Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Millennium Cooking Class with Eric Tucker

Millennium in San Francisco is one of the top vegan restaurants in the world and has been headed by Executive Chef, Eric Tucker, for the past 17 years. When I found out that Eric was conducting monthly cooking classes at his restaurant, I knew I had to attend at least one. The opportunity to work with a great vegan chef is a rare one and an experience that could help shape my cuisine going forward.

Included in the price of the class is an opportunity to tour the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market in San Francisco with Eric the day before the class to help choose the items to use in the class. I, naturally, took the opportunity to do so. I won't spend a lot of time writing about the farmer's market here because I reviewed it separately in another post, but this tour was a great opportunity to learn about the farmers Eric most respects and why he likes their produce/products.  I chose some squash blossoms because I'd never cooked with them and wanted to learn how.  I was excited to see how Eric would incorporate them into the menu the next day!

On Sunday, we met in the private dining room at the Millennium at 10 a.m. sharp. Zach and I were greeted by Ann Wheat, one of the owners of the restaurant.  She told us to find our nametag at the table and to help ourselves to a beverage. She said that Eric was busy preparing breakfast. Soon, others arrived and we all found our seats. Aprons, chef coats, and recipes were positioned at each seat.

For breakfast, Eric had prepared vegan Beignets, which are French for "fritters." These fried cinnamon-spiced dough pastries were yummy and were a special treat as I'd never had a Beignet before! While we were eating, Eric ran down the schedule for the day and what to expect. Then, he took us on a tour of the kitchen.

We were divided into two groups of six people each. I was glad that Zach and I were on the same team.  Each team was assigned a certain area of the kitchen while we'd all have access to the oven, stoves, and grill.  We were each given a menu that consisted of 6 items for the day that was really more than 10 recipes when you broke them down! We were wondering if we'd be able to make all of these in the six hours we had for the class.  Each team was to cook each item with some variations, then we'd taste the items from each team to see how they'd compare. Each team was also assigned an instructor to assist. 

And with that we were off!  Our instructor gave us direction as to which recipes to start on first then we divided the tasks amongst ourselves. This is the way it works in a restaurant kitchen so we were getting a true restaurant cooking experience. Zach and a few others decided to tackle the grilled peach and spelt zucchini rum cake while I worked with others to prepare the panisse with almond garlic sauce.  My task in this dish was to prepare the almond garlic sauce. I started by boiling untoasted almonds along with garlic cloves for 15 minutes. Then, I made cumin oil by putting cumin in oil and cooking on the stovetop. Next, I took the almond mix and water and added the oil and salt and pepper. Lastly, I pureed this mixture together until I got a fluffy texture.

Zach appeared to be doing well with his peach dish so I switched to work on the squash blossoms. This recipe was not included on the recipe pages so I asked Eric to assist. He constructed a recipe for stuffed squash blossoms from the top of his head, which sounded amazing! I was basically going to stuff the squash blossoms with a tofu-corn mixture, then deep fry them!  We'd be topping them with a pesto and serving them with a salad. I spent most of the rest of my time carefully peeling open the blossoms and stuffing them with the mixture, then deep frying them. The whole team helped out as well!  Zach made the cilantro pesto sauce while we deep fried the blossoms.

My stuffed squash blossoms
Throughout the morning, Eric would call us together to show us a cooking method or explain the variation he had instructed the other team to make on a recipe. So, we were running around trying to get the recipes to come together while getting instruction as well.

Before we knew it, it was about 1 p.m. and we needed to start plating everything for lunch. Time just flew by!  Eric showed us the best way to plate certain items for a nice presentation, restaurant-style.  We finally got everything out on the tables and began to eat. For lunch, we prepared:
  • Panisse with Almond Garlic Sauce and Eggplant and Tomato Agrodocle (2 variations)
  • Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Cilantro Pesto and Salad (2 variations -- deep fried and cooked under flame)

It was so interesting to try the variations on the squash blossoms and panisse as they were so different. I liked both for different reasons!

Just as we were starting to digest our food, it was time to go again!  For the second half, Zach and I focused on the grilled abalone and enoki mushroom dish that was to be paired with a risotto. I started by preparing a vanilla glaze, which I coated the mushrooms with and grilled them on an open flame. This was so fun! Everyone was working on something different.  After several hours, it was time to eat again!  For dinner, we prepared:
  • Romano Beans with green olives (see recipe and picture below)
  • Vanilla Glazed Grilled Abalone and Enoki Mushrooms with a Potato Corn Risotto
  • Seared Snap Peas with Yuba and Custard Tofu

  • Grilled Peaches with a Spelt Zucchini Rum Cake and Rose Geranium or Lemon Verbena Olive Oil Sorbet

So much food, so little time!  We were also served our choice of several wonderful wines with dinner. It all turned out so wonderfully!

Here is Eric's recipe for "The Best Romano Beans":
  • 1 lemon sliced very thin
  • Sliced green olives
  • Slivers of garlic
  • Sprig of marjoram
  • EVOO
  • Salt and Pepper
Instructions are simple: braise the beans in a covered dish tossed with the mixture in an oven at 400-degrees for 60 minutes.

So in the end, the class was a lot of fun, the food was good, and I enjoyed the chance to work with Eric in his kitchen. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to the way this class was conducted though. The disadvantages are that you don't get to see how everything is made and you don't get to try to make each dish yourself. The advantages are that you get a real restaurant experience and you learn to work in a kitchen with others. I really enjoyed this experience and hope to do it again sometime soon!

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