gaining a large following, he said, so why not salt?”There are so many different salts – but people forget because table salts are so widely available and cheap,” he said.But Americans are beginning to clue into good ingredients, said David K. Gibson, director of the Cooking School of Aspen. For a while, food in the United States was all about efficiency, he said. But Bir said things have been changing since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.”People are taking the time to sit down for dinner,” he said. “Cooking is also therapeutic – it’s relaxing for people.”

Bir now teaches the art of cooking starting with the basics both in “The Kitchens of Bir” on PBS and at the Biró Culinary School in Sheboygan, Wis. Born in the former East Germany in 1973, Bir began cooking with his chef father at age 6 and was in culinary school by 15.At 24 he became one of the youngest chefs in European history to become a Master Chef de Cuisine, nominated by other master chefs for the exclusive title. He moved to the United States in 1999 and owns Biró Restaurant and Wine Bar and , a bir restaurant, both in Sheboygan.His book, “Bir – European-Inspired Cuisine” was released in April and has taken him around the country from Wisconsin to Ohio, California and Washington.His PBS show airs in 82 million U.S. households and features behind-the-scenes views into his restaurant, culinary school and home kitchen. His wife and business partner, Shannon Kring Bir, said he is starting to be recognized on the street because of his show.”Someone approached him the other day at a farmers market and asked him if he knew how much he looked like Marcel Bir,” she said.They’ve found blogs on the Internet reporting sightings of the chef.

Is he the next Emeril Legasse of the cooking world? Bir said he’s happy his show is on PBS, where he garners an educated audience that is serious about cooking.”More people are getting educated about cooking, and I can help demystify the process,” he said. “And since I own a restaurant, those people I take away from McDonald’s are my future customers.”As a guest chef, Bir is teaching two classes in Aspen. Today he is instructing a hands-on cooking class from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., followed by a book signing at 3:30 p.m. that is free and open to the public at the Cooking School of Aspen. On Thursday evening he will cook a multi-course dinner for 20 people, demonstrating technique in the process.For more information, contact the cooking school at 920-1879.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com