ICE Student for a Day: Dining in Imperial Rome

ICE offers one of the country’s largest recreational cooking programs. With over 1,500 classes and over 22,000 students each year, there is something for every cook looking to learn new techniques in the kitchen.This month, Village Voice food critic Lauren Shockey tried a class on culinary history with Chef Instructor Cathy Kaufman and learned a little something about dining in Imperial Rome. Here is her take on traveling back in time to the era of Caesar.

For my cooking class at ICE, I was interested in learning more about a somewhat unfamiliar cuisine. I was intrigued at first by a Filipino class and one about Indian influences on African cuisine, but I knew I’d found my recreational course when I saw Cathy Kaufman’s Beware the Ides of March: Dining in Imperial Rome. In New York City, you can find almost any cuisine imaginable, but there really aren’t any restaurants serving food from the days of Apicius.

The class particularly intrigued me as well, having taken food history courses while a graduate student in food studies at New York University. So on a Monday evening in March, I found myself on the twelfth floor of ICE along with a dozen or so other history buffs and foodies. The class began with a short lecture by Kaufman, who chairs the Culinary Historians of New York and knew a ton about what people ate during ancient Rome. We then split up into three groups to tackle a complete Roman feast.

My group was assigned a lasagna-like dish layered with minced chicken, shrimp, and sweetbreads; chickpeas tossed with Parmesan cheese; boiled artichokes with vinaigrette; fried cheese balls with honey and poppy seeds; and a spiced wine. It was interesting to compare the ingredients used back then to those of today; indeed, there are many similarities, although one main difference was that we had to substitute Asian-style fish sauce for garum, the ubiquitous condiment used to flavor foods back in old Rome.

We also discussed the usage of certain spices, like asafetida and mastic, which aren’t used that much today and which I hadn’t really cooked with before Having gone to culinary school myself, it was fun to be back in this type of kitchen environment, and the ambiance was very laid-back and relaxed. It was less about having perfect knife skills and more about having a great time.

At the end of the class, we all sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Our spread included flatbread with a variety of dips (my favorite was the super strong garlic and herb one, which was tasty but guaranteed to keep away any vampires from a 100-mile radius!), duck with turnips, pork with farro, rosemary pine nut pudding cake, stuffed dates and much more. Not everything was as vibrantly flavored as some foods are today, but it was interesting to eat what were basically exact replicas of food from ancient Rome. And that’s an experience that you don’t have every day!

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