By Andy J. Gordon
An interesting series of wine tasting and recipe demonstrations has been happening this summer in Santa Monica, sponsored by “Los Angeles” magazine and known as “Culinary College.” This one-night-each “college” course provides participants with the opportunity to learn expert techniques and taste fabulous, fresh dishes. The first event took place on June 17 and it featured Patrick Healy, executive chef/co-owner of the Buffalo Club; the last is on August 19, with Jason Travi, executive chef at Fraiche and Riva featured as the visiting chef.
I attended the July 15 event at Snyder Diamond (www.snyderdiamond.com/), a high-end home appliance and plumbing store at 14th Street and Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica, host to all the college courses. This “Taste of Asia” event showcased the talents of Andrew Kirschner, executive chef at Wilshire Restaurant; Bridget Bueche, executive chef for Sub Zero/Wolf appliances (shown above); and Ian Blackburn, the founder of www.LearnAboutWine.com.
Bridget started the evening in a beautiful demo-kitchen area. The welcoming wine was a 2008 Zaca Mesa Viognier from the Santa Ynez Valley (www.zacamessa.com). While attentive servers loaded trays with the first course, our glasses were refilled with a smooth, plummy Sweeney Canyon Pinot Noir (www.sweeneycanyon.com). Ian chose the wine to complement the small plates of salmon that Bridget had baked in a convection oven over cherry wood planks.
The charred salmon was served with local farmers market greens doused in an Asian vinaigrette. Bridget explained the techniques used to prepare the dish and the importance of selecting organically grown, sustainable ingredients. She had the audience laughing as she tried to pronounce the Japanese ingredients and cookware with her New York accent. The chuckling stopped and turned to yummy sounds when we tasted her next course, the delicious entrée. A slow-cooked top round of beef melded with organic Hokto, Maitake, King Trumpet, White Beech and Brown Beech mushrooms (find out more about those luscious mushrooms at www.hokto-kinoko.com) was combined with garlic-infused Asian broccoli and poured over rice noodles, creating an earthy broth that melted in my mouth. This dish was accompanied by a full-bodied, low tannin 2004 Semler Cabernet Sauvignon (www.MalibuWines.com) from the Saddlerock-Malibu AVA (and the wine we found nestled in our goodie bag at the end of the evening, too).
After Bridget’s presentation concluded, we moved on to a high-ceilinged open space at the back of the store. Another demonstration kitchen area was set up along with several linen-covered dining tables. Nick Fielding, the General Manager at Wilshire Restaurant (www.wilshirerestaurant.com) in Santa Monica, welcomed us and introduced Andrew Kirschner, the executive chef. Andrew, a friendly and outgoing professional, has spent time in the kitchens of some of the finest restaurants in southern California and Colorado. His tendency toward Asian styles has been influenced by time spent at Arnold Wong’s acclaimed Asian fusion restaurant, Eos, in San Francisco.
The evening’s “Taste of Asia” theme was inspired by Andrew’s upcoming trip to Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong. He started his demonstration by requesting volunteers from the audience. A few brave souls joined Andrew behind the counter, and followed his example as his showed the proper method of constructing Shrimp Summer Rolls with Chili Garlic Dipping Sauce.
The shrimp rolls were refreshing, light, and delicious. The real star was the chef’s special dipping sauce, which added a much-needed punch to the mild ingredients. Ian talked about his wine selection, a Curran Gewurztraminer from the Santa Ynez Valley (www.d-cwines.com). Usually a cloyingly sweet wine, this choice surprised everyone with its light, fruity flavors, and was a perfect partner to the summer rolls. After thanking and dismissing his momentary sous chefs, Andrew moved on to the main course.
A huge pile of black Carlsbad Mussels sat next to the stovetop as the chef began by preparing a Red Curry Coconut Broth. The room filled with the enticing aroma of garlic, chilies, ginger, lemongrass, cumin, and several other intoxicating ingredients, all of which were included in a recipe handout. While we waited for the mussels to steam over the broth, servers filled our glasses with the last wine, a fine Sweeney Canyon Chardonnay. The mussels arrived tender, juicy, and delicious. They were devoured promptly, leaving a pool of broth that was so amazing, an old shoe would have tasted good in it. My guest, a lifelong mussel hater, was so enthralled she demanded seconds and wanted to bathe in the broth.
Overall, Culinary College was educational, fun, and delicious. I highly recommend the last evening in the series for those that love great food and wine, as well as those looking to learn some handy gourmet techniques that can easily be applied at home.
Tickets: $50; for reservations call 323-801-0034 and ask for Estrellita Dacaney
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon