Friday, October 16, 2009

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, LIVE!

Wednesday was whirlwind of activity.  I had to attend a meet and greet with the CEO, had to present the findings of the project that was driving me to distraction for the past couple of weeks, speed off to a James Beard Foundation event, then rush downtown to a class. I did not plan a day like this, but when the Lords of Chaos have you in their sights, these things happen.

The Astor Center has launched a new series of events entitled "Great Cooks and Their Books".  It combines getting to know some of the icons of cooking better by cooking recipes from their seminal cookbooks.  The series started off with what may be the most seminal of them all, Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".  Curious, I signed up for the event.  Then my calander got stuffed like a sausage.

The Lords of Chaos took pity on me after I presented my findings and everything just fell into place.  At 6:00PM I was rolling up my sleaves and donning an apron, ready to get down with huge quantities of butter.  Entering the kitchen, I knew we were in for an evening of fun.  Old episodes of  "The French Chef" were playing on flat panel TVs to set the mood.  The instructor, Carl Raymond, was very friendly and engaging.  He got the dough kneading by asking each of us about our cooking experience and our relationship with Julia.  There were some experienced cooks, some novices, some who have had a long relationship with Julia, others have never heard of her until the movie "Julia and Julie", and one who spoke very little English.  We would not have enough time to cook all of the classes recipes, so we broke into teams to tackle a few recipes each.  I found myself on Team Salad Nicoise with two very fun Japanese women.  Other teams were tackling boeuf bourguignon and tarte aux pommes.

Before breaking into our individual teams to tackle Julia's dishes, Chef Carl demoed several techniques.  Chef Carl shares my cooking philosophy, learn techniques not recipes.  Once you understand a technique and how food reacts to it, you can pretty much just scoop up some ingredients at the market and make dinner.  Carl made a mayo, demoed how to saute, and made a Hollandaise sauce.  He did this ala Julia, no bain marie(double boiler) and whole butter.  I might have heard the faint whirring sound of Escoffier spinning in his grave, but the Hollandaise sauce came out great.  We then broke down into our groups and had at it.

Salad Nicoise is a classic French composed salad.  By composed, it is not all mixed together, but rather the ingredients are arranged artfully on a plate.  It consists of cooked potatoes, cooked green beans, tuna, olives, tomatoes, and greens.  We had lots of prep to do and we got at it.  Despite my Japanese team mates unfamiliarlarity with French cooking and Julia Child, they were quite adept and we soon became a Salad Nicoise machine.  We soon had all the components of the salad ready and the vinaigrette prepared.

I was pulled into Hollandaise making and left my two teammates to plate the salad.  No one informed them about the nature of composed salads, so they preceded to mix everything together.  I looked up from my whisking to see two giant piles of Salad Nicoise.  The plating looked good though as they were artfully placing ingredients on top of the dish.

I was so caught up in my own team's cooking that I did not catch much of  the rest of class in action.  I can tell you that the end results were all delicious.  Every team earned kudos for their work as the serving platters quickly emptied.  As I exited the kitchen into the surprisingly chilly evening, I could have sworn I heard a ghostly "Bon Appetit" carried on the autumn wind.

Hollandaise Sauce, Hybrid Julia Child/Carl Raymond Recipe

  • 3 egg yolks

  • 1 tablespoon of water

  • 1 tablesppon of lemon juice

  • 1 1/2- 2 sticks of room temperature butter, cut into pieces

  1. Beat egg yolks in sauce pan

  2. Add water, lemon juice, and salt and beat until the egg yolks thicken slightly

  3. Place saucepan over very low heat and beat eggs until they reach a thick, creamy consistency.  Be sure not to scramble the egg yolks or you will have to start over!

  4. Remove pan from heat and start beating in the butter, one piece at a time.

  5. Continue to add the butter until the mixture gets to a consistency of a thick cream.  Use of the minimum amount of butter to reach this stage is recommended to prevent the sauce from breaking.

  6. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

  7. Keep sauce warm(not hot!), serve as soon as possible,


Chef Shari said...

I want to be you! You seem to have so much fun and get to do great things! Thanks for sharing this experience!

Fresh Local and Best said...

This looks like a good sauce for me to try. Which CEO did you have to meet? I used to work for a hedge fund, and remember days where my schedule was crammed like a sausage - I like the analogy. There was one time when I was in the office for 36 hours straight trying to cover earnings for companies in the US and India. Glad that's over with!

Table Talk said...

Sounds like you had fun, even at the end of a challenging day. --Good food will help you forget your worries any day.