Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cooking Demo: Garcon Resaurant

Today's demo was by Chef Arthur Wall, from Garcon Restaurant.

I hadn't heard of Garcon before, but it is a french restaurant in the Mission.  The chef has a really interesting background: from New Orleans, but trained in classical French cuisine, but has been cooking in the bay area for a while now.  So his food has elements of the south, uses french techniques, but is largely influenced by using fresh, local, seasonal components.

He gave a really, really great demo.  I've been attending pretty much every cooking demo at the Ferry Building, Macy's, and Williams-Sonoma for the past year, and I can safely say, that this was the most informational AND the most enjoyable.

He provided many tips on cooking, not just on the particular dish he was preparing, but on cooking in general.  He emphasized how important technique was, and how you could give a bunch of chefs the same basket of ingredients, the same recipe to follow, and how you'd get totally different dishes.  He jokingly explained that this is why he wasn't worried giving away his recipe to us, because he wasn't scared we'd take his job :)  Cooking isn't just about math, it is about feeling and passion!

The biggest takeaways were about the importance of tasting, seasoning, and adjusting to really get the flavors right.  He talked about how you want to start out under-seasoning, because you can always adjust later, but you can't undo it if you throw in too much salt and in the blink of the eye ruin three days worth of marinading and work.  He also talked a lot about layering and building complex flavors, and how the little extras like browning the butter or adding additional herbs is really what separates out chefs from home cooks.

In addition to being really informative, the chef was engaging and fun.  He told fun little personal stories, included funny quips about cooking with booze and butter (don't be afraid of it!  If it kills you, you'll die with a smile on your face!), etc.  His passion for food, for ingredients, and for cooking really came through.  You could tell that he genuinely loves the process of creating a dish for others to enjoy, and that he really respects the farmers and ingredients he sources.

The demo ran longer than most (over an hour, rather than the standard 45 minutes), but I don't think anyone in the audience minded.  We were all throughly enjoying ourselves, learning a lot, and listening to his stories.  When he finished, I don't think I"d ever heard such strong applause before!  Really, really well done Chef!
Gnocchi with artichoke, mushroom, baby carrot, green garlic, chard in artichoke and white wine broth, topped with parmesan cheese.
The gnocchi were soft, fluffy, delicious little pillows of potato-y, cheesy, goodness.  The chef mentioned that if he were preparing this dish at the restaurant, or at home, he'd pan cook the gnocchi with the vegetables and sauce, rather than just tossing it all together at the end as he did today in order to serve the large group.  The gnocchi themselves were a little bland, so I think the additional cooking time with the other flavorful components would have helped infuse some flavor into them.  It also would have added a bit of a crispy crust to them, which would have been an additional enjoyable textural aspect.  That said, they were still quite good even like this.

The assorted fresh vegetables were all delicious, tender, and really made this a light, very spring feeling dish.  I was particularly surprised by the artichoke, as I don't tend to like it all that much, but they were just tender and fairly tasty.

But the standout was the broth!  Intensely flavorful, yet very light at the same time.  The chicken flavor really came through, adding dimension to the sauce.  The assorted herbs (thyme, rosemary, cloves) that the chef used really imparted a lot of flavor as well, and although I couldn't distinguish particular herbs, you could tell that there were a bunch of things at play here, creating a really complex flavor.  I gladly lapped up all of the broth remaining in my bowl, and would have loved to have some bread to dip in it too!

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