John & Brenda's Excellent European Adventure - Part Deux travel blog

Presentation Of The Pan-Fried Sea Bass

The Nordgren's Ready To Eat

Chef Jim Prepares A Dessert

Our Completed Strawberry Compote With Homemade Basil Ice Cream

August 2, 2011

After a tasty continental breakfast we hit the ground running on our first full day of school. Our lunch was to be our first project and Chef Jim began with some “cheffy” knife skills as he trained us on halving plum tomatoes, showing us a little secret on where exactly to slice the tomato for best presentation. The tomatoes were for our lunch dish of the day, oven-dried plum tomato tarts with basil mascarpone. After slicing, they went into the oven for cooking and drying.

Our next project involved fish, which I’m not exactly fond of but which I promised Brenda I would eat if it was on the list. The fish was sea bass and our morning project was to scale, fillet and pin-bone the market fresh fish, taking care, as Chef Jim admonished us, not to “waste the very expensive flesh”. Our dozen aspiring chefs managed to avoid personal injury while performing the rudimentary surgery of filleting with incredibly sharp knives…failing eyesight and shaky aging hands, however, made pulling out pin bones a real challenge. All the fish leavings (head, bones, fins, etc.) went into a stock pot to be reduced from fish stock/broth down to an intense fish sauce over the following 6 to 8 hours.

Chef Jim’s next lesson was to make the salad dressing for the green salad that would accompany our tomato tarts. Robert and I were amazed at the simple basic ingredients but even more impressed at the deliberate sequence in which they were combined; as Robert said, “I’ll never buy another prepared bottle of salad dressing.” We followed with final preparation of our tomato tarts, with puff pastry, goat cheese, basil and black olives which were popped into the oven for about 10 minutes and then topped with a spoonful of shredded basil and mascarpone cheese (hungry yet?). Combined with our green salad and home-made dressing, it was a wonderfully fitting French lunch in the courtyard…and we’d made it ourselves!!!

Our afternoon session focused on the reduction of our fish stock to sauce consistency and the preparation of three flavours of homemade ice cream; basil (ice cream?!), cinnamon and black pepper (what?). We also prepared sliced bulb fennel and Ratte (fingerling) potatoes to accompany our fish. Our final menu item was strawberry compote, reduced from fresh market strawberries, to go along with the basil ice cream. Cooking our sea bass was divided into two groups because of the critically short timing and stove requirement involved. The sea bass was cooked skin-side down for 2 minutes and flipped for one more minute…cooked to perfection. Accompanied by the pastis and crème fraiche fish sauce and served over the potatoes and fennel bulb, it was truly a Cordon Bleu experience.

Because rain had started, we rescued the outdoor table setting and ate inside in the large dining room…by the time we had finished our strawberry compote and basil ice cream, the skies were lit up by lightning and the windows shook with thunder. It didn’t let up by bedtime and we were soaked after the mad dash across the courtyard to our beds.

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