Hail to the Chef


My friend, Arline, is to ordinary household cooks as Hollandaise sauce is to Heinz. What better birthday tribute for her than a cook-a-thon with friends and family at the Institute of Culinary Education? For travel,  think a trip to NYC’s West 23rd Street.

Before the party, invitees emailed photos and recipes that were bound into a album.  On the big night, after toques and aprons were distributed, we assembled in the ICE kitchen to cook our dinner with assistance from the charming, helpful  staff. My group  made Tarte Flambe with Ricotta, Onions and Bacon;

Tarte with Frisee Salad

another dealt with Pecan- crusted Beef Tenderloin with Port Reduction accompanied by  Herbed Spaetzle and Maple-roasted Brussel Sprouts while a third table worked on Chocolate Bread Pudding with Rum Sabayon sauce.

Searing Beef Filet

Much of the pre-prep work was done by the school’s staff, i.e, we the tarte team got crisp bacon and pastry in sheets. There was still plenty of  actual cooking:  onions  to dice and sautee; puff pastry to prick, load with layered ingredients and bake; spaetzle to make from scratch. The beef team flamed; the bread pudding confab cracked and beat eggs before mixing them with milk, additional egg yolks and brown sugar, never mind the tension of removing the puddings from the ramekins. Everyone got high marks for “works and plays well with others.”

Flaming Filet

Cooking in a professional kitchen isn’t quite like at home–most of us don’t have always-sharp knives like ICE, nor  dozens of spotless prep boards or several multi-burner ranges (or a clean-up  crew!)  When we sat down to enjoy the feast, we toasted Chef Arline, everyone at ICE and ourselves for a delicious dinner and a terrific evening.

Arline Separates Eggs

When I cook any of these recipes again, I’ll have to manage solo and will miss both the camaraderie and having soiled utensils whisked away.

Pecan-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Port Reduction (4 servings)

For the crust: 1/2 cup toasted pecans, 1/4 cup bread crumbs, 2 Tbls. melted butter, 1 Tbls. minced parsley.

For the beef: 4 filet mignons, 6-8 oz. each; canola oil; salt and pepper

For the sauce: 1/2 shallot, peeled and minced; 1 1/2 cups ruby port; 1 1/2 cup veal stock; 1 tsp red wine vinegar; 1 tsp. sugar; 2 Tbls. butter

1.Place pecans in food processor and pulse until fine. Add rest of crust ingredients and pulse briefly to combine. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Heat oven to 400. Warm a large saute pan over high heat. Add enough canola oil to lightly cover bottom of the pan. Season filets with salt and pepper. Place filets in pan and sear 2-3 minutes per side. Place filets on a sheet tray and top with pecan crust. Finish filets in the oven just before serving, 10-12 minutes for medium rare.

3.Pour off excess oil from pan and discard. Add shallots to what is left and cook briefly, 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Deglaze pan with port and reduce the wine by half. Add veal stock, vinegar and sugar. Simmer sauce until it has velvety consistency. Whisk in butter and season with salt and pepper.

And this, friends, is why one entry in the group recipe book called for a single ingredient: a telephone with which to make a dinner reservation. Bon appetite!

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