Monday, August 30, 2010

The Jewish Star: It's Date Night: Time to Make Dinner

Editor's note: The below article refers to the Culinary Date Night classes taught by Chef Mark D'Allessandro at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts on August 18 and 19, 2010. A new series of Culinary Date Night courses, including a culinary competition for couples, will debut in December 2010.

It’s date night: Time to Make Dinner

by Stephen Wallach

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Star: Individual and Original Reporting from the Orthodox Communities of Long Island, August 28, 2010.

When you think about going out on a date, some type of food and some sort of activity are involved. A picnic can be romantic, but preparing the meal is rarely the event itself. But that’s what six couples experienced on “Culinary Date Night” recently at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts in Flatbush. My wife and I went with another couple and I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the program. Then again, my first date with Miriam ended with my tie being rung out in an elevator by partners of the law firm where I worked at the time, when I walked in drenched from head-to-toe from our walk in the rain. Life with her tends to be full of surprises.

We filed through a doorway and up a set of stairs to a room filled with a commercial oven, kitchen supplies, and two long metal tables with folding bar stools set in front of cutting boards. Each person got their own butcher knife and the evening was shaping up to be a cross between a slasher movie and a good game of Clue. While Professor Plum and Miss Scarlet were not there, we had our own cast of characters. There was the “pretty” couple, the newlyweds, the pregnant couple, and the couple that was so out of their element. When that wife said she had never tasted lox before in her life, the “pretty” husband asked her if she was really Ashkenaz.

Chef Mark D’Alessandro and his team of sous chefs and assistants helped make this a memorable night. He demonstrated the different dishes in the four-course kosher meal that he had designed. The first course was blini with smoked salmon, where he emphasized the need to make small pancakes, fried just so. Next, for the soup course, an easy but tasty white gazpacho, followed by a demonstration of the deboning of a chicken leg that was then stuffed, seared and cooked. Dessert was a poached pear accompanied by French toast strips, soaked in a coconut cream, alongside caramel sauce and sorbet.

Each couple got to make blinis, the appetizing course, as a way for every one to get into the feel of the evening. We then broke into three teams of two couples each to prepare the next three courses. This is where I began to feel like I was in the middle of a taping of either Top Chef or Dinner: Impossible as 12 people ran around a fully stocked kitchen searching for serving utensils or fresh ingredients in the commercial refrigerators.

Meticulous attention was paid to kashrut throughout the entire class. My wife and the couple we were with were assigned the gazpacho. With some predictable goofs by people working in a rush on a dish they have never made before, working from a recipe that was to be tripled, our course ended up tasting very good and looking good, too. But the pit I get in my stomach during slasher films came back as the four other couples, some of whom didn’t seem to know which end of the knife to hold, were now responsible for the rest of dinner.

When prep time was over, the tables were cleared, cleaned and covered in white linens. Flowers were put on the table and the dishes were set. Each team was now responsible to plate and serve its own course. All of these strangers were able to assume their roles in this choreographed dance, weaving in and out, setting twelve places and serving three different courses. When all was set, we were able to eat.

A night with the potential to be another where I would be rung out in an elevator, or found in a freezer a few scenes ahead in my slasher flick, turned into a pleasant surprise. The food was actually very good. Each course was pretty and tasted good enough to want to have again. At the end of the evening we were able to call this a success. One, the food was good. Two, the experience was one I would probably do again and our friends had fun as well. And three, my date had a good time. I guess I’ll call her again.
If he hasn’t already experienced them firsthand, Stephen Wallach hears most of the stories in “That’s Life” before you do. E-mail for more information about The Center For Kosher Culinary Arts or for future programming.

The original article appears here:

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