Meeting a MentorMonday, April 1
One of the most enjoyable pleasures of this job is the seemingly endless wealth of knowledge there is to absorb about cooking and food in general.
I have to yet to meet a chef who could tell me he knows everything there is to know about the ingredients of the world and the countless methods and techniques there are to prepare each and every one of them. In fact, most of us could hardly scratch the surface of the possibilities for learning that exist in our field.
From the first time I put on an apron I feel I can learn something new each time I set foot in a kitchen. That is why it is so much fun when I have an opportunity to meet someone who has found his niche in this world and managed to master its art. This past week I had the fortune of doing just that, thanks to the masterful group of chefs at the helm of NAIT’s Culinary Arts department.
Five years ago, as a result of the hard work of the staff and the generosity of the Hokanson family, the Chef in Residence program at NAIT was born. Driven by the desire to set NAIT apart as having the best culinary program in the country, the staff recruited some of North America’s most successful chefs to the school to share their wisdom and experience with their students.
Since its inception in 2009 the school has hosted Chef’s Rob Feenie, David Adjey, Susur Lee and Massimo Capra, all extremely talented and successful Canadian chefs, each offering a unique take on their journey from humble beginnings to leading some of this country’s most successful restaurants.
Showing no sign of letting up on bringing top tiered talent, they recruited celebrity chef Chris Cosentino this year. More than merely a celebrity, enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, Chef Cosentino has earned a strong reputation throughout the culinary community for his nose to tail cooking philosophy. He is passionate about using all of the animal and showcases his resourcefulness for using offal cuts like tongue, heart, liver, tripe, stomach, and virtually everything from, well, nose to tail.
In doing my homework in preparation for meeting Chef Cosentino I began to realize he was so much more than simply the chef who was known for cooking offal. In fact, his first book, Beginnings — My Way to Start a Meal, released in May of 2012, showcases a broad range of Italian inspired dishes, with very little mention of offal cuts. It strikes the perfect balance of rustic Italian simplicity with refinement and innovation that leaves it approachable for the amateur, but enticing enough for the more skilled.
I had a chance to sit down with him shortly before his return home. We spoke of how comparable teaching in a school is to the hands on teaching that goes on every day in the kitchen, agreeing that it made for a fairly easy transition for most chefs to move from their kitchen to a classroom. I asked him how he approached the subject of celebrity, because I knew inevitably the subject had to have come up. He responded by saying, “ I started by knocking the stars out of their eyes, reminding them that you don’t jog around the block on a Wednesday, and then run a marathon on a Saturday. You need to have the legs to stand on, you need to be prepared for this career for the rest of your life, you need to be inspired to survive and have longevity in this career. If TV comes, it comes because you’ve earned it, not because you deserve it.” Perhaps the words that resonated most with me was when he spoke of perfection. He said, “Perfection doesn’t happen, you will never attain perfection, but you should always be striving for perfection.” It wasn’t that his words were so profound and mind blowing, but it was how often I have heard these words spoken. It would seem that the very best in this industry, whether celebrity or not, share the same understanding of just what it takes to make it.
On behalf of the guests who enjoyed Chef Cosentino’s creations, and the students who had the pleasure of learning from him, I’d like to commend the leadership team at NAIT, who continue to raise the bar for the young cooks entering their program by offering them a top level program and introducing them to just how far this career can take them. Keep up the incredible work at developing top level talent and helping to put Edmonton on the map as a top tier culinary destination.
In honor of Chef Cosentino’s succulent lamb dish last week, I thought I would prepare one of my own. I hope you enjoy it!
Pan Seared Lamb Loin, Vanilla Parsnip Puree, Red Currant Reduction
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
4 lamb loin
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 bulbs garlic, peeled, smashed
8-10 fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbsp. raw butter
¼ cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste
1 Tbsp. honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup red wine
½ cup red currant jelly
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Smash the garlic, lightly tear the sage leaves with your hands, place all in a bowl with olive oil
Toss the lamb loins in the marinade and cover evenly, then cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes
Meanwhile, peel the parsnips, remove stems, chop into large chunks
Place in salted water and bring to a boil, cook until soft but not overcooked
Meanwhile, place the red wine in a small pot and bring to a simmer, slowly reducing, add the red currant jelly, and the red wine vinegar
Once cooked drain all excess water from the parsnips and place in the food processor, or back in the pot to hand mash (I prefer the processor for this recipe because I like it very smooth)
Add the cream, butter, honey and vanilla, and puree until smooth, or mash until smooth, set aside
Now place a medium pan on high heat
Removing excess leaves from the lamb, place the loins in the hot pan
Sear on all sides, allowing it to brown evenly, about 7-8 minutes for medium rare
Remove from the pan and allow the loins to rest for 5-6 minutes
Meanwhile, stir the red currant reduction to ensure it is smooth and the jelly has dissolved, the consistency should be a light syrup
Lay a generous spoonful of the parsnip puree on the plate, then slice the lamb loin on the biase and place it on the parsnip puree
Top with the red currant reduction and serve
I serve this with roasted potatoes. It makes a crispy contrast to the soft puree. Enjoy this with a big glass of red wine.