Monday, May 3, 2010

Culinary Class at On The Marsh, Kennebunkport, ME- Part 1: Potato and Leek Soup

I am currently speechless.  John and I took the opportunity to head up to our favorite destination spot of Portland, Maine this weekend, and on the way home he had planned a big surprise for me.  Just a half an hour from Portland lies the beautiful little seaside community of Kennebunkport.  Best known as housing the summer homes of some of our former presidents, this is a gorgeous little town, with huge amounts of New England charm.  Within that little town there lies a lovely restaurant called On The Marsh.  This establishment has been voted one of the 10 best restaurants in Maine, is a recipient of a Wine Spectator award of Excellence, and the chef has presented at the James Beard Foundation.  Those are some pretty great credentials.  John had found out that they offer intimate culinary classes on Sunday mornings and had signed us up to take part.  The boy knows me all too well.  

Of course being the great surprise-er that he is, I didn't get a clue what we were doing until we pulled into the driveway of On The Marsh.  Complete glee took over as he explained that once inside we would be cooking with the Executive Chef and the Chef de Cuisine, and pulled apart my overnight bag searching for my sneakers which were of course more appropriate shoe wear for the kitchen then sandals.  Once inside the elegant house converted restaurant which sits directly on a marsh offering beautiful views, we were greeted by Patrick, head man in charge of Front of the House.  He gave us a brief run down of our day a head, took us on a quick tour of the house and then led us back in the kitchen where Christine, the Chef de Cuisine and Jeffrey, the Executive Chef.  He also showed us to the Chefs table in the kitchen where fresh baked raspberry muffins with blue agave butter were waiting for us....and of course mimosas.  We sat and flipped through our binders for the day which included the menu which we would prepare and the accompanying recipes, as well as a frequently used term guide, suggestions for good cook books and other great pieces of information.  While sitting at this incredibly quaint table in the kitchen the chefs came over and began introducing us to their lives in the kitchen, their philosophies on their food, and what was clearly the main passion in life.

I, of course was in complete rapture and could barely contain myself from jumping up and down- literally.  The muffins were heavenly- warm and buttery, with a wonderful sweet tart flavor from the raspberries. They were a delicious way to kick off the day.  After we had snacked for a bit, and had some of the lovely mimosa's the chefs led us to a prep table where four spots had been laid out with cutting boards and knives ready for us to begin work!  Our menu for the day began with a potato and leek soup.  Now, I recall, vividly, having a bad experience with this type of soup when I was little, and therefor banning it from being served in my household.  I laughed when I read that it would be our first course as my mother would be glad to know that I will once again eat it.  

They began the soup by having us chop onions, leeks and potatoes, helping us with our knife skills as we went. They showed us how to properly hold a knife-which I have been doing wrong for years, as well as how to hold the item being chopped.  While I absolutely haven't mastered it yet- I feel good knowing the proper grips- I'll definitely be practicing!  After we had sufficiently chopped our veggies- Chef Jeffrey added them to a huge pot with
half a pound of butter, as well as a little salt and pepper.  Next to him on the stove sat another healthy pot filled with homemade chicken stock that he would add to the veggie mix.  Homemade stock is one of those things that you KNOW you should use.  You know its healthier, tastier, and just all around better.   You know that layering flavors is far better than just adding whatever.  We all know that homemade stock is the way to go, however those lovely cans and boxes of stock that line out grocery store aisles are just so appealing.  Chef Jeffrey had us each taste the homemade stock though and it was incredible.  As opposed to being something that I would never eat on its own, this was rich and full of flavor something that I would be thrilled to sit down to a cup of.  Fantastic.  So now my goal- for the next weekend that I have some free time- is to make a huge pot of lovely stock and freeze it for future use.  I am thrilled at how much better my soups could be!  Anyway-once the leeks and the onions were beautifully translucent, and everything was gelling together, Chef Jeffrey added a half a cup of apple cider vinegar, to "brighten" the flavors", and the chicken stock.  A half hour later, he added heavy cream (yum) and fresh thyme.  Lovely....

While the soup simmered, we got to work on the rest of the menu for the day- more to come on that later- but then later, just as we were finishing up the other dishes, they brought the giant pot of soup to our prep table.  The soup smelled absolutely divine.  Honestly-it was the best smelling soup ever.  I cannot even begin to describe it but it was astounding.  Chef Chris began ladling the soup into their huge industrial blender (one that actually can be used with hot liquids unlike the average household blender) and blended it together into a smooth soup.  The chunks of potato, leek and onion became one liquid with the stock and cream.  Each blended batch was them strained through a chinoise to further annihilate any lumps and create a velvety smooth texture.

After that was complete we were led out to the dining room to be served.  This soup, our first course in an incredible meal, was absolutely beautiful.  After our exit from the kitchen Chefs Jeff and Chris had poured each serving in a beautiful bowl, and decorated the top with a few precious drops of white truffle oil, scallion and red pepper flakes.  The final presentation was gorgeous with the creamy brown soup, bright green scallion and  red from the pepper.  The taste was incredible.  Light onion flavor from the leeks and the onions, richness from the stock and all of the flavors that went with it, and the gorgeous cream from the potatoes and additional cream.  I could have had a second and third bowl of just this soup, but more courses were due to arrive...

Throughout this week I'll continue the journey through the kitchen at On The Marsh which included more playing with knives, AND fire!       

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