Monday, March 19, 2012
Baby, Light My Fire
A successful marriage requires falling in love over and over again, always with the same person. A successful relationship with cooking requires a similar cycle of commitment to keep the excitement alive. But when the fire goes from a blaze to a simmer...if the sizzle seems to fizzle, where does a conscious cook find a fresh muse to fan the flames of desire?
Education leads to inspiration and my propensity for fresh inspiration led me to the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Like so many heart and soul weary travelers before me, I seek solace from the sea. The briny air and crashing surf never fails to relight my internal flickering embers. And I had read that the hotel offered cooking classes as one of their many guest activities. I hoped that this notable change of scenery would bring a blush to my cheeks and new purpose to my non stick pan.
The Ocean House has only recently risen from the ashes of it's own extinguished fire, after gradually disintegrating over the past century into a dismal state of decrepit disrepair. But just like the proverbial Phoenix, she rose up to take on new life. Morphing into a glorious grande dame, the hotel is perched high atop a bluff, a sensational sentry presiding over the tiny seaside community of Watch Hill.
A resurrection of such magnitude required great passion and great amounts of money. Enter Charles Royce, a man with an intense adoration for Watch Hill, the sea and a superior quality of life. When it was determined that the original structure could not be salvaged, Royce infused 140 million dollars into the project and had the building replicated, adding sumptuous and spectacular modern details, while paying homage to the eternal elegance of an upscale New England seaside experience.
The Ocean House reaches out its beautiful, welcoming arms and envelopes you in an embrace so warm, comforting and luxuriously attentive that you melt, almost on contact, with the place. This is a haven where new fires are lit, even in the kitchen, where this weekend's class was FLAMBE! How perfect for relighting fading flames!
Flambe, a French word meaning lighted torch, employs alcohol, a bit of flame and a deft hand to bring a dash of drama to cooking, desserts in particular. Not commonly offered in restaurants today, flambe is elegant and sophisticated, and apparently quite manageable in the home kitchen!
The class was held in the “Club Room”, a luxurious lair usually reserved for “members” and “invited guests”. What a decadent, delicious room, resplendent with gleaming wood paneling, rich red leather chairs, immense pieces of coral and oversize seashells dipped in shimmering silver and rare artwork lining the walls. Perfect for a fine cigar and a snifter of Delamain le Voyage cognac!
And presiding over the zinc topped bar (shipped from Paris, exclusively for this very room) was Dean Gardiner, lead bartender. He, along with Henry DeMartino, restaurant manager and class instructor, work closely together to create exciting recipes for these classes, utilizing unusual combinations of exotic liquors, fresh herbs, berries, fruits and other vibrant ingredients.
Henry, a culinary impresario, Johnson & Wales trained, declared as he plunged a fork firmly into a large lemon wedge, “I believe there are 2 heats.. high and off,” and with that, fired up his presentation! Commencing with Cherries Jubilee, a classic dish first introduced in the late 1800's, Henry's very modern take incorporated maraschino cherries soaked in Luxardo, an intoxicating cherry liquer. As he dissolved sugar and orange juice in a saute pan, Henry admonished that “using cornstarch is cheating, let the sauce come into it's own!” After reducing the sugar and orange juice, Henry, now rapidly warming to his subject, added the cherries, a bit of Luxardo, and orange zest and let the mixture simmer for a minute.
Removing the concoction from the burner, Henry added brandy and like a true pyreman of the pan, tipped and swirled and brought forth a perfect flame! Brava, Henry, Brava!
When the flammables subsided, Dean handed Henry dishes of home made sour cream ice cream. Henry ladled the cherries atop the ice cream, which immediately yielded to the warm sauce and created a mouthgasmic puddle of sweet, creamy cherriness. Oh my, yes, yes, yes, I was feeling that familiar flush.
For his final hurrah, Henry prepared the ever impressive Crepes Suzette, an ambrosial dessert that was a particular favorite of certain English royalty. Henry reached for the fork impaled lemon, added butter to the pan and began swirling the lemon about, “to leach the lemon oil out”, he advised. Sugar, orange juice and lemon juice quickly followed. “You want to build the depth of this dish” Henry said, as the room quickly filled with the seductive scent of of sinfully rich butter and sugar. “Today I am adding Navan, a Grand Marnier with vanilla”, Henry said grinning, “this was Dean's suggestion, and you are the first to try it this way!” Henry added the Navan to the now caramelized sugar mixture, and the aroma caused both teacher and observers to swoon a bit.
Dean handed Henry a plate of thin, golden crepes, which Henry folded into triangles, then placed in the pan and carefully caressed with sauce until they were well coated. Removing the pan from the heat he added a measure of brandy and with his conflagratory finesse, brought the pan back to the heat and voila, a brilliant flame!
Crepes Suzette is music in the mouth, a song of such beautiful balance, it may make you both weep and smile simultaneously. Close your eyes, breathe quietly and experience the rare, elusive effects of pure sybaritic satisfaction.
Isn't that what falling in love should taste like?
Oh Henry, you matchmaker you!
I can't completely promise that I will ever actually attempt flambe on my own, but Henry, Dean and the Ocean House have given me the inspiration to bring new fire to my kitchen and my commitments!
One Bluff Avenue
Watch Hill, Rhode Island