I spent the day cooking a Southern Italian meal in Chef Charlie Trotter’s kitchen. Chef Trotter is a world-renowned restaurateur whose former restaurant at the Palazzo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas was the stage for a Le Cordon Bleu – Bleu Ribbon Kitchen Cooking Workshop.
Six different workshops are available this summer with instruction from French Bistro to Sushi Making to a good old American steak. Our class of eight was taught how to properly prepare a Southern Italian meal: Lamb Chops with Olives and Orrechiete with Favas and Tomatoes, along with a Chocolate-Almond Cake.
Chef Elizabeth Martinez, who started cooking when she was 14, has been a private chef for a variety of clientele. She now is a chef presenter for Le Cordon Bleu Las Vegas and she led us through the recipes.
Let me back up a bit though and help set the scene. Along with cooking in Chef Trotter’s kitchen, which is centered with French plate ranges, this kitchen is in the Palazzo. Just walking to the restaurant, you travel through a canopy of artwork that is reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel. Then, as you stroll through Restaurant Row, you pass the fine dining establishments of Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Emeril Lagasse…just to name a few.
We started the morning with a nice pastry breakfast. Then, we donned our chef coats, LCB aprons and hats. Not sure why we had a chef coat and apron, but perhaps it’s so we stood out among the LCB students who volunteered to help at the event. They did our mise en place and, thankfully, all the dishes.
Our first task was to get the Chocolate-Almond Cake in the oven. This batter was not a silky, flowing cake batter. Instead it was dense more like a muffin. It didn’t have any milk in it. Just creamed sugar with eggs, almonds and cake flour. It was accented with vanilla and almond extract, a little amaretto and chocolate chips.
I was so protective of my cake. At one of my last LCB classes in Paris, my nametag separated from my brioche pan and I ended up with the leftover, unclaimed, ugly loaves. I didn’t want that to happen again. I was proud of my cake.
At the end of the class when we were to glaze the cakes with bitter and semi sweet melted chocolate, the LCB students said some didn’t have nametags. Oh no! Here we go again. I know I marked mine, but the pen was light, Bill mistakenly started glazing it. I realized I was standing in front of his cake, so he graciously switched with me. His cake looked great though, so I wouldn’t have been disappointed if I brought his home.
My favorite part of the class was preparing the lamb chops and sauce. I had never cooked on a French plate stove. We seasoned the chops with salt and pepper, dredged them with flour and seared them in oil and butter. Then, they finished cooking in the oven, until medium-rare.
We also prepared a garlic-olive sauce. I’m in love with the olives we used, and I don’t really like olives. They are bright red Cerignola Olives. They seemed a little sweeter and milder to me than black or green olives and their color was beautiful in the sauce. A little white wine, demi-glace, a few crushed red pepper flakes and marjoram and we were good to go.
We also blanched and peeled fava beans. Bella graciously peeled mine for me while I was searing my lamb. Then we sautéed them with onion and cherry tomatoes, added arugula, fresh basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
We gathered back to the quiet, cozy table, outside the kitchen and appreciated our creations. It was truly restaurant quality. All I needed was a glass of red wine. I wanted to eat the entire bowl, but I decided to bring some home for my husband so he could enjoy it, too.
There are 4 more classes at the Palazzo this summer. I’d love to attend all of them, but we’ll see what my budget allows. Learning to cook from an LCB chef in Chef Trotter’s kitchen inside one of the most exquisite hotels on the strip costs just under $200 per 6-hour class. Definitely worth it. Maybe a few lucky slots or tables can fund my culinary inquisitiveness.
If you’re not near Vegas, there are other LCB workshops all around the world. To see the ones in the U.S., visit http://www.chefs.com/CookingClasses.aspx. Outside the U.S., visit https://www.cordonbleu.edu/index.cfm?fa=ProgramsFrontMod.showCoursesBySchool&TagID=16.