Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February Cooking Adventure 2011

Love In the Air at the Clarke Culinary Center

Wine, women and song..well, it was actually wine, women and food. And since I can't sing, and it's all about food for me, I was thrilled to find myself at the incomparable Clarke Culinary Center on February 10th for a special “ladies only” Valentine's cooking class.
Any cooking class at the Clarke Culinary Center is an amazing experience, but this promised to be a match made in heaven, as in a petite bit of French heaven.
Oh yes, a spectacular menu created by chef extraordinaire, Jean Louis Gerin, owner of Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, that we ladies would be able to recreate for a special Valentine celebration at home. To top it all off, there would be a champagne tasting as well.
Now, I must confess I love champagne, and I love pairing it with food. And a high school trip
to Paris and Lyon left me with a certain misty and wistful life long fondness for all things French. What could be more romantic than sipping champagne and watching a renowned French chef prepare a love feast before my very eyes? C'est magnifique, non?
As we women gathered round the gleaming cooktop, Chef Jean-Lous bustled about, smiling
and gathering ingredients. As class began he introduced us to champagne expert Geraldine de Kersaint de Gilly. Of course, she would have an impossibly charming name to go along with her perfectly petite self. I wondered briefly if I could become Robin de Confession de Conscious.
Geraldine delved right into our champagne education. She handily demonstrated the proper way to open a bottle by first removing the foil, relieving the cork of it's wire cage (also known as the museliere, or muzzle) and firmly grasping and turning the cork in one direction while rotating the bottle in the opposite direction.
56a3“Do not point the bottle at anyone while you are opening it!”, she noted. A perfect little popping sigh and the Demoiselle Rose` was ready to pour.
As Geraldine instructed us to pour only about 2 inches into a glass, she added, “Do not leave champagne for months in the refrigerator as it should not be too cold. A three hour chill down before dinner is perfect.”
As I inspected my glass, watching the upward dance of minuscule, merry pink bubbles, I listened to Geraldine explain how rose` champagne is full of body, with a good bite of acidity and quite food friendly. “You could have it with meat even”, she insisted,”Rose` never gets overwhelmed by the food! In fact, all champagnes are an excellent accompaniment to food, try it with sushi or oysters,” she said with a big smile.
“Rose` became quite fashionable again over the past 20-30 years”, she continued. “Taste, taste,” Geraldine insisted and so we did. Bright and effervescent, with a light layer of lush strawberry sweetness, the Demoiselle was lovely.
As we sipped our champagne and became suffused with a bit of a blush ourselves, Chef
Jean-Louis was busily beginning the evening's dessert, a Passion Fruit Charlotte with maron glace
(candied chestnuts)...”It's nothing crazy”, grinned our Chef,”fruit-caramel-gelatin..you will love it!”
But first, Chef Jean-Louis prepared a simple Chocolat Feuillantine, much like a crunchy candy bar. As he chopped chocolate and mixed it with praline and butter, he emphatically pronounced that “we
should never forget to lick our fingers after preparing chocolate!”
Chef Jean-Louis also mentioned that chocolate does not like refrigeration, “eat chocolate quickly”, he said, “and if you do put it in the refrigerator, be sure it is well covered. It will absorb the odor of all your other foods otherwise.”
Chef Jean-Louis then moved on to making caramel. “Caramel”, he says “is sugar and a dash of water...just a few drops. You must prepare it over high heat, so it goes quickly and doesn't have time to crystallize.” He then admonished, “Caramel doesn't need you, so don't play with it!” He instructed us
to stop the caramel cooking process by putting the pan in the sink and running water around the pan.
After years of avoiding recipes that included caramel..something about brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush seemed a bit tedious to me and I worried about overcooking it... turns out caramel is really quite simple. And it took a Frenchman to teach me that.
The sweet perfume of passion fruit soon filled the kitchen as our Chef dipped gelatin sheets in iced water and then melted them in warm cognac. A mountain of whipped cream appeared and the passion fruit, gelatin, whipped cream and and sugar were folded together. Assembled in individual cups, a bit of the chocolate feuillantine anchored the bottom while a cloud of passion fruit cream was pillowed on top. Off to the freezer to chill and it was on to the rest of the menu.
While Chef Jean-Louis began on his appetizer of Leek and Oyster Pain Perdu, Geraldine invited
one of the ladies to open the next bottle of champagne, a Champagne Couche. Tentative at first, she firmly disposed of the museliere and the cork went sailing straight across the kitchen! So
a reminder, keep the hand on top of the cork while twisting! No injuries, and after much laughter, Geraldine regaled us with more champagne trivia.
“Champagne is produced in a designated area protected by law, anything produced outside this
area cannot be called champagne”, she stated. “ Champagne can be much lighter or darker, that's the influence of the grapes, and you should be aware that the smaller the bubble, the better the quality. If the bubbles vanish too quickly, this is not good, you want consistency in the glass.”
“You know”, said Geraldine happily, “ Champagne is very special and many famous women have been quoted saying amazing things about champagne. Coco Chanel, for example, said “A woman drinks champagne when she is in love and when she is not”, Brigitte Bardot claimed it was the only thng she would drink when she was tired and Marilyn Monroe once bathed in 350 bottles of bubbly!” As we sampled the freshly opened bubbly, I was beginning to feel like I was bathing in it!
But the food was coming, anticipating the oyster appetizer was making me salivate. Chef Jean-
Louis cleaned leeks and began chopping them. He mentioned that onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, all need to have the inner stem removed, as the stem will make you burp. He also encouraged us to save all scraps and scrapings from vegetable preparation to go in a freezer bag to make stock or soup.
The mildly pungent aroma of leeks wafted through the kitchen as they cooked in a generous
plop of butter. When they were wilted , salt, white pepper (“I only use white pepper in the kitchen,”
Chef Jean-Louis insisted, “ black pepper doesn't look good, it's bitter,black pepper is for barbecue!”) and cayenne pepper were added with heavy cream. Chef Jean-Louis quipped that “French cooking is not just butter and cream, it's just not true,” then he giggled a bit.
A lightly beaten egg and oysters were added to the creamy leak mixture and divided atop
baguette slices and popped in the oven. We were served a sensuous taste experience, the crisp crunch of the bread, the silky, rich, buttery biote of leek and oyster, caressed by sips of sparkly champagne.
Very, very romantic.
With the main course of Drunken Red Snapper and warm fingerling potato in Champagne Beurre Blanc, we tasted Chef Gerin's own private champagne-Cuvee Jean-Louis. Geraldine informed us this was produced from 100% chardonnay grapes and is known as a blanc de blanc. “This is made by my
wife's family”, interjected Chef Jean-Louis,”we go through a tremendous amount at my restaurant...I had to stop drinking it in the morning”, he laughed.
For his simple yet sumptuous dinner entree, Chef Jean-Louis cooked potatoes in boiling, salted water until just tender and then sliced them into ¼ inch thick pieces. He seasoned the flesh side of red snapper filets with salt and white pepper. Champagne was poured into a large saute pan and boiled for 30 seconds to remove the alcohol. Chopped onion and the red snapper were slipped into the pan and simmered for about five minutes until the fish was cooked. The fish was removed from the pan and set aside while he reduced the liquid and then tranferred the liquid to a blender with butter and 4 slices of
potato. “You thicken sauce by reducing it, there is no need to add flour, flour is for pastry”. The sauce was finished by boiling more champagne, adding the remaining potato slices, the blended liquid and
a touch of heavy cream.
The dish was plated with two romaine lettuce leaves, the potatoes were laid on the lettuce leaves and then topped with the fish. The rosy red skin side was offset by the brilliant white flesh, a perfect color for Valentine's Day. Drizzled with sauce,the dish was absolutely delicious, full of mouth filling flavor.
Simple, fresh ingredients cooked with love, this was a perfect menu for romance. Chef Jean-Louis said “You must have absolutely the best, freshest fish and don't have too many ingredients-it's too confusing!” Good advice for cooking and for romance!
Then it was time for dessert and the last remaining bottles of bubbly. Geraldine opened a
Lucien Albrecht, a cremant, made in the style of champagne, but produced outside of the region. I
immediately noticed larger bubbles, and a marvelous warm blush pink color. I didn't find it to be as delicious as the Demoiselle, but by now I was too focused on dessert.
The passion fruit charlotte was superb, the uniquely sweet, slightly sour taste of the passion fruit, the cool creaminess combined with the chocolate crunch and the plump candied chestnut...insanely good. A dish to fall head over heels in love with.
Just when I thought I my senses couldn't be any more stimulated, Chef Jean-Louis, with his marvelous French accent announces “if you have a little champagne left, cook it with some bitter chocolate. It will make a wonderful body paint.”

And on that note, dear reader, I will leave you to your own romantic pursuits.

Restaurant Jean-Louis
61 Lewis Street
Greenwich, CT

Clarke Culinary Center
64 South Main Street
So. Norwalk, CT 06854


  1. Love your descriptions of the Valentine Class at Clarke. I feel like I was there with you!

  2. You have such am amazing way of capturing the moment. Bravo