So...today we'll take a break from GEV's Grecian adventure to tell you about all the awesomeness from Saturday night.
I live in Houston. This city is so huge, I can hardly keep up with all the activities that go on. But, I like to expand my horizons and try new things...and often times I drag my friends along for the ride...like the Kemah Crawfish Festival - that didn't exactly turn out well b/c they ran out of crawfish and I'm still not even sure how that could be possible. Before that we went to the Old Town Spring Crawfish Festival - that was such a big hit that we go back every year. (as you can see...I love crawfish and festivals). We tried an outdoor flea market at Discovery Green earlier this summer...and that was fun...we also stumbled upon Morris Day and The Time performing in the park that day....super cool. The International Festival is usually pretty dope too. I'm a big fan of the byob painting classes too. Even if the thing turns out to be not so awesome...we make it fun. It's really just an opportunity to do something different in a city where you can get caught up in a very mundane social life meaning: going out to the same places, seeing the same people, drinking the same drinks, etc.
In true GEV fashion, I was perusing the Travelzoo deals and found one for a cooking class at Quattro, the restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Houston. The deal was $149 for 2 and included unlimited wine and champagne, a 3 course meal, and instruction from one of the chefs at Quattro Restaurant on how to prepare the main course. Without hesitation, I purchased it and then started an effort to recruit a friend.
I cook all the time so this wasn't about "learning how to cook". This was more broadening my cooking repertoire and stepping outside the norm. We arrived and were seated at the Chef's Table with a group of about 12 people - couples and groups of girlfriends...and nice mix of really friendly people - all ready and raring to go for this Mediterranean themed cooking experience (appropriate b/c I just got back from Greece...ha). We strapped on our aprons and chef hats and were escorted into the kitchen.
Chef Hassan, pictured below, was our teacher for the night. After an introduction to the kitchen, the chef and some safety tips, we were slicing and dicing veggies - preparing them for the Portuguese Seafood Stew we would be preparing for our entrees.
I was generally just excited to be inside the restaurant's kitchen. I've had random aspirations to be a cook or even a baker. Plus, the kitchen was still fully operational while we were inside learning so I watched all the components working together...a behind the scenes look at how my dinner gets prepared and this life I've often contemplated.
Chef Hassan explained that we would be using a French country pot for the stew and that many of the techniques we would learn that evening would be derived from his education in French cuisine.
All our ingredients were lined up and with appropriate utensils (knives, spoons, cutting board, etc) and Chef Hassan coached us through how to dice the onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes. We took turns chopping cilantro and sipping champagne in between.
When we had prepared all the ingredients, we added the diced onions to a hot pan with olive oil and let it saute for a few moments then we added the garlic. Next we added the diced red and green peppers, then diced tomatoes, allowing those veggies to cook down and the flavors to get going in the pot. We deglazed with white cooking wine...added tomato paste and delicious lobster stock that had been previously prepared by the chef. He divulged the process of preparing the stock. The bodies of the lobsters are boiled with veggies and herbs for 6 hours. Then the bodies are removed from the water, ground up and strained three times to get all the flavor - that's the short version - but when you get at the end is this rich and delicious broth that really added depth of flavor to the dish. We put the lid on the pot, reduced the heat and let it simmer.
We added the pre-cooked orborrio rice...then the seafood....shrimp and white fish first since they were raw and the shrimp were huge....then clams and mussels. We covered the stew again.
Gratuitous chef's hat selfie time....
We had a chance to take our seats again to enjoy this delicious salad that Chef Hassan prepared for us. I'm not going to even try to describe all the ingredients. I recall tomatoes, watermelon, mozzarella cheese, there was a green colored puree at the bottom....seriously, I hate tomatoes but this was an incredibly delicious salad. What's even better is that the chef told us that he had just made the salad up for us right before they brought it to the table. We all nearly licked our plates clean.
Whenever I fall in love with a wine, I take a picture of the label so I can find it on my own. This bottle was served with our salads and it was divine.
After the salad, it was time to head back into the kitchen to finish off the stew and plate. Chef Hassan grilled some thick slices of bread...maybe it was ciabatta...not sure. He showed us how to use the seafood in the stew to make it look pretty.
Mine turned out really well (or at least I think so and that's all that matters). I must say, I was very impressed. The ingredients we used didn't seem that sophisticated on their own but when combined in the pot...they created something that we really outstanding. And, while I've created a variation of this dish at home on several occasions, the thing that really made this stand out was the lobster broth - something I will have to be sure to incorporate from now on. Well, maybe not the lobster broth because it sounds really complicated to make....I may just have to settle for store bought seafood broth.
After dinner, which was incredible and filled my stomach beyond its capacity, we were served this amazing dessert. I'm not a huge fan of chocolate....but I can't find words for this. I was too busy taking pics of it to remember exactly what it was but I know this...there was chocolate mousse, there was a rice krispy texture in the crust, there was mango sorbet on the side and oreo cookie crumble on top.
Overall this experience was really incredible and totally outside my norm, which was the whole point. Krystal and I were both super excited the whole time and it was reflected in our finished product. Chef Hassan provided us with easy to follow instruction, good for beginners and advanced cooks. I had a really phenomenal time and I'd do it again. What made it even better was a cool, diverse group and a chef with a great personality who seemed eager to teach us the things he knew and patient when people asked him a million questions. I shot a video too....see below.