Have you been to Elm in New Canaan yet? Yes, the same Elm that was named one of the best new restaurants in America by Esquire magazine and one and the same that snagged an “Excellent” review by New York Times. I have dined there a few times, and have thoroughly enjoyed the expertly treated seasonal ingredients in all their delicious glory.
Chef Brian Lewis is one of those people that inspire me on my quest for great food. His outstanding talent coupled with his friendly personality is a dynamite combination for me. While eating great food is a priority, it is equally important to me to be able to “tap into the mind of a chef”, so to speak - to understand why that chef cooks the way he/she cooks. I feel that it brings me a greater appreciation and understanding of the food I am about to eat. Chef Lewis makes it a point to come out of his kitchen during a dinner service to engage with his guests and to talk about what he has cooked that day and his inspiration for each dish - I love that about him. But I want more…
Now, to my delight, he is offering monthly cooking classes in his state of the art kitchen at Elm. You get to cook a delicious meal with chef Lewis and then sit and enjoy it with the whole group at the chef’s table. I attended the first cooking class last week with about 10 other yearning foodies. This class was on how to make healthy & delicious seasonal dishes featuring winter greens, roasted roots, citrus & grains, as well as salt-baked branzino.
This is a total hands-on experience designed to engage, entertain and encourage rookies like myself. Chef Lewis is a wealth of knowledge and he imparts it with great enthusiasm and patience. We learned how to respect nature’s bounty with delicate seasonings to bring out the very best flavors they have to offer. We roasted whole beets with just a touch of salt and pepper. We then made a simple goat cheese mousse and served the beets on top of the mousse along with a touch of homemade blood orange marmalade. What a stunning dish it made with vibrant colors in its presentation and well balanced flavor profile to taste.
We made gruyere crisps on the stove top instead of the oven using thinly sliced gruyere. Chef Lewis showed us a simple technique to roll them into a cylindrical shape, fill it with goat cheese mousse and serve with some greens to make a dynamite bite.
We learned the fascinating technique of cooking whole fish in “cemented” salt. Adding egg whites to kosher salt and burying whole fish inside it, complete with aromatics, created almost like a cement-like casing for the fish. Such a sealed casing does not allow any moisture to escape. The result is a superbly moist fish. This is more of a rustic style of cooking because it is virtually impossible to extract the fish from the hardened salt casing without breaking/flaking the fish. But, that to me, is the beauty of it. We quick-charred some winter greens on the grill and served them with some farro (which we cooked in a simple recipe using wine) and the salt-baked fish. The greens were dressed with a light and citrusy vinaigrette to cut through their natural bitterness.
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