Culinary classes – success!

One of the things that I wanted to introduce at Fresco was culinary classes!

We started our six week course in April with 9 students ranging from 18 years old to mid 60’s. Each had an objective to joining the class. Some were eager to learn, others nervous and tentative. The one thing we all decided was too learn at relatively the same pace and have fun – after all cooking is fun!

I am happy to report that no one has cut their hands or injured themselves!

The first week we have learned the basics of knife skills, vegetable cuts, safety and sanitation in the kitchen. Moving into the second week we learned natural thickening agents, food enhancers, differences between herbs and spices and the uses. So many good questions came from this class and I knew I had them hooked

The third week I challenged the group to stocks and sauces. The group took up the challenge and made a text book bechamel sauce and chicken veloute. I was so proud!

Week four we butchered and de-boned whole chickens. The group did well but the poor chickens. Actually they did very well considering I made them de-bone the legs as well. Many practiced at home and were very excited to tell me the results.

If I thought the chickens didn’t fair well, how about the whole rainbow trout? Some of the students had to get over their fears and handling the slimy little guys but dove right in and did their best. The results were quite good. We cooked the fillets three different ways to show how easily and quickly it can be done. Most people like fish or feel they should eat more, they just don’t know what to do with it! Now they know.

Well its week six and the group decided they wanted to do desserts….I can’t wait and of course we will be sampling.

Apart from meeting some amazing people and helping them find there love for culinary, its been amazing to hear each persons journey in life, listen to them get excited about practicing at home, sharing stories about having dinner parties and wowing their friends. Even the late night emails and texts asking for help have all been fun!

I can’t wait to have another class in the fall.

To my first students…..well done each of you. Keep practicing and always remember the basics.

Chef Paul  

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The Skinny on Wine!

Back in my hotel days, I used to host several wine dinners from local (Niagara and surrounding area) wineries.
It was during one of these wine dinners I fell in love with a winery by the name of Malivoire.

Wine and food pairing have often confused people. The general rule of thumb is red wine with red meat, white with chicken or fish. Personally, I don’t always subscribe to that theory entirely, however be sensible when pairing wine and food. I drink the wine I feel like drinking and what I feel goes well with my meal. Books and magazines are only guides and don’t reflect your personal tastes. Wine and food should complement each other and not one should over power the other.

Anyhow, back to my point with Malivoire! We decided to eat Indian cuisine one evening and needed a wine to compliment the meal. Back to the rule of thumb when it comes to spicy cuisine. Spicy food…sweeter wine, and not Baby Duck! In this case, the rule of thumb works, however the sweetness of the wine depends on your tastes.
We don’t particularly enjoy our food too spicy, but a little heat is okay. We remembered how much we enjoyed Malivoire Gewurztraminer and decided on that. It was the perfect match. More of a classic Gewürztraminer that you would expect from Alsace, not overly sweet, hints honeysuckle, apricots, and just enough sweetness to compliment the somewhat spicy food.
Other great matches could have been Hardy’s Riesling/Gewurztraminer blend from Australia or Meglomaniac from Ontario.
If you enjoy very spicy food, I would recommend a much sweeter wine. German Rieslings are sweet, full flavoured and absolutely delicious with food or on their own. Any of these varietals from the “vintage” section in the LCBO are a winner. I recommend DR Heidemanns-Bergweiler Riesling Kabinett.

Remember a couple things about wine
1. Drink what you enjoy
2. Make sure the wine compliments the food
3. Make sure the food compliments the wine
4. Spicier food requires sweeter wine
5. Try wines from Ontario, off the shelf from other countries and don’t be intimidated by the wines in vintages. There are several great wines “off the shelf” and not expensive, but sometimes spending a little extra does pay off though.

Cheers

Chef Paul
Fresco Cafe and Catering

Keeping it Simple – Balsamic Vinaigrette

As food consumers, we are ever trying to watch what we put on our food, in our food or what we cook with. Unfortunately this gets even more important as the weather starts to turn warm and we squeeze into our swim suits or summer outfits.

Ever read the ingredient listings on something simple like salad dressings? What the heck is xanthan gum, propylene glycol alginate, calcium disodium edta or tartrazine B066D??  Yes even the calorie wise and blue menu dressings contain these items.

Many chemicals are placed in dressings to ensure that your dressing lasts a long long long time on the shelf, properly stabilized or looks aesthetically pleasing to the eye (colour).

At Fresco we make as many products from scratch as possible. It is important that we control what goes into the food because we care what our guests are consuming. Even the dressings and vinaigrettes!

Balsamic Vinaigrette:

½ cup Dijon mustard

½ cup white sugar

3 cloves of garlic

2 cups vegetable oil

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup balsamic vinegar

Fresh Thyme to taste

Sea Salt to taste

Method: Add mustard and sugar together in the blender. Blend on high until smooth. Add garlic and continue to puree until smooth.

Place blender on medium speed and slowly add ½ of the oil (1 ounce at a time). It should not split but incorporate into the mustard mixture. Add ½ the vinegar, same as oil. Alternate oil and vinegar slowly until it is all used. Mixture should be smooth and not split. This should take no longer than a few minutes. Add chopped thyme and season with salt, blend 10 seconds. Taste

If the dressing is too thick for your liking you can add a few ounces of room temperature water to thin down. If you wish it to be stronger in vinegar taste, add a few more ounces of vinegar and blend.

*when making a fruit vinaigrette, puree the fruit after the mustard/sugar mixture is creamed. Add your oil and flavoured vinegar as per recipe. I also add juice (apple, orange, cranberry etc) instead of water to add flavour.

Making vinaigrettes are easy, fun and your guests will be impressed that you took the time and care when preparing the meal.

Enjoy

Chef Paul, Fresco Café

Do you need to spend a lot of money on a set of knives?

Well, if you are in the profession, it would be highly recommended that you invest in some tools that will with stand the constant abuse and use for 8-10 hours a day.  Like a car mechanic, they also invest in tools that withstand such daily hardships.

For the average foodie or home cook that will use their knives an hour per day tops, you don’t have to invest a lot of money. Now if you ask a knife salesperson, they will absolutely tell that your knives have to be forged steel, full tang, bla bla bla. False!

Let me ask you a question. Does a $200 hockey stick make you a better hockey player? Score more goals…make your shot more accurate? 

Do a $150 pair of basketball shoes make you jump higher…run faster…give you a more accurate jump shot? No…I didn’t think so, although we all seem to get sucked into thinking somehow it does.

Same for knives in a manner of speaking. Now do I think a chef’s (French) knife should be able to bend like a Kuradori? No…It is meant to be stiff and rigid for a reason. You do get what you pay, so I’m not suggesting you go to the dollar store and purchase knives, however the $200 knife will not cut any better than the $30-$50 knife.

What you should have in your knife set at home?

1. Paring knife. Blade is 3-5 inches in length. Not flexible. Used for peeling, small cuts and decorative work

2. Boning knife. Blade is 6-9 inches in length and should be somewhat flexible. Used for trimming of meats, boning of fish and chicken.

3. Chef or French knife. Blade is 10-12 inches in length. Should be stiff. Used for cutting of vegetables and general kitchen use.

4. Serrated knife. Blade is 10-12 inches in length and maybe flexible but does not have to be. Used for cutting breads.

5. Carving knife. Blade is 12-16 inches in length, slender and very flexible. Used only for carving of meats.

 A few knife terms

* TIP. The end of the blade where the point is.

*BUTT. The backend of the knife handle

*TANG. The length of steel that continues back from the blade into the handle. Full tang knife is made from tip to butt. Some less expensive knives save on steel and only give you 1/2 a tang, covering the rest of the handle with plastic. 

*CHOILE. Underneath the handle just before the start of the blade. It would almost appear to look like a safety guard of sorts.

Things you need to know.

There are a few things about knives that won’t change no matter a $200 or a $30 knife.

1) Make sure the knife you purchase feels comfortable in your hand. Don’t over compensate for something by buying the “biggest, baddest” knife on the shelf. It won’t help you. Make sure it “fits” your hand well and the weight is comfortable. I always have a tough time purchasing a French knife because I have large hands. When I “rocker” the knife, my fingers hit the cutting board and I don’t get a clean cut. If this a problem for you, ask for a knife with a large choile.

2) Keep all your knives sharp and well maintained. This will not only ensure accurate knife cuts but less opportunity to slip and cut yourself. I use a “steel’ to buff off the burrs on my knives several times throughout the day. Once they are sharpened professionally, there should be no need to have them done again if you maintain them well. 

3) Most importantly, keep them sanitized at all times. Make sure there is no risk of cross contamination. Always keep your knives cleaned and sanitized before, between and after each use. I personally do not put them through a dishwasher because it increases the chance of cracking the handle cover. I always have a small bucket with sanitizer (changed regularly throughout the day) and constantly wash my knives. The beginning and the end of the day, I wash with warm soap water and then sanitizer to thoroughly clean. 

Happy cutting and remember to keep those fingers out of the way.

Chef Paul 

Fresco Cafe and Catering

Where everybody knows your name and they’re really glad you came.

We all remember the lovable character “Norm” from cheers. He would come into the bar each day, probably at the same time and sit at the same seat, drinking the same beverage each day.

Well at Fresco we have we have our own “Norm”, however his real name is “Dave”. 
Dave can be seen each afternoon, sitting by the window, drinking his tea and playing his scratch and win tickets.
Often Dave engages in conversation with other guests, ever so polite. Dave holds the door open for guests that require assistance. He keeps us company in the late afternoon telling us stories about the weather and the good old days. He knows our kids names and welcomes them warmly when he has a chance to see them in Fresco.

Although we want our Cafe to be known for our food quality and guest service, it was equally important for us to have a place where everyone feels comfortable, where guests can relax, sit by the fire, read a book, have conversation, eat, drink, sit quiet or play your lottery tickets.
Dave has quickly become our friend and we look forward to seeing him each day.
Thank-you Dave for choosing Fresco as your home Cafe.

We encourage everyone to drop in for a great cup of coffee, enjoy a homemade baked good, relax, and stay a while…..don’t forget to say hello to Fresco “Dave”.

Chef Paul

Fresco Cafe and Catering

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Peeling grapes….and more grapes….and more grapes…

Many times through the week, I have opportunity to meet guests who are always amazed that we make all our baked goods from scratch.
I was having a conversation with one guest who had a quite an interest in our pie crust and various dough’s as she did a lot of home baking herself.
I was sharing a story about the time I learned how to make strudel dough from an Austrian chef, that she found quite amusing.
I watched in amazement one day as the chef prepared a softball sized ball of dough and stretched it over and over until it was thin as paper and stretched over a 4 x 8 foot table. He proceeded to make an apple and raisin filling, roll it and bake it. He was making Viennese Apple Strudel.
I was so amazed I just had to learn how to make this dough. I asked the chef to teach me how to make strudel. He agreed and told me that we would make Viennese grape strudel the following week. I was extremely excited to learn how to make the dough, stretch it thin as paper over the table, without tearing it.
The following week, 20 pounds of white grapes arrived. Chef explained that first I must learn how to make the filling. I proceeded to blanch all the grapes and quickly cool them, anxious to make the dough.
Chef looked at me and said “what are you waiting for, peel the grapes!” At first I actually thought he was joking. There was no joking. It took me 4 hours to peel the grapes as Chef made the dough, stretched the dough to make Viennese grape strudel. That was lesson I will never forget…I’m sure chef was laughing as the same thing likely happened to him when he first learned how to make strudel
By the way, the strudel was incredible, especially with fresh vanilla crème anglaise and he did eventually show me how to make the dough as well.
It was times like that, that made me appreciate the basics of cooking and importance of ingredients and techniques.
Some people think that no one will know the difference between homemade and processed foods. I happen to disagree along with many, many of our guests that continue to return to Fresco Cafe knowing that our baking is made from scratch.
It all starts with the basics!

Chef Paul
Fresco Cafe and Catering

Ode To Superbowl Chili

Chili….a stew of sorts with beef, vegetables and spices!
It has become a time honoured staple on cold winter days and of course the Superbowl. I have shared with you my recipe for fresh chili that I actually make at Fresco Cafe and Catering. Even though my beloved San Francisco 49’ers will not be making a re-appearance this year, I will still watch and enjoy Fresco chili with my family.
Now guys, I know that each of you have a tradition of making the “best” chili. It becomes a game to make the meanest, hottest, nostril snorting, throat closing chili for your friends. Heck it’s even kind of funny to watch as they take the first bite and claim to tell you “best chili ever” as they try to catch their breath and slug back multiple beers at the same time.
That was fun when we were young but now the Super bowl has become one of the most watched sporting events by men, women and children…yup it’s become a family focused event.
My chili is simple, easy to make, requires fresh ingredients and can be adaptable (spicy) to your crowd or liking. My guests enjoy the smoky bacon, subtle sweet flavour that off sets the slightly acidic plum tomatoes, and the fresh spices (they enjoy but can’t quite seem to identify….ah the “secret ingredient” cinnamon.
The only requirement is that you handpick fresh vegetables for your chili and please use fresh garlic not the minced garbage in oil. If you take the time to pick your ingredients and prepare them with care, your end product will be superior. Your guests and family will notice the difference.
For your Neanderthal guests that enjoy chili coming out of their nose, give them a bottle of tabasco with the chili.

I enjoy ripple plain chips, fresh bread, nacho chips or even naan bread with my chili, but you can accompany whatever you wish.

Enjoy. Chef Paul
Fresco Cafe and Catering

Fresco Cafe Chili

2 oz. vegetable oil

1 large Vidalia Onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 medium carrots peeled and diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
10 ripe, Roma tomatoes, diced
6 buds of fresh garlic, minced
Fresh thyme (leaves, no stalks)
Bay leaves
1/2 tbsp. of cinnamon
1/2 cup of amber sugar ( do not use white)
White pepper, to taste
Sea Salt, to taste
tobasco, to taste
Chili powder, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste

1 lb. of lean ground beef
8 strips of bacon, diced

14 ml can Maple Pork and Beans
14 ml can Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed
14 ml can Chick Peas
4oz ketchup
4oz Renee Honey Garlic BBQ sauce
19 oz. can of tomato puree
Small can of tomato paste

Method:
1. Have all your ingredients prepared. Diced the vegetables, bacon, open the cans etc.
2. In a stock pot, add veg oil and begin to sweat bacon (do not crisp or over cook, you want the taste of the smoky bacon). Add lean ground beef and stir constantly until light brown. I always add a few ounces of water to the beef so it stays moist and does not overcook.
3. Add carrots, onions and celery to beef and bacon. Sweat for two minutes. Add sweet potato and sweat for 1 minute. Finally add peppers, tomatoes, garlic, sugar and thyme.
4. Add pork and beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, tomato sauce, ketchup, bbq sauce and tomato paste. Cook until starting to simmer.
5. Add cinnamon, bay leaves, white pepper, sea salt, tobasco, chili powder and cayenne pepper to taste. Stir everything well. Taste and add more seasonings if necessary.
6. Simmer for 1 hour stirring often so it does not burn on the bottom. Remove from heat. Best to prepare the day before serving.

Yields 15 bowls

Potatoes, it doesn’t get more basic than that!

When I think about my childhood and potatoes, I have memories of boiled, somewhat dry starch. Not that they tasted bad, but butter, salt and pepper could have gone a long way to help the flavour and texture of the mashed or boiled that we had at least 4-5 times a week.
Potatoes have a long history and have been a staple food items since the 1400’s. Potatoes are the fourth most used crop behind rice and maize.
It was not until my early cooking days did I come to appreciate potatoes. Young cooks and culinary students come out of school and for whatever reason have an outlook like they have nothing left to learn. I also inherited this attitude. It was not until I had the opportunity to work a very strict European trained executive chef that changed my attitude very quickly on the subject of “potatoes” specifically.
One day working along side, Chef asked me to name a few classic potatoes. On the spot and totally intimidated I answered “baked, scallop, roast, mashed”. Chef just looked at me straight faced and said with his strong Austrian accent “tomorrow name 10 classic potatoes for me” and walked away. That evening I searched all my school books (no google back then) and presented my finding to Chef the next day. He said “good! Today we make them and tomorrow you name 10 more”. This went on and on for over a month. He took the time each day to carefully help me prepare each style of potato daily until he was satified that I could prepare each one myself. He also did this with vegetables and meats but that’s a different story. I have come to appreciate potatoes in many styles and forms, prepared with hundreds of possibilities.
Do some research and enjoy some of the possibilities one of the most basic food items can completely changed your meal tonight.

Enjoy
Chef Paul
Fresco Cafe and Catering

Everything starts with the basics!

 When I was first an apprentice, I had the unique opportunity to work with some incredible chefs. Some were old, a bit crazy…. but talented!
As a young cook, I was a sponge for knowledge, reading, practicing, trying desperately for the Executive chef to notice me, maybe even work with me and teach me something.
To this day the most amazing things to me are the simplest techniques. Each chef drilled that into my head! “everything starts from the basics, screw that up and everything to follow with be a mess”.
Hence the technique of making a basic chicken stock! Now I was truly amazed at what some of these old chefs could produce from basic ingredients, one of them water. Yup, clean fresh water. Something we take for granted everyday!
When making a basic chicken stock, start with good bones (rinsed with fresh clean water. Most times cooks throw them into a stock pot from the package…rinse the impurities), next is fresh clean vegetables called mirepoix (equal parts carrots, onions, celery…cleaned with fresh water) and finally…you got it, fresh clean COLD water. Bring to a boil, simmer for 4 hours skimming the impurities. Strain, cool.
This will give you a crystal clear, strong stock for soups or sauces. Its so easy, but its the technique that will make the difference to your final product.
Chef Paul

Out of the frying pan…and into the fire….and back again!

Well after years of stepping out of the kitchen and climbing the ladder of upper management, I’ve decided to jump right back into the frying pan!
At first, I thought “do I still have what it takes to be creative and the energy it takes to consistently produce great food for my guests”.
I know my skills are still there! My techniques are much more refined! I always understood good cost control and I certainly understand great customer interaction much better!
I realized once the process was underway, that I first entered the culinary world because of my passion for food and cooking. That passion soon overtook any fear of getting back into the kitchen, fear of any ownership issues, fear of failure.
Passion for cooking is something that has been inside of me my whole career. I’ve often told new apprentices thinking about entering the culinary industry “once its gets hold of you, once it gets in your blood, you can’t get rid of it…try but it doesn’t leave”. How true these words have come back full circle for me!
I am truly excited about opening Fresco café and catering. I am passionate about producing the freshest quality food products for my guests at affordable prices. It will be a delight to meet new people, share my recipes and teach them cooking techniques to try at home.

Chef Paul