PERU — Chef Curtiss Hemm is very much the steward of the Hallock Hill property, once owned by his late father, Robert Hemm, where he lives with his wife Bridget and son Alec.
Chef Curtiss was born in Chicago and relocated here at age 8 when his father worked at Ayerst Labs in Rouses Point.
“I am connected to this piece of land, and that's the only reason I am in New York state,” he said.
“There are many places cheaper to make a living.”
A Plattsburgh High School alum, he studied culinary arts at Paul Smith's College.
“My first interest was architecture, though,” he said.
“I always wanted to be an architect. Then, I started cooking when I was 14.”
He did dishes, prep at local marinas and other eateries.
After he graduated from college in 1990, he worked for Westport Yacht Club for four seasons.
Then he segued into education by teaching at Paul Smiths College for a number of years before switching over to the New England Culinary Institute, which was the top culinary school in 2004.
Over time, he became a dean and remained there until 2012.
He established a digital publishing company, Pink Ribbon Cooking, which is all about breast cancer and working with cancer centers across the country doing presentations.
ON HIS OWN
"Pink Ribbon Cooking addresses the issue of processed foods as it it relates to risk factors known for hormonal breast cancer,” Hemm said.
“It teaches people how to cook healthy food from scratch and get off of processed foods. Try to get on a minimally processed diet.”
Hemm missed teaching, so the Carriage House Cooking School was born in June 2017.
“I always measure what I say no to, and I said no to cooking classes a lot,” he said.
“I found a policy I liked, and we had the Carriage House and I was using it one day a month for food photography and we decided to launch a little cooking school.”
When he left NECI, he merged photography, technology and the culinary arts.
“Those were the things I wanted to integrate together into one something,” Hemm said.
“Whatever that was. So, I do a lot of my own web design. The school allows me to teach again, which I miss.”
He wanted to teach people who want to learn to cook at home who want to share a table with other people and who want to be present at a meal and discuss things.
“That was the goal,” Hemm said.
“It's a simple, simple goal. We do that here by making everything accessible. So, we don't fly in ingredients from around the country. We use what is local. We use what is available in the stores."
Everything he presents either on paper or through his words or through his demonstrations is completely accessible to people.
“I'm very good at reading an audience,” he said.
“I'm very good at seeing who gets it and who doesn't. I spend as much time as I need on those individuals to move them forward and to make sure an idea is communicated.”
Cooking is an absolutely lost art in his estimation.
He grew up in an era of transition in American food. “Before me was James Beard,” Hemm said.
“When you were a connoisseur of food, you cooked food. Great food. That's what Gourmet Magazine was all about.”
Things shifted in the 1980s because restaurants and chefs became popular.
“In the '90s, it flourished really, really strong,” he said.
“Those connoisseurs no longer cooked. They just went to the latest, greatest restaurant. They kind of lost touch. I don't blame them.”
With the rise of the two-income families, with the rise of everyone scheduled to death, food is an afterthought.
“You can drive through Plattsburgh or you can drive anywhere you want and you can see the number of people lined up at a Dunkin' Donuts in the morning and that is how they start their day,” Hemm said.
“They go $8 in debt, and they eat garbage, and it doesn't have to be that way. Making foods yourself is fiscally responsible. It's nutritionally responsible. It's community oriented. It's family oriented.”
Alec knows how to make bread, pasta and pizza from scratch.
“Whether he's going to do it or not is up to him,” Hemm said.
“He's seen it endlessly. He's participated in it. Then, he appreciates it. He knows what good food is. That doesn't mean he won't go to Chick-Fil-A or McDonald's.”
Hemm asks people to reflect on how often they sit down and eat dinner together with their family.
“I think people would struggle with that in terms of having an honest answer,” he said.
“For me, we wanted to kind of get around and build a community of people who are clearly interested in cooking. They use that time to celebrate family and have some fun and eat great food. There's a lot of great food grown around here.”
He and his family are frequent guests at the Mirror Lake Inn.
“We've been going there for decades,” Hemm said.
“It's the one true place where I feel that you're just completely at rest. I can go there and unplug and be very, very happy.”
He approached them two years ago to see if Mirror Lake Inn would be interested in doing some classes together.
They collaborated and did a series of classes in 2018 and 2019.
This past weekend, he did a culinary-focused package at Mirror Lake.
Many Lake Placid visitors take classes at the Carriage House.
“That's a very popular activity,” he said.
This time of year, soup is his favorite comfort food.
“Soup, absolutely, soup,” Hemm said.
“Any kind of soup. There used to be a restaurant in town called Carbur's. I've mastered their Canadian cheese soup. That's one of my all-time favorite soups to make. French onion soup is really popular. We did a fall soups class last year, and French onion soup won hands down.”
Hemm has created a Quebecois Benedict constructed with a croissant and fried egg.
He is a great fan of the tourtiere, the Quebec meat pie, and wants to do a class on it.
“I love that,” he said.
“I like it because it's a classic dish. It's a meat pie. There's potatoes. There's meat. It's got the sweet savory spices. It's got a large crust on it. I suppose if you're vegetarian you won't like it, but if you're a meat eater I don't know what there is not to like about it. It's great cold, and it's a great warm. It's meat and potatoes in a pie, kind of wrapped up.”
He is well versed in all cuisines with the exception of Eastern European, Russian, Polish, etc.
“I can cook anything from the Pacific Rim, China and Japan,” he said.
“I haven't spent time thinking about Australian cuisine. Most of South American cuisine, almost all continental European cuisine.
Fresh bread is given with soups.
“I bake a lot of bread,” he said.
“That's one of our most popular classes, too. We offer the classes year round. I'm actually getting ready to launch January, February, March and April classes. We keep our prices fair and reasonable for what we offer and we offer education. Food happens to be the curriculum.”
It's no different than if someone was offering a course on welding or on woodworking.
“It just happens that this craft involves food,” Hemm said.
“I do consider it a craft and a skill. I like the artsy side of it, but it's a craft. You're building flavor. You're building recipes. You're building techniques and stuff like that.”
He travels to people's homes all the time for private classes in Lake Placid and here in Plattsburgh.
He recently did a Beef Wellington class for a 60th birthday celebrant and her friends because the sexagenarian wanted to know how to make it.
“That was her favorite food, so we showed her,” Hemm said.
The Carriage House is really about cooking at home and a lot of the recipes he cooks at home.
“Our first class was always pizza called the Art of Pi,” Hemm said.
“I chose that because pizza is accessible to just about everybody. The secret is the dough and the sauce and understanding how a home oven works and how that dough engages that heat environment and what you can do to manipulate the dough to produce a really artisan result. So our pizza is a cross between the Neapolitan, a thin Roman and a California pizza. It's absolutely amazing. I have so much fun teaching that class.”
Hemm holds six classes a month and fills up with private events.
He doesn't market.
He doesn't need to.
“I'm very convinced that you have one chance to do something right,” Hemm said.
“I'm just focused on quality, and I'm only as good as my last class. I walk into every class thinking that. It's word of mouth is where it's at for us. Social media, food photography that's how we market.”
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