Incredible Sunday @ NY Culinary Experience

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This past Sunday, I had the great honor of attending the NY Culinary Experience co-hosted by NY Magazine and the French Culinary Institute (462 Broadway @ Grand).  Sponsored by Virgin Atlantic Airways, this extraordinary culinary event featured classes with the school’s best teachers, lunch discussions with some of NY’s best chefs, and an end of the day cocktail reception. I was lucky enough to sit in on the luncheon in which Gillian Duffy interviewed Dan Barber of Blue Hill New York (75 Washington Place) who won the 2009 James Beard Award for Chef of the Year. Blue Hill was also the dinner date spot for President and Michelle Obama during their visit in May. Dan is a pioneer in the “farm-to-table” movement, which stresses sustainability through an emphasis on seasonal ingredients from local farmers. He stressed that he is not an ardent environmentalist. His rationale for sustainable cooking is that it just tastes better. After his talk, I am totally inspired to start trying to cook with more vegetables and fruits that are actually in season and not shipped from miles away.

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Following lunch, I got to take an actual class with the extraordinary Ariane Daguin on how to make the perfect cassoulet! Ariane is from Auch in the South of France and is a perfect instructor and hostess. With her wonderful accent and her witty sense of humor, Ariane regaled the class with sage advice peppered with hilarious stories. She advised us to use duck fat to season our potatoes and mushrooms instead of butter and then recalled the hilarious story of making a holiday meal for her daughter and her college friend, who was a vegetarian. She managed to consider the guest’s vegetarianism in the preparation of most of the meal, but forgot to mention the duck fat in the potatoes till after they had been had consumed. When the unsuspecting girl exclaimed that they were the “best potatoes” she had ever had, Ariane was forced to admit that they had contained the duck fat. She then cracked the class up by proudly proclaiming, “So now one less vegetarian in the world!” as if it was her mission to conquer vegetarianism one great meal at a time! Quite frankly, I have to agree with her. While I try to eat as many vegetables and fruits as possible, it is totally impossible to be a great chef or real foodie and NEVER eat meats chicken, or fish! While our cassoulets were in the oven, Ariane threw a mini tasting party of the delectable products from her company D’Artagnan, which was also a fun and happening touch.

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The cocktail party was a perfect finish to the day, with all the students and chefs mingling and recapping their weekend. A silent auction was held to raise money to help students with tuition. Gabriella, one lucky entrant from Venezuela, won three astonishing awards! In addition, she had asked for an apprenticeship during Dan Barber’s seminar and will actually be working with him for a couple of months at Blue Hill! All in all, Gabriella hit the jackpot!   The very Italian Cesare Casella, Dean of Italian Studies at the French Culinary Institute and owner of Salumeria Rossi, (283 Amsterdam Ave. b/t 73rd and 74th), who flirtatiously extolled the link between good lovemaking and good food, invited me to the afterparty at his restaurant. But I was already stuffed from the reception, so I headed home with my new culinary skills and a lovely gift bag full of kitchen tools. It was quite simply the perfect way to spend a Sunday and I am looking forward to enrolling in some classes in the near future.

For a schedule of classes at The French Culinary Institute go to: www.frenchculinary.com/

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Chef Ariane Daquin’s Cassoulet D’Artagnan (Serves 12)

This bean casserole with sausage, and preserved duck or goose, is at the heart of traditional Gascon cooking. While the ingredients vary according to who makes it, the kind of sausages and confit you have available, what region you’re from and personal preference; it’s important that it cook slowly so that all of the flavors have time to marry together. Ariane describes the regional differences in cassoulet recipes as “ a way to argue between villages.” Here is her version:

Ingredients:

2 lbs. Coco Tarbais or Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over
12 oz. Ventreche in one piece
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium onions, skinned and cut in half
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
Bouquet garni made of 5 parsley sprigs, 3 celery leaves, 1 thyme sprig, I bay leaf, 5 cloves, and 10 peppercorns wrapped in cheesecloth and tied
10 cups of water
6 Duck Legs Confit cut in half at the joint
6.5 oz. of Duck and Veal Demi-Glace dissolved in 3 ½ cups of water
1 T. tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 links (8 ½ oz.) Duck and Armagnac Sausage lightly browned, then cut in thirds crosswise
1 lb. fresh Garlic Sausage, cut into 12 slices
¼ cups Duck Fat, melted

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1. Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Drain and put into a large heavy casserole, preferably enameled cast-iron with ventreche, garlic onions, carrot and bouquet garni. Cover with the 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring often, until beans are barely tender, about 1 hour.

2. Drain beans, discard onions and bouquet garni. Cut ventreche into ½ inch squares.

3. Season beans with 1 t. salt and several grindings of pepper.

4. Preheat oven to 325° F.

5. Place half of the bean mixture in the casserole.

6. Brown duck sausages in pan.

7. Add duck legs, browned duck sausages, chopped ventreche, and garlic sausage slices, then cover with remaining beans.

8. Mix tomato paste into dissolved demi-glace, then pour over bean mixture.

9. Drizzle duck fat over top.

10. Cover and bake until hot and bubbling about 2 hours. (Cassoulet may be prepared ahead to this point then cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days .) Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

11. Increase oven temperature to 400° F. Uncover and bake until the top is browned about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

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That Girl At the Party

I am a proud blogger of 10 years, Founder of Canappetit, PR person, Web Entrepreneur, Founder of the Let Love Festival and the Henley Foundation , aunt to 9 and human to Bodhi and Yoko Rey

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