Friday, March 26, 2010

CIA Culinary Arts Boot Camp, day 3

Everyone in Napa Valley seems to like CIA students.
My classmate Joy from San Diego is very passionate about Cakebread Cellar’s wines, so, trusting Joy’s taste in wines, and having come to the Valley an hour before the class, I stopped by the Cellar. I had never been there before. The sign at the entrance says “Tasting by appointment only”, and this always scares me.

This time, I walked right in and asked if it was too late to make an appointment for right now, because my classmates at the CIA like the wines, but the class starts in an hour. It wasn’t too late. They didn’t charge me anything – CIA students are always welcome, we love food too - and sent me to the cellar right away.

The winery is proud of its food-friendly wines; the tasting notes for each wine have a food pairing recipe printed on the back. My favorites are 2007 Carneros reserve Chardonnay, big and complex enough to go even with red meats (suggested pairing: Spanish chicken with chorizo, clams, and prawns; my suggestion: duck confit with baked apples), and 2006 Syrah, that goes from dried fruits to chocolate to coffee and has a dynamics of an end of a meal (suggested: moussaka; I would just have it before or in place of a dessert). They also have cooking and food pairing events through the year.

After tasting, I checked into El Bonita motel in St. Helena, to avoid the drive home and back tomorrow. The cheapest room was $120, after mentioning my CIA class I got it for $90. I got double lucky with the motel, because it began to rain later, and what is a longish but beautiful drive in the dry weather is no fun at all in the rain, and also because the next morning I got to school early enough to observe chef Lars Kronmark’s charcuterie workshop.

The day’s topics were sautéing, roasting, and the cuisine of the South Mediterranean.

For two hours I fought with a brand-new Viking oven, trying to get a decent temperature for my lemon and herbs roasted chicken. After an hour at what the oven thought was 450 degrees and another hour at “350”, the breast and the drumsticks were perfectly cooked and still juicy, but the thighs were very pink at the bone, and they didn’t make it to the table. You may think it’s a Viking, but it’s still an oven. Can’t trust it.

The menu:

Grilled tuna ceviche tostada

Salsa de chile guajillo

Chile-grilled squid on sesame spinach

Persian roast chicken

Roasted chicken with lemon and herbs

Sautéed salmon with yogurt sauce

Sautéed salmon with Skordalia


Seasonal vegetables

Joy’s grilled squid, rings and tentacles cooked separately, came out as most tender squid I ever had. In the process she did destroy one hotel pan that she put on a hot grill in the absence of a grill basket, but I say it was worth it.

The pastry class only did cakes that night, no plated desserts, so I had to make do with foie gras for dessert. Chef Victor brought us torchon de foie gras that he had made in his other class. It didn’t come out quite right. They brought the liver to room temperature, deveined it, seasoned with salt, pink salt, and white pepper, rolled it into a log shape in cheesecloth, and buried it in rock salt for three weeks. It turned out that three weeks is way too long, and the liver came out too salty. So to balance it out, chef Victor served it on toast points with sweet and sour blueberry sauce, garnished with fresee. Still salty, but heavenly.

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