I had the honor and privilege to take part in this year’s New York Culinary Experience at the French Culinary Institute. It was an incredible weekend that had me cooking alongside of some of the world’s best chefs. Some of the chefs that participated in this year’s event included: Marcus Samuelsson, Alain Ducasse, Morimoto, Bill Telepan and Alexandra Guarnaschelli to name but a few. The two day event began at 10:00 am on Saturday, October 2 and ended late Sunday afternoon with a champagne reception.
My first session was a class taught by Chef Michael Lomonaco. Chef Lomonaco is a bastion of the New York culinary scene. He has worked in such famed establishments as Le Cirque, The 21 Club and Windows on the World. He is currently Chef/Partner at Porter House New York at the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. Chef Lomonaco has also written two cookbooks and is no stranger to food television where he has hosted two shows.
Chef Lomonaco’s class focused on braising. We cooked two recipes that used this wet heat method. When I say cook I mean cook. Chef Lomonaco talked us through, but we did all of the leg work. Our first recipe was Mustard Glazed Beef Short Ribs. And the other recipe was Braised Lamb Shanks with Apricots and Almonds. All of the meat we used was from Niman Ranch. We also did two sides which were Red Chili-Monterey Jack Smashed New Potatoes and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.
Chef Lomonaco said he is a fan of comfort foods and that was why he decided on these recipes. We started the short rib recipe by searing the ribs in a large sauté pan to give them some color. The ribs had a nice layer of fat. Chef Lomonaco said that the fat is important to the dish. He said that the way to remove the fat is actually at the end of the cooking process when you degrease the sauce by removing the grease that rises to the top with a ladle. He actually recommended eating the dish after 2 to 3 days so that the flavors really concentrate.
Once the ribs were seared, we removed them and added the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the same pan. Once the vegetables started to turn translucent, we then added tomato paste and red wine. From there we put the ribs and the vegetables into a bigger pot. We covered the ribs with chicken stock. We put the pot into a 350 degree oven, where it cooked for about 2 ½ hours. Chef Lomonaco made the point of telling us that even though it had quite some time to cook, we should not forget about it. We should instead check on the progress every so often, which we did. About halfway through the cooking, we put a lid on the pot to prevent too much liquid from reducing from the pot.
As the ribs were cooking, we began our second braised dish of the lamb shanks. These shanks were huge. Chef Lomonaco said they were hind shanks, which explained their size. Fore shanks, which you usually find in supermarkets, are noticeably smaller. This was recipe reminiscent of North Africa. Chef Lomonaco said that it could have easily been done in a tagine. We started the dish by sweating the mirepoix (onions, carrot and celery). Once they started to turn translucent, we removed the vegetables to a bowl and began on our shanks. We rubbed our shanks with beautifully aromatic spices including: cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, paprika, cloves and cumin. Chef Lomonaco said the kitchen was beginning to smell like the Marrakesh Express. And yes he has the Crosby, Stills & Nash song of the same name on his iPod. We seared the shanks on all sides. We then removed them and added the vegetables to the pot. Once the vegetable started to brown, we added apricots and sugar. We cooked the mixture for a few minutes until the apricots started to wilt. We then added white wine and balsamic vinegar and cooked it until it reduced by half. The lamb shanks were added back to the pot and we added chicken stock until the shanks were submerged. The pot was covered and placed into the oven to cook for at least 2 hours.
We also made two straightforward side dishes to go with the braised meats. Throughout the class, Chef Lomonaco was very hands on. He was constantly walking around the classroom, answering questions and helping the students where he could. Chef Lomonaco also had some great advice for the class. He said that it is important to “be flexible in the kitchen and in planning”. Sometimes you have to think on your feet and we should realize that there is nothing wrong with this. If you make a mistake, throw it away and start from scratch. This is how you learn.
On the subject of consumer pots and pans, Chef Lomonaco said to be cautious of the boxed sets. Many times those sets have items you will never use, that goes for lids. Chef Lomonaco said that you never see lids in a restaurant kitchen. Instead you make use with what you have, which can be a piece of aluminum foil or another pan. He said that it is best to pick and choose the pots and pans that you want and will use.
Getting back to the braising of meats, Chef Lomonaco was firm in getting across the point that the braising liquid should never be boiled, instead it should be simmered. By boiling the liquid it actually toughens the meat instead of tenderizing it. The steam heat caused by the braising penetrates the proteins more efficient than direct dry heat, such as sautéing or grilling.
Toward the end of class, Chef Lomonaco plated up each of the dishes to show what it might look like if it was served at a restaurant. The plating of the dishes was exquisite and everything sure tasted marvelous. I especially loved the North African/Mediterranean flavors of the braised lamb shanks. Chef Lomonaco ended the class by answering any last minute inquiries and taking pictures and signing aprons of the students. Exiting the classroom, I knew this was the start of an unforgettable weekend.
Mustard-Glazed Beef Short Ribs
Stay tuned for Part 2 of My New York Culinary Experience which will focus on my class with Chef Ben Pollinger of Oceana Restaurant! Enjoy!
Living to eat,