Back to School with Chef Hemm
The Carriage House Cooking School sits at 463 Hallock Hill Road in Peru, down a pebble-filled driveway where a farm dog named Reese is rumored to welcome Chef Curtiss Hemm’s students. Perched atop a white garage, housing farm equipment, surrounded by acres of open space on which animals graze, is The Carriage House Cooking school. Here, six strangers have the opportunity to connect over culinary education.
Hemm wants to teach his clients that cooking should be fun. They should embrace mistakes and realize they will improve with experience.
A few miles away are some of Chef Hemm’s favorite local farms and breweries. He buys UBU Ale from Lake Placid Pub and Brewery and fresh pepper jack cheese from The North Country Creamery — both ingredients are used in the Ale & Cheese soup recipe. Fresh garlic purchased from Farmin’ it LLC is used in the Fisherman’s Soup and Zuppa Di Brodo. Hemm is devoted to using local ingredients, and a full list of his favorite farms can be found on his website.
Students admire the view from the carriage house before Hemm begins teaching his Fall Soups class. He takes the time to familiarize students with the recipes’ ingredients before beginning the hands-on lesson.
He explains the difference between using a stock or broth as a base for each soup as students make UBU Ale & Pepper Jack Soup, Tortilla Soup, Portuguese Fisherman’s Soup and Zuppa di Brodo.
The Carriage House kitchen was designed to be a home kitchen; the goal was for students to be able to leave class and practice the recipes in their own homes.
“The last thing I want to be is an elitist of food. I’m a cook. I teach cooking,” Hemm says. “I just don’t want to be a $30,000 kitchen. I want to make it accessible.”
Hemm doesn’t stray from using fresh local products when he can. He has all of his produce delivered an hour before class to ensure it’s as fresh as it can be.
“I get beautiful herbs, potatoes, vegetables [and] things that I want custom grown.”
During the Fall Soups class, he has a student cut slices of two brands of pepper jack cheese, one from North Country Creamery and the other from Cabot Creamery. Students try the cheeses and comment that, although they are the same type of cheese, the taste is completely different due to the different milks and pepper used. One is sharp and strong while the other tastes light in comparison, yet both are delicious, delicate fresh cheeses.
In order to teach students how to cook, Hemm had to accept that some people are anxious in the kitchen. His mission was to help them overcome their fears.
He doesn’t wear traditional white chef’s clothing. He may even show up wearing shorts and sandals in the summertime. His casual teaching style is designed to ease the student’s cooking anxiety.
“Some people really need their hand held through a process. That’s the beauty of having six people [in a class] you can give everybody the attention they need, deserve and pay for,” he says.
It isn’t uncommon for Hemm to turn the classes attention to students’ work to teach solutions for problems that may arise during the cooking process.
During class, the UBU Ale & Pepper Jack Soup wasn’t thickening the way it should have and Hemm showed students that by adding a larger base of butter and flour, the soup would thicken.
When the clams in the Fisherman’s Soup weren’t opening, Hemm added heat to the stove and told students how long to keep them there before decreasing it again.
Hemm believes that instead of rushing to finish the food, people should embrace the time they spend cooking while understanding culinary techniques.
“At the end of the day you have to prioritize. If you really want to make your own food and you want to cook, cooking takes time.”
After a class with Hemm, a group of strangers, who have gotten to know one another during the course, gather together at a long oak farmhouse table.
“I wanted to have a free-spirited place. I wanted people to have wine, beer and cider,” he says, “ I wanted a place where people could sit down, some who knew each other and some who didn’t, and just build a small community.”
One by one, students grab a bowl of the classes’ creations.
At the table, one person compliments the use of ingredients. Another notices that the UBU Ale & Pepper Jack soup tastes strongly of ale, while other soups similar to it cover the taste of beer with cheese. The Tortilla soup is served with corn chips and a small scoop of sour cream, a guest comments that they can taste the fresh onion, and appreciates the flavor of Masa harina after learning about the corn flour at the beginning of the class.
“You don’t know what you don’t know until you have to teach it,” Hemm says. “I wanted to teach people who wanted to learn about food, cooking and not have the structure of academia.”
Hemm’s farm, Hallock Hills, sits on the same property as The Carriage House Cooking School. He also operates PinkRibbonCooking.com, a website designed to give anyone who has been affected by breast cancer the opportunity to learn how to cook minimally-processed, healthy foods. There are many food restrictions on people going through cancer treatments, the website offers recipes that adhere to their proper dietary guidelines and are delicious enough for the family to enjoy together.
Family has always been important to Chef Hemm. Above the stairs leading out of The Carriage House, Hemm plans to hang a hand-drawn logo of two mushrooms side-by-side. The logo was inspired by the couples favorite hobby: mushroom picking. The sign serves as a tribute to his marriage and The Carriage House Cooking School.