School's in: If I needed more education in the culinary arts, I would go to a place like the Cooking School of the Rockies in Boulder. After spending a recent afternoon there to observe a class and--my favorite part--eat lunch prepared by the students, I came away impressed with the program's relaxed, informative approach.
And by that I don't mean lackadaisical. The staff was impeccably professional and their pupils obviously were working hard. The dialogue between the students--each class contains no more than twelve--and sous chef/ instructor Andy Floyd was respectful and optimistic (which, let me tell you from experience, can be hard to come by in a restaurant kitchen), and the students weren't defensive or self-righteous when responding to his criticism or praise. All around, an excellent atmosphere for learning--and lunch. The food was delicious; it was wonderful to eat a piece of fresh halibut at that perfect state of just-cooked.
Much of the impetus behind this inspiring environment comes from founder Joan Brett, who opened the Cooking School of the Rockies in 1991, and the school's original aca-demic director, Robert Reynolds, who plans to open his own culinary school in downtown Denver sometime in the near future. While Reynolds shaped much of the program, Brett handled--and still does handle--the non-professional courses. (For instance, during my visit she was teaching a group of lay cooks a class on light Mexican cuisine.)
Reynolds, a chef who studied with Madeleine Kamman and was once placed by Gault Millau in the top percentile of San Francisco chefs, is the one who convinced Brett to send each class to Provence for the last four weeks of the six-month program. As for the rest of the regimen: Classes are held from 8 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, which means that students putting themselves through school by working in restaurants still have time to get to their night jobs; the curriculum is all about French cooking--classical, regional and modern--with a little Italian for balance and a few wine seminars to round it all out. Students benefit from some very focused time and the expertise of James Moore (who'd been teaching at the school for several years and took over as executive chef/academic director in January), Floyd (a graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland), and pastry chef Diana Hoguet, a graduate of France's L'cole de Cuisine La Varenne who once worked as a pastry chef at the Quilted Giraffe. The cost is $17,500 for the six months, which includes all expenses for the trip to France; the school also offers a ten-month evening program that skips France and runs $14,000. Completion of either nets a student a diploma in the culinary arts (the school is certified by Colorado's Department of Education).
The class I attended had a healthy variety of students: a physician in the midst of a serious career change, a snowboarder, a skier, a woman from Taos, a farmer, a woman who wants to be a food stylist and a guy on his way to cook in Atlanta. And not a celebrity-chef wannabe among them: They all seemed to be sincerely interested in learning how to cook rather than how to be rich and famous--not that I doubt the possibility of any one of them attaining star status.
And at the very least, they'll know some French. While I was there, they were learning some of the basics for getting around France, and one of the instructor's lessons was the important difference between "J'ai fini" and "Je suis fini." The former means "I'm finished," while the latter, which is very popular with American tourists, translates as "I'm dead." I wonder how many waiters in Paris have sneered at that one?
Open-and-shut cases: Sevilla has officially joined the lineup of restaurants at the Ice House, 1801 Wynkoop Street. Although the grand opening was celebrated in mid-April, a week later the place still wasn't serving its touted tapas. But by last Friday, the kitchen had its act together. These are true tapas, too--the small plates that are such staples of bars in Spain. Not quite as traditional is Sevilla's interior, a moody cave environment complete with stalagtites, authentic-appearing cave paintings, rough metalwork and faux-fur upholstery. It's Fred Flintstone meets Euro-chic, the work of local artist Bill Gian. The private dining room, with its odd-shaped tables and metal lazy Susan--now known as a "super Susan" in politically correct decorating circles (I wish I were making that up, but I'm not)--is one of the coolest-looking spaces in town. But what's with those giant angels guarding the building's main Wynkoop Street entrance?
Perhaps they were watching over all the prom kids who started last weekend's festivities with a meal at the next-door Rodizio Grill. Or maybe the angels were brought in to keep an eye on the Rodizio servers. A fellow food enthusiast and sometimes eating companion of mine recently related a fun tale about a couple of those gauchos. It seems that after he and another friend had finished dinner at Cucina!Cucina!, he waited in the Ice House lobby while she hit the restroom. After walking toward the Rodizio entrance to check out a couple of pieces of art on the wall, he heard farting noises around the corner. They weren't coming from his friend, though: Two of Rodizio's costume-clad servers were trying to see who could blow their billowy pants out the farthest. "When they saw me, they promptly shut the pipes, so to speak," my friend reports. "They beat a hasty retreat. I'm glad those pants are airtight."
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Meanwhile, on the northeast side of the Ice House, Cucina!Cucina! has sprouted an attractive deck. You can tell spring has sprung when LoDo restaurants start squeezing outside seating into every possible square foot. Among the other eateries sporting new outdoor areas: Sostanza (1700 Wynkoop), which has put a few tables on the dock facing Union Station and is advertising a 3-7 p.m. happy hour; and Il Fornaio (1631 Wazee Street), which is taking advantage of the newly widened sidewalk to offer alfresco dining.
RedFish, at 1701 Wynkoop, has had its outdoor seating for some time; what's new is the current Crawfish Festival (munch to live blues Thursday through Saturday). Seafood lovers also should not miss the new squid menu at Bruno's Italian Bistro, 2223 South Monaco Parkway; the cephalopods are available a dozen ways for $12.95 until May 16. And Chives (1120 East Sixth Avenue) is offering softshell crabs for $13.95 Monday and Tuesdays through May; sadly, that mainstay Vietnamese egg roll appetizer has disappeared from Chives's new menu.
Yo' mama: I received dozens of press releases about Mother's Day specials at Denver-area restaurants. Rather than name them here, let me suggest that you call your favorite place and inquire about their plans. (Judging from my mail, nine out of ten eateries are bound to be doing something special.) Mom will love it if you take her somewhere you love.