Brasserie cooking class a fun alternative to Sunday brunch

Pretty much everyone enjoys a good Sunday brunch once in a while.

But unless there’s some entertainment or you’re with a big group, Sunday brunch can be kind of boring; after all, you just eat and drink until your sated and then go home for a nap.

The Brasserie cooking class, which occurs once a month between November and April, is a great alternative to the typical Sunday brunch, offering some education, some entertainment and, of course, lots of great food.

The cooking class on 4 December started with a welcome cocktail that had a holiday flair: a local coconut egg nog created by Manager/Sommelier Kyle Kennedy. The recipe uses a combination of fresh coconut and canned coconut milk to create a new twist on a holiday classic. With drink in hand, guests followed Brasserie consultant Chef Dean Max and Executive Chef Brad Phillips for a tour of the restaurant’s garden, where they learned about some of the local ingredients that grow in Cayman.

Afterwards, the guests took their seats at tables in the kitchen where they watched as Chef Dean and Chef Brad showed the techniques used to create a three-course lunch, that started with three appetizers suitable for holiday gatherings.

“We wanted to do for this class some hors d’oeuvres you can serve over the holidays,” Chef Dean said.

The trio of hors d’oeuvres demonstrated included a cheese and onion tart on puff pastry, beef tartar with pistachio and curry aioli and a crab fritter.

Since caramelised onions were needed for the tart, Chef Dean talked about the correct technique in making caramelised onions, including adding a bit of water periodically to deglaze the pan.

“Don’t leave the brown on the bottom of the pan,” he said. “The onions will burn and become bitter.”

He also talked about the proper way to sharpen and take care of knives, and even how much a decent cooking knife will cost.

“You have to spend between $80 and $120 for a good chef’s knife,” he said. “Something for less might look like a good knife, but if it’s $25 to $30, it’s not good steel.”

Chef Dean used his properly sharpened knife to cut thin slices of beef tenderloin and to chop shallots to make steak tartar, which was served in shot glasses that had layers of beef interspersed with layers of chopped pistachios and curry aioli.

The key to a good crab cake or a good crab fritter was to keep the breading on the outside and not on the inside, Chef Dean said.

“On the inside, you want people to get a good taste of the crab,” he said.

To ensure the crab holds together during frying, Chef Dean said it should be double breaded on the outside by first dipping it in bread crumbs, then in egg, and then in bread crumbs again.

“And don’t use already seasoned bread crumbs; the seasonings taste canned.”

The appetizers where all hits with guests. Crispy on the outside, full of crab wonderfulness on the inside and served with avocado and citrus, the fritter was divine.

With the main course, two side dishes were served, including Brussels sprout mash.

“The key to making a good mashed potato is extracting as much water as you can,” advised Chef Dean.

Chef Brad then took over, sharing his mother’s recipe for thin-sliced broiled yellow squash.

Chef Dean talked about the taste differences in lamb from various places in the world while Chef Brad prepared the main course feature, herb roasted rack of lamb. To spice things up, instead of the regular mint jelly served with lamb, Chef Brad served the lamb with the Brasserie’s own mint pepper jelly.

Moving on to dessert, Chef Brad talked about how to make milk chocolate hazelnut bread pudding while Chef Dean talked about the rum creme Anglaise that would top the pudding. Chef Dean’s custard “broke” during the making, but he told guests how to fix broken custard.

During the entire afternoon, Chef Brad and Chef Dean playfully teased each other, providing entertainment during the lunch. Although Chef Brad started strong, Chef Dean buried him toward the end with a furious combination of humorous cut-downs that left Chef Brad nearly begging for mercy.

Although some of the dishes, or at least parts of them, were prepared in advance, the cooking class attendees all got copies of the recipes on how to prepare the dishes and the two chefs demonstrated the techniques needed in their preparation.

“It’s not enough for you to know the recipes; you need to understand the processes,” Chef Dean told the class.

Some of the items prepared, like the Brussels sprout mash, were what Chef Dean called rustic dishes.

“We wanted to include some things that people would actually make at home,” he said.

The lunch was served with three different wines provided by Blackbeard’s, including Chardonnay with the first course, Syrah with the second course and Port with dessert. Because the dessert had chocolate, Chef Dean said it called for ruby Port.

“Stick with ruby Port with chocolate and tawny Port with cheese and you’ll be good,” he said.

At the end of the three-hour lunch, the guests left happy and satisfied, probably even more so than if they’d been at an all-you-can-eat brunch.