Earlier this month, Matt and I attended an “Ocean Potion” cooking class at the Dirty Apron (the school is affiliated with my two of my favourite local eateries, Chambar and Cafe Medina). This is the class I mentioned in Bucket List Part I, and what I hoped to be the gateway to cooking all things aquatic. Was I nervous about putting my marine culinary skills to the test? Well, yes. The tricky thing about seafood is that it can go from tender and succulent to a rubbery mess in what seems like no time. And I did not want to be discouraged so early on in my cooking escapades.
We arrived, collected our recipe booklets, put on our aprons and enjoyed a glass of sparkling while waiting for the class to begin (myself, on tenterhooks). I was looking forward to getting my hands dirty, but still intimidated by the menu we were going to be cooking in the 4 hours to follow. What if I what I produced was a complete and utter disaster? Chef David Robertson quickly put me at ease. His knack for clearly explaining why and how to prepare the meals made everything seem much less daunting. I was shocked at how quickly the meals came together, most dishes being ready in under ten minutes! I helped that some of the mise-en-place was done in advance, but we still got to do all of the fun stuff like knife work. In fact, these plates were easier to prepare than your average “get home after work, throw some chicken in the oven” type meals, and infinitely more divine. I also appreciated that Chef Robertson let us in on some useful kitchen tricks, as well as ways to tweak the recipes to make something a little different (for example, how to turn a basic sauce or coulis into a soup).
I had to laugh at my fellow cooking class pupils (myself included). All likely self-proclaimed foodies, one more pretentious than the next. So many felt the need to compete with one another, as though whoever completed their dishes the fastest was a measure of the best cook in attendance. I felt as though they missed out on three-quarters of the fun; it’s just as gratifying to relish in the process itself.
So, what was on the menu? To start, we made BC mussels a la Congolaise (simmered in a tomato and coconut cream sauce with lime, onion, and smoked chili). If it were polite to drink a bucket of this sauce, I would have. I will save that instead for the privacy of my own home.
Cooking the mussels
The second course was maple-seared scallops served atop pea coulis with microgreens, kalamata olives, and chorizo (Matt’s had a double serving of chorizo, while mine was pork-free). These scallops were to die for, and took five minutes to prepare. It would be a perfect dinner party dish: opulence ready in a flash, and simple enough that you can still entertain your guests as you cook.
The main course was pan-roasted halibut served on a bed of garlic sautéed spinach and lemon and olive-oil smashed potatoes. Never did I think serving a restaurant-calibre meal would be so straight-forward. Each dish was served with your choice of lovely red or white, or some Belgian beer. Exquisite!
Matt and his halibut
With the simple tools of molds, interesting sauces and condiments, and other tasty garnishes, we learned how to play with presentation. From bourbon-infused maple syrup to vincotto, we explored various ways to heighten our dishes.
The night was capped off with a cardamom-poached pear filled with house-made vanilla bean ice cream (previously prepared by the Dirty Apron chefs). When all was said and done, there were no kitchen disasters to speak of and I was beyond proud of the dishes we turned out. I walked out of the class with a newfound kitchen confidence. On the way out the door, we stopped in at their deli and picked up a jar of my local favourite Earnest Ice Cream (whiskey hazelnut). Needless to say, the jar did not last the night.
So, would I take a cooking class at the Dirty Apron again? Simply put: yes, in a heart beat.