All too often cooking is a means to an end. We grab our pots and pans and a cacophony of stainless steel echoes throughout our houses. Dinner must be ready by such and such a time, so we can complete tasks a, b, and c and eventually collapse in a heap. So, last night when my husband and I made our way into the Dirty Apron we broke the cycle, if only for a little while.
I was fortunate to have won two spots for us through the B.C. Dairy Association‘s “Get Your Hands Dirty” contest. I had to submit some ideas for how to cook locally and then had my name drawn at random, along with several other winners whom we met at the class. We were introduced to one another in a beautiful room with antique chandeliers and long wooden tables. Sparkling wine and hummus and eggplant dip with small pieces of baguette graced our lips as we took it all in. I felt very relaxed and would have been quite content to sit and sip the evening away, but soon we were led into the kitchen and watched what we would be making.
Chef David Robertson greeted us and began by showing us how to make our dessert, chocolate pate. We began with dessert first because it had to sit in the fridge for two hours and set before it could be served. As you can guess from its name, this was not a particularly low-calorie sweet. It was pure indulgence of the Julia Child, “everything is better with butter”, variety. And, as I folded melted chocolate into layers of whipped heavy cream, I heard a voice in my head mutter something about the hours in the gym it would take to burn it off. I quickly silenced it by tasting some of the residue in my bowl after watching the rest of the chocolate cascade into the most adorable mini loaf pan.
Then, it was onto the first course, poached sablefish with buttered crab. Yes, butter. The Dairy Association was the sponsor, after all. We also used a variety of fresh herbs, including tarragon, which I had never tried fresh before. The dish was not difficult to make and I did learn how to plate it attractively, which is something I normally don’t spend much time on, especially if I am the one eating it. It was certainly nice to sit at the table and then dig in. It was fantastic. The combination of flavours I think had more to do with this than my abilities as a cook, though. I also enjoyed another glass of wine and good conversation with my classmates.
The next dish was venison. I’m not a huge red meat fan and I have to admit I would probably never eat Bambi again, but the sauce that went atop him will certainly go in my repertoire. Shallots, garlic, red wine, cassis, beef stock, and salt and pepper. Reduce all of these to a syrupy consistency and you have pure heaven. I love shallots and garlic, so I didn’t even strain it. It also paired well with the celeriac puree that the chef made to accompany our main course. I also impressed others by getting my venison to stand upright on the puree, but I will let you in on a little secret: I put a prune wrapped with bacon under it just enough to secure it in place.
Finally, we decorated our chocolate pate with some rhubarb coulis and ribbons the chef had prepared. It was a very rich dessert that I was glad to pair with some English breakfast tea. We left at 9:30 p.m., clutching out “Dirty” aprons and butter-splattered recipes, very happy to have learned to take the time to make and taste something truly, uniquely ours.