Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Ateliers & Saveurs

A while back I had the opportunity to take a cooking course at Ateliers & Saveurs, so I booked two slots in the class and treated B as his Valentine's day gift. Now, rather than just tell him we were going, I decided to have some fun with it. The class was a few weeks after Valentine's, so to keep myself him entertained, I simply gave him a V day card telling him he would be getting a surprise on the date of the class. I then planned out a number of hints that I would give him every day to help him try and guess what the surprise would be. I started the hints off very vague, with things like "People will be watching" and "Dairy may be involved", then would be getting more specific the closer we got to the date. It took about a week or so before he managed to guess what we would be doing, party pooper... I didn't get to use all my hints! ;)

So on to the course...
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We were in a full evening class with a bunch of strangers, basically. Everyone had that slight deer-caught-in-the-headlights look about them as we didn't really know what to expect and everyone was second-guessing their kitchen skills. The instructor was a young chef (whose name I now can't remember) and he managed to be both entertaining and professional. For our meal, we would be making chicken with fingerling potatoes, mushrooms and a vegetable compote and a lava chocolate cake for dessert.

We were given a quick overview of the menu and how the kitchen worked, then split up into our various tasks. Some of us prepped the potatoes while others cut mushrooms and bell peppers. As we did that, a few others helped the chef to work on the chicken (sourced from a local Quebec farm). He explained that since they used a lot of duck in their classes, they had a lot of rendered duck fat that they used to cook other things, such as our chicken. Since we were cooking chicken with the skin on, we started by heating some duck fat in a pan and then browning the chicken before finishing it off in the oven. Our chef explained that duck fat is actually one of the better fats you can use (you can check out the details here if you like) and it can actually be reused! Once you've used it, you can strain out any bits and let it cool to be used again later, and will keep in the fridge for ages. While you should use all fats sparingly, this stuff is incredible with potatoes... if you use it for nothing else in your life, please try roasted potatoes with duck fat, you won't be sorry.

The veggies went quite quickly... the potatoes were parboiled first (don't boil your water before adding the potatoes... instead, put your potatoes in cool water and bring to a boil for more evenly cooked spuds!), then spread on a baking sheet with some oil, salt and pepper, a bit of fresh herbs and some lemon. All that was roasted in the oven at the same time as the chicken was finishing. The rest was done on the stove while we stopped for a glass of wine and to prepare dessert.

Chocolate lava cake is that dessert that seems impressive, but is really quite easy. Chocolate, butter, eggs, flour... you know, all the good stuff ;) It is basically a dense cake that is left slightly underdone, resulting in the outside being cake-like and the inside remaining 'molten'. The chef pointed out that when cooking with eggs, especially when making desserts, you should always add a pinch of salt to your eggs when whisking them. The salt will help break down the proteins in the eggs, which allows them to blend more evenly with the other ingredients. You can make the cakes in individual dishes such as ramekins, or you can simply do them in a muffin tin. Just be sure to use muffin liners or grease the tin really well; they can be tricky to unmold since the centers will remain soft.

All in all, dinner (and dessert) took about 45 minutes to prepare, and that was with us taking our time and stopping for the chef to demonstrate various things. When everything was ready, we each plated up our portions and sat down to eat. The table was laid with a variety of fancy salts and seasonings, but honestly, everything had been seasoned so amazingly well, not one of us added anything to our plates. While the menu sounded plain, I have to say that was the best chicken and potatoes I have ever had in my life. The chicken was perfectly cooked... golden and crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. The potatoes were gorgeous... I had never had fingerlings before, but they roasted up wonderfully and the herbs and lemon complimented the chicken perfectly. Likewise, the mushrooms and pepper compote added a soft earthy base to the overall plate. Probably the best commentary on the meal was the fact that, as we all dug in to our dishes, the table fell completely silent. No one could pull themselves away from the food long enough to strike up a conversation. When dessert came, I think all of us were rather full, but we couldn't say no to our delicious little chocolate volcanoes.

We all left there extremely satisfied, both with the meal and the overall experience. For the average joe, the course costs might seem a bit steep (variable, but seems to be between $60 and $80 per person), but it is, in my opinion, well worth it. For an evening course like ours, we had an hour of instruction and the rest of the time (about 2 hours) to enjoy the wine, meal and dessert. We had the satisfaction of participating in making our own meal as well as getting the recipes and techniques to be able to duplicate it at home. All for the same price we'd pay for a meal for two at some place like The Keg. If the cost of an evening course is a bit too much, consider one of their lunchtime courses, Gourmet Pressé, in which you prepare and enjoy your meal in about an hour for $20. If you're more interested in liquids than solids, they also offer bar-tending and wine tasting courses, so no matter what your interests or budget, they've got you covered.

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