Monday, April 19, 2010

L'Academie de Cuisine

A brilliant friend of mine suggested I take my lovely bride for some sort of cooking class for her most recent birthday. On went the "Google Machine" and voila..."L'Academie de Cuisine".

A weekend of food...and who could beat that? We were set to cook two lunches, instructed by the founder of the Academie (Francois Dionot). The setting for the class was at the Mercersburg Inn, in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Basically, a Bed and Breakfast where you eat a nice breakfast, work for 3 hours on lunch, serve each other with a 4 course sit down (accompanied by good wine of course), and then have the afternoon to our instance, they had a cool "Man Room" downstairs complete with a pool table. We found a stray husband (his wife was busy reading) and played "Cut Throat Pool" for 2 hours. Meg and I, exhausted, elected for a reprise in the form of a nap.

The Mercersburg Inn

On Saturday night, the chef of the Inn shows off with an elaborate 4 course dinner (with wine..hello!), don't forget cocktails before and afterwards in the great sitting room cozied up to a roaring comfy fire.

Chef's Dinner Menu...

Asparagus with a Blood Orange Creme Sauce...Divine!

Perfectly Seared Tuna with a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Braised Short Ribs and Roasted Rutabaga

The classes were on French technique, yielding French food. The two dishes I prepared were a shrimp, chicken, and shitake mushrooms in a shrimp broth, and a dessert. The shrimp broth..breathtaking, absolutely voluptuous, sexy, silky, and unlike anything I have ever made. The secret? Using the shrimp heads and shells along with saffron...making your own stock makes a dish that much better.

The dessert...hard to title...something like a "Galette with Creme Patissiere, Poached Rhubarb, and Star Anise Creme Anglaise". The Creme Anglaise I had made before...simply, "Frozen Custard". However, making a pastry creme to place in a pipetting bag was new (Creme Patissiere), and poaching Rhubarb was new as well. The Galette...a simple shortbread cookie.

Meghan was tasked to dicing many an aeromatic the first day for her grouper, roasted vegetables with a parsley taragon sauce. Hence, she was less than pleased that she got to practice knife skills. Add insult to injury when one of her classmates salted the Grouper 90 minutes before it was to hit the pan...Francois our chef...pissed and dish..Francois was right, do not salt until it's ready to cook..dry..yecch...more sauce please!

Fillet of grouper with fresh vegetables & parsley tarragon sauce

On day two, Meghan learned how to de-bone a duck..what fun! I was wicked jealous. Then she learned how to sear a duck breast. Unfortunately her group lost out again when an overconfident student decided he knew what he was doing and overcooked the breast...hence, more yelling by again. The result...not medium rare, but still, they recovered with the Aus Jus...dang..roasting bones for duck stock works, who woulda known?

Pan Seared Duck Breast, Parsnip Puree, Duck Aus Jus

The weekend was a blast. We met a lot of new people, learned quite a bit about cooking from scratch, making stocks, de-boning ducks, and racks of lamb...invaluable tools towards becoming better cooks (and better people in my opinion). And although the chef sometimes yelled when you messed up, he did it for the passion of the ingredient and the dish it became. To paraphrase Chef Dionot, "A recipe cannot teach you to make a dish, you have to learn by making it, and then making it many times again." We were absolutely blessed to have such a talented and passionate chef (along with his sous-chef daughter and wife) take the time to help us learn French cuisine.

The experience was invaluable and recapitulates the respect we have for the culinary world. In many ways cooking has been glamorized by "Food Network" and "Top Chef", and in many ways these shows have brought cooks back to the kitchen. For Meghan and I, cooking is our way to communicate and work together, a way to strengthen our friendship and marriage. Food is our passion, and it was a pleasure to spend such a weekend with a group of passionate foodies and chefs willing to make us better at what we love to do.

Best Scallops I have ever had! "Pan Seared Scallops with a Three Potato Risotto"

"Galette with Creme Patissiere, Poached Rhubarb, and Star Anise Creme Anglaise"

"Shrimp with Poached Chicken, Shitake Mushrooms in a Shrimp Broth" Holy Schmokes was the Broth the best part of lunch!

Meg had fun!

The Shirt Says, "Bacon, It's What's for Dinner"

Before our Chef's Dinner


  1. Yummy looks and sounds like you guys had a wonderful what 's for dinner, I'll bring the wine. Is Boones Farm OK, I've heard the strawberry flavored white is light and refreshing ;)

  2. Boone's farm would be great!