(Original article appeared on my previous blog: my30before30.com)
Back in the Summer as I was planning for my wedding in France, my good friend Rosine surprised me with a day out getting pampered at the Spa! Come Fall, she announced that she would be getting married and I knew I had to organize an equally cool experience for her to celebrate her marriage!
We really bonded at work years ago when we would make lunches together by sharing our food. Multiple people would tell us to open up a catering business given how much we enjoyed preparing food (well, eating together really 😉 ). I know she had taken Pastry Classes at the Vancouver Pastry School, but I was fairly certain she had never been to the Dirty Apron Cooking School.
And so, I told her my idea and had her select the class that sounded the most interesting. They list a huge selection of hands on 4 hour cooking classses on their website and she went with “Ocean Fling – the Ultimate Seafood Class”
(This was the first dish of the day and my first time cooking halibut cheeks – so delicious!)
About The Dirty Apron: http://www.dirtyapron.com/
Born out of a passion for great food the school is owned by former Chambar Sous-Chef David Robertson and his wife Sara. David has a formidable background in classic French cuisines and teaches the majority of the classes, with guest and celebrity chef appearances peppered throughout the year.
From their website, this was the class description: Seafood is synonymous with summer, and this year we’re having an ocean fling. With our Ultimate Summer Seafood session, you’ll experience cuisine that’s big on flavour and easy on the hips. Reigniting your love for the ocean and all of its wonders, learn how to cook White Soya and Sesame marinated Yellow Fin Tuna with pressed Avocado and Yuzu foam, Pan-roasted Halibut Cheeks with Olive Oil-poached Prawns and Saffron Aioli, and seared Arctic Char with Lemon Confit and Nage of Summer Vegetables with crushed Potatoes.
Class started at 11:00 am on Saturday morning and I made sure not to eat much for breakfast 😉 Here I am approaching the front of the school, which is also connected to their delicatessen. This has to be my favourite block for food in Vancouver because it has my favourite Restaurant Chambar (newly renovated, went for my birthday and you can read about the food here) this school, and used to also house Cafe Medina, my favourite brunch spot!
Upon arrival, we were given our very own chef’s apron (which we even got to keep!) and helped ourselves to some tea and coffee. We were also presented with a folder with our recipes for the day that we would take home after everything was complete.
Beautiful demonstration kitchen with wolf ranges and all clad cook ware.
We got to see the chef prepare each of the foods right in right of us and she shared helpful tips along the way.
I’ve researched other cooking schools and classes around Vancouver and found several that are demonstration only. But here you learned skills through hands-on cooking. Everything was already pre-measured for you, but you did the slicing and dicing on your own.
For our first course, we actually made two items – butter and olive oil poached prawns and the halibut cheeks.
(Rosine getting ready – it was two people to a station)
The prep station – all the ingredients were really fresh and you could see the care that went into the quality of the food. To save time, the saffron aioli was already prepared for us, but we were given to recipe to create at home. Our instructor emphasized the importance of getting everything together and assembled before hitting the stove – the French term “mise en place”. Such a great way to stay organized, and ultimately be more efficient.
We seasoned the halibut cheeks with fennel and coriander seeds and then lightly doused them in some flour to help with searing and providing colour.
Look how generous those portions are 🙂
On the next element, we were getting our prawns ready. Our chef advised us that this method is best used for a larger dinner group, otherwise you’re using a lot of butter for just a one-time poached dish – this can be a bit expensive.
I loved that we were also given tips on plating. We all know that you eat with your eyes first and it’s fun getting creative with presentation.
As seen below, we simply scooped a dollop of the the aioli and then smeared it across the plate with the back of a spoon. Then we arranged the prawns so they were interlocking (called married prawns – how apropos!) and placed it next to halibut cheeks which were finished with a flavourful lemon and parsley sauce drizzled around the plate.
Pan-roasted Halibut Cheeks with Olive Oil-poached Prawns and Saffron Aioli
Once we cleaned the edges of the plates, we took our creations back to the main dining room which has a perfectly rustic atmosphere with the long wood table (reminds me of the elements I was looking for when wedding planning 😉
There was a large selection of drinks to accompany our food – from wine, beer, juice to sparkling or still water.
They allotted a fair amount of time to be seated, admire our work, chat with fellow participants and enjoy our food before calling us back in for the second course!
White Soya and Sesame marinated Yellow Fin Tuna with pressed Avocado and Yuzu foam
I’m one of those people that has openly made fun of foam on dishes – it seems like an ostentatious way to try to elevate a dish from mediocre to exceptional. I had a conversation about this practice at work recently and other ways of cheating, like when people sprinkle gold leaves on a dish *sideways eye roll*. Well on this day, I would eat my words of judgement because I thoroughly enjoyed this particular yuzu foam 🙂 It was thicker and had creamier texture with way more substance that any other airy forms I’ve seen before!
Now about the prep: First, we learned how you can freeze avocado and shape it into a presentable and artistic form.
Then we were given fresh sushi grade tuna along with 4 little silver cups filled with oils and condiments such as sesame oil, sesame seeds, panko flakes and shiitake mushrooms to then mix all together.
The yuzu foam was already prepared for us to use as a final garnish with a nice touch of sweetness.
Washed down my second course with a refreshing glass of pilsner
Third and final course:
Seared Arctic Char with Lemon Confit and Nage of Summer Vegetables with crushed Potatoes
By this time, I was pretty satiated, but eager to learn how to create this crispy arctic char dish. There are so many nutrients and essential fatty acids in fish skin but they often have a slimy texture and funny taste which results in me picking away at it. Today’s lesson would be to cook it so that the final dish would be appetizing and appealing – skin in tact.
We served the arctic char on top of a vegetable nage which is simply a butter broth. In French, nage means “to swim” and as shown below, the vegetables are swimming in a warm and savoury broth.
Delicious and healthy fish, searing nicely in the pan.
It was fun learning how to plate this as well, by arranging the asparagus spears and then building a base of vegetables before resting the filet on top.
I have now made this dish twice at home – it’s going to be a staple recipe through these chilly Winter months.
Luckily, they provided to-go containers because I was only able to take those first few bites above before submitting to the fullness of my stomach and putting my fork down.
Most of the classes offered feature a dessert course, but not this one because we had already made 4 different seafood dishes. Instead, they brought out simple scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. What a treat!
The Dirty Apron cooking class was a wonderful and memorable experience and it really is the kind of thing that’s worth the price for a special occasion 🙂 All the recipes we made were included in their newly launched cookbook as well!!
I’m definitely feeling more confident with cooking seafood and can say that I’ve stepped up my skills for the next round of Dinner Parties!
Anyone else taken these classes, or have other cooking school experiences to share?
Comment below, and stay tuned for more foods posts.