Tuesday 3 December 2013

Cooking Adventures

I got off work earlier than planned on Tuesday, so I was excited to have a free evening to do whatever I wanted. I called a few friends to see if anyone had plans. 'Babies,' was the answer. I guess those little guys take up a fair amount of time. After a few rejections, I opened my laptop and brought up the Events and Adventures calendar. I usually plan to go on events at least a week in advance, but I thought maybe I could jump on something last minute.

A gourmet cooking class was the event of the day. I remembered reading about it earlier in the month, but when I went to register, it was booked. It still showed full, but I put my name down on the wait list just in case.

Around 4:30 my phone rang. Ambrea, the event coordinator, explained that there had been a cancellation and asked if I still wanted to join. "Of course," I replied. "Great!" she said. "I'll see you at 6:45."

The venue was in South Burnaby, just off of Marine Drive, so a bit of a drive from downtown. The company was called KitchenRiddles - their slogan: "Where Cooking Isn't a Mystery." Personally, I think that tagline could use a tweak. Just saying...

I arrived about five minutes to the start time and was immediately ushered upstairs by Ambrea. Our group had already convened around a large table and I took a seat on the side. Ambrea was kind enough to initiate introductions and everyone seemed super keen to start. Two members had been to a similar event at the same location. They gave us a brief description of how the night would work, which was nice.

After a few minutes we were brought down to the main kitchen area in the back of the building.  The room had three large stainless steel table areas and a smaller table at the front for demonstrations. Each of the tables was setup for two participants on either side. Since I was a last minute entry, I was partnered with Ambrea, who is always a ton of fun. The women vastly outnumbered the men at this event, so each table group received one token male and three females. Great odds. Just saying…

Along one side of the room was a row of industrial fridges and open shelves full of kitchenware and basic ingredients. Along the other side were, I believe, eight four-burner gas stoves, with a single restaurant style fan for ventilation. The ceilings were two story’s high, which gave the room a nice open feel.

We were introduced to the Head Chef, Ben Kiely, and his two assistants, who were the owners and operators of the company. They made us feel right at home and explained the menu for the night. We would start with cutting up the ingredients for a simple sauce, then move on to homemade raviolis and finish with a dessert of lava cakes.

We were instructed to go back to our stations and start the prep for the sauce ingredients. We started with mushrooms, where I learned my first culinary tip of the night. Apparently, you are supposed to peel mushrooms before you cut them. Who knew? Well, I guess these guys did.
After the mushrooms we diced up some shallots and garlic. My hands were still smelling of garlic three days after the event.

As we worked, one of the assistants came around and took drink orders, serving wine and other spirits to the group. This was definitely a nice touch of sophistication.

After prepping our veggies, we gathered for a quick demonstration on how to make homemade pasta 'dough' I guess it's called. They went through the whole birds nest method, which seemed fairly simple, yet strangely complex. Thankfully they had already made our portions the night before.

Then we moved on to the pasta rollers, which would be used to thinly roll out our pasta for ravioli sheets. Again, this process looked simple enough, but back at our stations, it proved to be a little more difficult. Our filling would be a mix of mushrooms and ricotta. We were given a quick demo on how to make our own basic cheese from milk, but once again they simplified this process with providing premade ricotta.

Once we had rolled out our pasta into two or more long sheets, we portioned our filling and laid the top layer over our portion layer. To give it an added glue, we thinly basted the top layer with water. We were then given the option to use circular cutouts or pasta knives for squared ravioli. With a fork, we gently sealed each of the pockets and molded them to shape.

To keep the pasta from drying out, we dusted them with flour. I don't know quite how it happened, but the young woman working to my left, at the adjacent table, some how managed to pickup a definite flour handprint on the backside of her black dress. This had us all laughing and even brought a blush of pink to the face of our stoic Head Chef. We blamed the wine.

Back at the demo table we were shown how to make a simple sauce with cream and the ingredients we chopped earlier. Then we were shown how to cook the ravioli and a quick lesson on creating a salad/garnish of oil, balsamic and greens.

In our partner groups, we moved to the stoves and within minutes had cooked, plated and sauced our homemade pockets. With our dinner completed, we moved back upstairs with our wine to enjoy our labours. The filling was dynamite.

As we ate and laughed in the dining area, our hosts cleaned and prepared our stations for dessert. Amazing service!

After our meal, we returned to the cooking area and received a quick lesson on lava cake creation. More flour - more laughs. And chocolate…

We topped our cakes with chilled whip cream that we applied with piping bags. Delicious!
One of the ladies at our station was celiac and our chefs went out of their way to accommodate her. For the dinner round they made her a special salad with ravioli ricotta filling on the side. For dessert, they cut up a fresh mango and served it with cream.

At the end of the night, there were loads of extra cakes and cream. These were boxed and given to us in takeaway containers. Again…amazing!

We finished up with a big thank you to the chefs. They promised to email each of us the recipes we used that night. As a parting gift, they gave us two local foodie magazines and a simple flyer with their contact info and a list of their upcoming classes.

I walked to my car completely satisfied.

It was so nice to experience such a professional start up company.

An excellent business - An amazing evening. Definitely worth the booking inquiry to Ambrea.

Now if only they could work on that tagline. My suggestion: Kitchen Sleuths: "Taking the Mystery Out of Cooking."

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