Posted in Life, Los Angeles

Lobsters and liquid nitrogen: date night at the Athenaeum

The other Friday my husband surprised me with a date night!  He’d booked us a cooking class at the Athenaeum.

We arrived at 5pm and were presented with white aprons and ushered into the open courtyard. Each couple had their own table laid for dinner.  The chef’s station was up front so I immediately guessed we wouldn’t actually be doing any cooking ourselves.  The aprons did come in handy as extra large napkins though!

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As we sat down the music we used for our first dance at our wedding began playing.  If I could have remembered the steps we definitely would have busted out some moves. The clip below is from the movie Easy Virtue. (As an aside, this is how I like to think our wedding dance went, rather than the one where I constantly stepped on the train of my dress, and where we might have slightly forgotten the steps at the end!)

Annnyway, once everyone had arrived Chef Kevin introduced himself and immediately set about fishing squid tentacles out of big bucket and deep frying them.  The world’s quickest starter, on the plate in minutes: Salt and Pepper Crispy Calamari.

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The next most important thing on date night is to have a drink, and Chef Kevin didn’t disappoint. In honor of the world cup in Brazil, he made us Frozen Caipirinhas.  These Brazilian drinks are essentially pure Cachaca with a small amount of lime juice and water.  He froze the alcohol using liquid nitrogen, creating a great cloud of impressive stage-smoke (click for bigger pictures).

While we gradually got very drunk on these, the chef started preparing the Fig Bleu Cheese Candied Bourbon Bacon Flat Bread.  Apparently, the key to this dish is the contrasting flavors of the sharp blue cheese and the sweet fig, and sweet bacon.  To candy the bacon he brushed each slice with reduced Bourbon and coated it with brown sugar.  This tray went in the oven for about half an hour and came out (to my non-US palate) a bit like sweet, chewy cardboard, with a meaty flavor.  I’m not saying it was bad though…

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We were gratified to see that Kevin made the dough for the flat bread in an almost identical way to how my MIL taught us.  The only difference was he used honey, rather than sugar, to activate the yeast.  Then, using a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ batch of dough, some of us helped construct the pizzas.  After only minutes they were ready.  Just as the frozen Caipirinhas started to wear off the red wine started flowing.

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As we were hungrily eating the flatbread Chef Kevin moved onto the next item on the menu: Lobster Bucatini.  Essentially you cook the lobster (ask my friend Stéphanie to do it for you), pull out the meat, make a soup from the shells, cook the bucatini (thick spaghetti with a hole through the center) with the lobster bits and a bit of the soup, then make a little tower of everything (not the shells though, gross) using ring molds, then cook in the oven.  Easy. Ahem.

For the final savory dish of the evening (note to self, next time, don’t bother with lunch), we were shown how to make Garlic Accordion Potatoes and a Marsala sauce to go with the Porcini Crusted Beef Rib-eye.  The sauce was excellent and the porcini rub worked really well.  I don’t recall much that was difficult about this one except that when you’re cooking Portobello mushrooms (for the accompanying Grilled Seasonal Vegetables) you have to remove the gills as well as the stem. It was absolutely delicious and I was approaching bursting point by this time.

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Finally, dessert!  Chocolate Decadence with Sparkling Strawberry Soup! To make this tasty ‘soup’ you simply blend strawberries, sparkling wine, sugar and lemon, and strain.  Too easy.

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It nearly defeated me but I prevailed!

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The full menu for the evening is here.  We were provided with recipes for all the dishes, so we’ll be trying these ourselves (once we find a good source of liquid nitrogen and lobsters…).

Even though we didn’t partake in much cooking, this was a fantastic experience.  Not only was the food amazing, but having the chef cook it, and explain the process as he was going along, made the evening a memorable one.  We’ll definitely be back for another one soon.

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