Sunday, June 7, 2009

a taste of modern latin cuisine...

back from a weekend full of gastronomical delights in the fabulous city of montreal - a city that oliver and i are convinced, never sleeps!

with our bellies full to our heart's content, we already dream of the next visit. montreal is never boring and there is always a new foodie adventure around every corner and within every neighbourhood.

one of the highlight's of the past weekend was spending an afternoon with mario navarette jr., chef-owner-operator of raza restaurant ( raza strives to allow the history and culture of latin cuisine shine on its plates to express his interpretation of "modern latin cuisine". mario also runs a quaint bistro, called madre, which dishes ups a divine brunch/dinner menu that reflects a throwback to his younger years and his mother's cooking. (we couldn't help but scoot into madre for brunch before we left the city... the highlight dish was pork cakes -a crispy fried shell with braised pork nestled inside - sunny side up eggs, patatas bravas and fresh tomato salsa - i loved the delicious purple corn lemonade - so unique and refreshing).

as oliver and i are game to get our hands dirty at cooking experiences of all sorts, we eagerly enrolled for the carpaccio class. mario teaches these workshops out of his tiny kitchen, which he runs weekdays and weekends on off-hours, before the restaurant opens for service. what a better way to get a sneak peak and a behind the scenes look at one of the top restaurants in the city?

the website cites a group maximum of 16 for its "el taller" (spanish for "workshop"), however it turned out we were the only two students that day. i was impressed that he chose to still run the workshop even though it had turned into a private one-on-one session. lucky us!
in this class we would tackle a more interesting variation on the traditional beef dish- fish carpaccio - and that was right up our alley.

the kitchen was neat, extremely small (but perfect for a 28 seat restaurant) and clean as a whistle. for an hour and a half cooking workshop, we would each produce one dish (our own plate) from preparation to plating. for this dish, we each started with a firm-fleshed 4 ounce piece of whitefish, similar to grouper. we chose our knives and under the direction of mario, sliced ever so thinly sashimi-style pieces of fish. our knife skills definitely need work and more practice perfecting this technique, but all in all, not bad, and mario was extremely encouraging. the thin slices of fish were fanned decoratively out over a plate, dressed with a splash of oil, saran-wrapped and refrigerated, chilled until we were ready to plate.

next came the vinaigrette. minced garlic, fresh lime, salt and pepper - a small dollop of yellow pepper "paste" to add a bit of punch and flair, one egg yolk, and oil we whisked in to emulsify the mixture. taking the cold plate of carpaccio out of the fridge, we spread a thin layer of this vinaigrette over the fish - just enough to cover the top. next we used a mandolin to slice tender spears of local Quebec asparagus into thin slices and tossed these strips in the bowl with remaining vinaigrette and added a colourful medley of pickled baby carrots, red onions, jicama, some blanched and peeled brussel sprout leaves (so pretty) which were already prepped and ready from mario's mise-in-place counter. one final ingredient before we went to plate. mario brought out a container filled with a simple puree of parsnip - nothing added - pure as pure.
for some creaminess and texture, mario added a few strokes of parsnip puree atop the fish which i thought was a unique combo. using the parsnip "streaks" as height to which he ever so methodically dressed the rest of his spring salad atop - the baby carrots, pickled red onion, crunchy jicama and tender raw asparagus ribbons. the final touch was some micro greens (these were mustard greens, my favourite). et, voila! the creation, you can see, shown above.

mario gestured to us to the dining room, and opened beautiful bottle of chardonnay that complimented the buttery nature of the dish so well (sure enough, that parsnip puree worked its magic with the wine pairing - exquisite). over this delicious lunch, the three of us waxed poetic about the food scene in montreal, and i found myself boasting about ottawa's own culinary landscape - which although doesn't quite have the same vastness as montreal's - surely has its remarkable stand-outs and equally passionate chefs.

el taller is a wonderful way to experience accessible, hands-on cooking methods with one of montreal's top chefs - an experience that can be that more magical if you luck out with a private tutorial. in the end, it was not so much as what was on the plate as what we will remember most, but the conversation that flowed between the three of us and the stories exchanged. not only is mario a masterful chef, he is a gracious host - opening up his kitchen and restaurant to students, making his guests feel quite at home. we'll be back - definitely for the ceviche class which is just weeks away.

the next time you are planning a trip to montreal - check out el taller at restaurant raza for an insider's look and taste of modern latin cuisine - i guarantee you will not be disappointed!

until next time....

1 comment:

  1. Wow, i'm drooling! How lucky to have had that all to yourselves!