Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cooking Class, Carribean Style

This morning, Joseph had a special treat for me - market shopping trip in downtown Soufriere and a cooking class with the Executive Chef Orlando Satchell at the Dasheen Restaurant at the Ladera Resort.

There were 12 of us and I really didn't know what to expect. We took a short mini-bus ride out, with the Chef nattily dressed in madras shorts, and a Ralph Lauren polo, and dark sunglasses to complete the ensemble.

the market was not as crowded to dirty as I had imagined. It's by the water on a concrete slab. Various people had stands and they were not crowded or that many things. Most of the tables had similar items: mangos, dasheen (which is the root bulb at the end of the Callaloo which is a chicory and which I regulary saute like mustard greens), the christophene (also known as the Chayote, that you cook up like a squash), pumpkin (not the halloween pumpkin we all think about), sugar cane, tamarind (which was delicious right out of the pods), ginger root, cilantro with giant leaves, tumeric roots (which looked liked little ginger - no surprise since it is a part of the ginger family), cabbage (small and perfect), chinese cabbage (aka bok choy but it was long and thin and leafy), vanilla pods (I thought about trying to sneak some into the US but changed by mind), fresh nutmeg - the outside spicy, peppery mace, and the inside nutmeg, cocoa bars, and lots of spices (we got every one). There was also a fish station and a butcher station for beef only. That was more interesting than I care to say... We ended the market tour by drinking fresh green coconut water and scraping the soft coconut jelly from the inside of the young coconut - just like I love to do when I travel to India.

We also went to a small bakery to see how the traditional creole bread was made. There was little sign with "BAKERY OPEN" in red. You turned into a house and walked a long, thin, whitewashed corridor that opened up into a space the size of a small closet, that oepned up to a left to yet another small closet and inside was a man with Popeye arms, kneading and rolling dough, with rising dough all around him, a hot clay over going strong. It was amazing. We ended up purchasing a loaf and it was fabulous! So simple. I have to figure out how to make simple breads.

Oh, I should also mention the peanut butter ice that Chef Orlando bought for us. Peanut butter and evaporated milk, frozen into little baggies with ties. You bite off a corner of the plastic bottle and out comes the most delicious peanut buttery milky sweetness. I didn't have a lot. Do you know how caloric sweetened condensed evaporated milk is??? Yah. But I did plot and plan on how I could replicate it when I got home... only serve it in bowls for dessert as opposed to plastic baggies with ties.

After the market, we arrived back at the hotel and had about 30 minutes to relax before the cooking class.

The cooking class was more of a selective demo than a class. There wasn't room for much more. Chef Orlando talk a lot about the island's fruit and vegetables, and how organic is best, how to eat locally, using spices in abundance and not being afraid to use spices other than salt and pepper ("salt and pepper are not spices"). Using Lamb and fresh mahi mahi, Chef Orlando selected people from the group to cook. I didn't care that I didn't get to cook, I was more interested in learning about spices, shedding old notions about how things should be combined, being adventurous with herbs, etc. The end products were absolutely delicious.

There was also a rum guy from the island's only rum factory (distillery??), where they make 12 different types of rum. He made us four drinks which we all shared. And one was a simple banana liquer over ice, like a Baileys over ice, only with banana which was absolutely heaven. We already bought one bottle but if we go to the airport and have a chance to buy another two or four, I will do so!

It was good to see the rum and how they are made. Chef Orlando also used the various rums in some of the cooking - the alcohol burns off but imparts the final delicate flavor which added a definite island character to the food.

He ended by giving us some recipe handouts, and said that he would have a book coming out soon. We will definitely get that book. He mentioned at the beginning that recipes are merely "guidelines." You read it, and then you use it as a guide, but you should always change it about with what is local, what is fresh, what you have on hand, and add your own personality to the dish. I smiled. That is how I cook. I don't think I've ever followed a recipe since the first dinner I made in 7th grade. It's good to know that I am on the right track.

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