Friday, December 30, 2016

Cooking School at the Ritz Paris

Several months back I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal on cooking vacations in anticipation of our upcoming trip to Paris.  The article had some suggestions of a few stand out culinary events to do and one of them was to enroll at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier for a class.  This would be a cool opportunity to go to a cooking class at one of the most famous hotels in the world the Ritz Paris.  I looked it up and booked it.  The Ritz Paris has recently undergone a 4 year renovation that cost over $450,000,000.  the hotel has only 159 rooms so there is a lot of personal attention paid to the guests.  This hotel is very pricey but if you ever have the opportunity to visit Paris it is worthwhile to at least have a drink in the Ritz Bar.  If you have the time I would definitely enroll at the cooking school.  The Ritz Hotel was founded in 1898 by Hotelier Cesar Ritz and Chef Auguste Escoffier. Everything about the food creation at the Ritz is like Chef Escoffier was still looking over the kitchen even though he has been dead for 80 years.  This was going to be a great adventure.

We met at the hotel and was taken downstairs to the where the school and the kitchens are.  The Kitchens are all brand new with the finest appliances that money can buy many are custom made to accommodate the culinary needs of the Ritz clientele.  There are 150 full time kitchen workers, this does not include wait and service staff.  So if you ask for any reasonable culinary masterpiece you will be assured to get it to make your stay perfect.
Our Chef instructor Chef Simon Manoukian and his assistant Muna greeted us and we were welcomed to the Ritz Ecole Escoffier.  Simon has been with the Ritz for 7 years and was recently asked to be the instructor for the Ecole.  There were three of us including my wife, the other lady Patricia was from Normandy and had been given this as 1 of her 12 monthly gifts for her 60th birthday.  Our class was to to prepare and make a 3 course meal focusing on seafood.  The kitchen was large and set up to give hands on instruction to groups.  Since we were only 3 we all had an opportunity to partake in all the preparation.  Our main ingredients today were Sea Bass and Langoustine, we were making a Starter of Langoustine Raviolis with a Seafood Sauce and Sea Bass with Chorizo Beurre Blanc Sauce and Mashed Potatoes.  Keep in mind we are starting from scratch so this is going to be quite an adventure.
The Seafood
First part of the recipe was to break down and fillet the Sea Bass.  This included removing the fins filleting the fish and removing the bones.  Even though I am the cook in the family, JoAnn made a much better effort than I did in filleting of the fish.  The breaking down of the Langoustine was more up my alley, first you snap off the head and if you are lucky you get the intestines to come with it.  You then need to remove the shell by pinching in the shell to break down the exoskeleton to make the tail meat easy to remove, you then you slit down the back to remove any of the remaining intestines and was in water.
Step 1 breaking down the seafood is now complete and just think that only took 45 minutes.  Time to prepare the Scallions and Herbs.  Need some knife skills for this and I have none.  But Simon showed us the technique of how to prepare the scallion by removing the top not the root and then removing the hard skin, then splitting it lengthwise in half.  You fan it lengthwise but not all the way with several cuts and you split it width wise in half so you can then easily dice the scallion.  We then chop the herbs and put them aside with the scallion.  From there we take all the shells and start creating a broth in an iron pot with oil.  The Pan must be very hot in order to simmer the shells to bring out some of the great flavor, we then add some brandy the whole time you are stirring to keep developing the flavor of the stock.  One of the things to remember is not to add any salt because you can rely on the salt that is naturally in the shells.  You then add some whole pieces of garlic, some butter and then whole cream not that half and half stuff.  At that point you just let it simmer for the next hour.
We then made the raviolis there was some prepared pasta squares that we placed the whole langoustine tail in, then brushed some yolk on the square to adhere the other pasta square in order to make the ravioli.  Once you assure there is no air getting into the ravioli you then seal it with a round press and then cut it with a larger round press. This is very time consuming at this point we are 2 hours in and have not even started making the potatoes or finishing off the ravioli sauce.  You all of a sudden realize why a meal in a fine restaurant costs so much even though a professional is twice as fast it still takes hours to prepare to the point of finishing and plating the meal.
We then prepare the potatoes to be pureed for the potato mash, yes I know I mixed two preparations.
Chef Simon
 First of all great chefs cook the potato with the skin on, why? Because it keeps the nutrients in and is easier to peel when they are fully boiled.  You just pick up the potato with a cloth and pull of the skin and then take your knife to remove any of the dark spots so your potatoes are white.  You can then either puree them or smash them.  Pureeing is time consuming but assures that the potato is fine and not lumpy.  To finish them off you add olive oil and cream chive, salt and pepper.
Time to finish the seafood sauce for the ravioli.  By now it has been simmering for 1 hour and a foam has accumulated at the top this foam is the impurities from the shells and it needs to be scooped off.
This is not a three swipes and you are done task this takes 10 minutes of slowly grabbing us much foam as possible to ensure the quality of the sauce.  When that is done we remove the shells and strain it twice once through a strainer that catches the big stuff and through a very fine strainer that picks up all the
Making the Ravioli
small stuff.  At that point you have a finished sauce.
Time to make the Chorizo Beurre Blanc first we take our shallots and combine it with white wine and the prepared herbs and fully reduce then add a little lemon and several sticks of butter a little at a time while whisking so it does not separate.  After 10 minutes take cooked chorizo and add to the sauce to get the spicy taste strain the the shallots, herbs and chorizo away and put aside for the fish.
Langoustine Ravioli
We now boil the raviolis for 3 minutes and when done put on a baking sheet with wax paper that has olive oil on it to prevent sticking.  Heat up a skillet with a little oil drop a fillet in it take your spatula and hold down the fillet so it does not curl cook both sides for 2 minutes each.
Sea bass with Chorizo Beurre Blanc
It is now time for final preparation take a bowl place 4 raviolis in a circle making sure to keeping the sides in the bowl generously put the seafood sauce on place some prepared herbs and flower petals on the plate and wipe down any remnant sauce that may be on the rim.  Then take a dinner plate and place the fillet of Sea bass down and take some forms to place the potatoes in. The form can be round, or rectangular any shape will do to make the perfect plate.

Finally get to eat
The Graduates
It is now time to eat, by this time you have been cooking for 4 hours and you realize that you are hungry and want to sit down with your new found friends at the school.  This is a great cooking experience, the staff is first rate and the kitchen is second to none in the world.  I only wish that i can go back.  Just 30K will buy you a 19 week course at the school from that you could start a whole new career.