The First Night of "20 Chefs, 20 Nights, 20 Homes" 2009

The First Night of "20 Chefs, 20 Nights, 20 Homes" 2009

The First Night of "20 Chefs, 20 Nights, 20 Homes" 2009

Food for the mind and food for the tummy - what more satisfying blend could there be than cooking and the arts? Think leisurely dinner before seeing a play or an opera, and anticipating the visual and auditory feast that is coming up on stage. Or think post-show coffee and dessert as you dissect the performance you have just seen.

The Arts Club Celebrity Cooking Class fund raiser is back for its seventh year, and there are more opportunities than ever before for Vancouver "foodies" to get cooking tips from our own local Celebrity Chefs.  I had the opportunity to participate in the first of the 2009  "20 Chefs, 20 NIghts, 20 Homes" events; this one was held at the home of Fred and Dawn Cadham. It was entertaining and I learned  a lot.  If you love food, this is a really fun way to  pick up tips, enjoy an excellent meal (and wine) and support the theatre all at once. 

The chef / instructor for the evening  was Tony Minichiello of the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver . I got there a few minutes early hoping to be able to chat with Tony.  After being warmly welcomed by Scott, I made my way upstairs to be greeted by Dawn and by Lisa Seed, the apparently indefatiguable Arts Club Board Chair of Special Events who chairs this series of dinners. "It's a tough job" she joked, "having to attend 20 dinners."  And she has a day job! How does she do it? 

Armed with a glass of unoaked chardonnay I went looking for Tony to check out what he had in store for us. Even in our brief conversation his passion and enthusiasm for teaching the art of cooking was apparent. He said that he chose to feature Italian style cooking - simple, unpretentious, letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

The first course was tortolloni (the big ones) with a leek and shrimp filling, served with a simple lemon cream sauce.  Next we would have a salad of  shaved fennel with apple slices.  Then we would get the tips for cooking the perfect steak  Caprese style and learn how to make butternut squash gnocchi. Finally dessert would be tiramisu, which is "so passé as a dessert that it is fashionable again".

The participating guests would learn how to roll the pasta through a pasta rolling device till the ideal thiness is achieved - you should be able to see your fingers through it.  Then after Tony cuts the pasta into the right size slices the guests would assemble and shape the tortolloni. As he wryly commented - " lots of people, lots of wine - no knifework."  Hmmm... right.

After a few introductory remarks we all crowded into the kitchen to begin. Interestingly enough when aprons were handed out to the would-be assistant chefs it was  the men who enthusiastically took their aprons, washed their hands and stepped up to the plate-so to speak. But soon everyone was putting down  wine glasses and getting into the action. I took a turn at rolling the pasta - my style was firmly corrected by one of the other guests who obviously makes his own pasta at home.

With such a busy group of assistants, the tortolloni were finished in no time at all and were soon cooking away in the water . The practice of adding olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking is a no-no, so we learned. As we munched on the tortolloni the salad was tossed and served, and then we were onto making the gnocchi. Here the secret is not to knead the dough.  Tony demonstrated how to shape the gnocchi on a little striated wooden board and then everyone had a go at it. We had quite an interesting and varied collection of shapes. So much for assembly lines.

The steaks - ah!  How to cook the perfect steak. Look at that tray of gorgeous tenderloins. Tony talked about letting the steaks rest uncovered in the fridge for a couple of days to age, and then always to let the steak come to room temperature for a while before cooking it.

He dispelled the myth about not salting the steak before starting to cook it and gave us a thumb and finger tip for gauging how well it is done. On the right, Chelsey shows us how it is done.

Tony  obviously got it right because the guest sitting next to me as we ate our steak and gnocchi was heard to mumble "best steak I ever had".

The three hours passed too quickly. Interesting conversations with new acquaintances were interspersed with cooking and eating. Some of the 20 evenings are already sold out but others still have spaces available.  Dinners continue through April and May.  It's lots of fun. And you get the recipes afterwards. So hurry. You can find out more from the link above or at the Arts Club web site at cooking classes.