Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cooking Day Two: French

On Tuesday morning, we met Food Historian/Chocolate Expert Alexandra Leaf at Payard Patisserie on the Upper East Side to start off the day.  She spoke to us about the history of French cuisine and its unique characteristics, the history of Payard Patisserie and its chef, Francois Payard, and about French pastries in general.  It was a mouthwatering discussion, but luckily there were baskets of every type of pastry made at Payard in front of us!  Alexandra encouraged us to try bits of each one, rather than each taking one or two for ourselves, and I gladly obliged.  A dream! Finally able to taste every pastry rather than having to choose! I tend to be an order regretter, so this was perfect. 

By the time we got out of there, we all had gained ten pounds and therefore chose to walk down to Bridge Kitchenware, on 45th, for our next event of the day.  Alexandra introduced us to this historic high-quality restaurant supply store, and we spoke for awhile to the owner.  Hearing the history of opening up a store that sells strainers, juicers, and cutting boards was not all that interesting, but hearing that we all got the 50% off moving sale price a day before the sale began was! We all pretty much went wild, and as much as I tried to constrain myself (since not only is my apartment tiny, but I am not even in Charlottesville!) I still ended up with new lemon and lime juicers, one of those basket scooper/strainers, and an olivewood mortar and pestle.  

Alexandra next led us down to Fleur de Sel, a tiny upscale French restaurant near Union Square.  There, we had a tasting menu, discussed French restaurants, met the Chef (who was so kind), and drank too much wine.  Ah to be French! Who knew we'd be hungry again after the pastry party that morning, but I cleaned each of my plates.  My favorite dish was a goat cheese and artichoke ravioli with a sweet beet sauce - total melt in your mouth.  The wine were were drinking (red, to go with the delicious braised short ribs) was a Pinot Noir from California, and though we thought the Sommelier was kidding at first, the vineyard was really called Trainwreck.  Yes, I felt like a trainwreck walking out of there, and was beginning to think I'd signed up for an eating course, not a cooking one.  Was I complaining? Absolutely not. 

We met up again at ICE at 6:30pm for the French cooking course.  All of this glutton stuff was about to change.  We cooked many courses with tough-loving Chef Jane: Sweet Pea Soup with Mint Creme Fraiche, Artichoke and Leek Salad, Asparagus and Onion Tart, Duck Confit with Grilled Endive and Radicchio, Braised Oxtail with Root Vegetables, and Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake.  I know.  We all went over the techniques and recipes together, but then split up into groups for the actual cooking of the meal.  Not only was I immediately assigned oxtail (uh...lovely), I also got the ultimate Top Chef nightmare: Souffle.  

It was pandemonium. With only four hours,  getting the oxtail braising had to be immediate, so my group was going nuts getting the vegetables prepared and the meat browned.  We also had to start melting the chocolate, separating the eggs, and prepping the pan as soon as possible, since the beating of the egg whites and folding them into the chocolate was not exactly going to be a breeze.  And it wasn't.  We survived, however, and though one of the souffle's neither rose nor fall, the other actually worked!  (We attribute this to an oven not being calibrated correctly, since they were made with the same batter, just different ovens). 

The meal was heaven--pounds of butter were put into every dish, and by the time we sat down (around 10pm) we were famished and dying for a glass of wine.  We had a great time with a long and delicious meal.  The highlight was definitely the Asparagus and Onion tart, and the duck was great as well.  I fell right into bed that night, overfed and overworked! 

Again, let me know if you want any recipes--we got a whole book with all of them, and I of course took extensive notes.  

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE Payard- you are so lucky!!! It sounds as if the cooking classes have been great- really wish I'd signed up for them with you!


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