The class was offered through the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, a school that is focused on "celebrating traditional northern crafts." They offer all kinds of classes - woodworking, outdoor skills, ecology, various art forms, timber framing, knitting, and even a blacksmith class, to name a few. And of course, there are some food classes as well.
I attended a half day course called "Cooking with the Seasons." It was held inside the kitchen of Chez Jude, a well respected fine dining restaurant in Grand Marais. The chef and owner of Chez Jude, Chef Judi Barsness, was our instructor.
The theme of this course was wild rice, a rice-like grain famous in Minnesota, hand harvested by a local source. Wild rice would appear in each of our dishes - wild rice chowder with wild rice and thyme scones, roast duck with wild rice and butternut squash "orzotto" (a risotto made with orzo pasta and wild rice) and cranberry port chutney, and wild rice waffles with caramelized apples and sage ice cream.
We were divided up into teams. I ended up on the wild rice chowder team, and we also ended up making the cranberry port chutney. There were only eight students in the class, so there was a lot of personal attention and it was easy to ask questions. It was a good group, too. Lots of friendly folks with a common interest, so it was enjoyable cooking with like-minded people.
The chowder we made was a lighter version, made with the classic mirepoix, leeks, bacon, shiitake mushrooms, and lots of chicken stock with a little white wine and just a touch of half and half for some creaminess. It was fun to prepare the chowder with my team. Chef Judi made sure we tasted at various stages for proper seasoning (when we tasted early on, we declared it needed a little more of "everything!", and we increased the amount of herbs, salt, and pepper accordingly until it was to our liking).
We also were tasked with making a cranberry port chutney, which consisted of frozen cranberries, dried cranberries, port wine, orange juice, and local maple syrup. "Chutney" was more of a play on words, as this was really an elegant and sweet cranberry sauce. I told Chef Judi that I would put this on ice cream, to which she replied, "Now you're talking!" :)
While we worked on teams, Chef Judi always made sure we all got to see, and even feel, various important stages of the other dishes being prepared so we did not miss out on anything. So, we got to see how wet and loose the dough for the scones was, how the duck breasts are scored before roasting, how the "orzotto" comes together, etc. The Chef was a great instructor.
Each team was tasked with serving their dishes. Our wild rice chowder was served with wild rice scones. As noted earlier, the chowder was a lighter version that was more stock-based, different from the heavier, creamier wild rice soups that are popular here. It was delicate, nutty, sweet, and light. Delicious. But the wild rice scones absolutely rocked. I have never had a scone so light and fluffy with such a fine crumb. Awesome. (Sorry, I didn't get a photo of our dish - I have trouble photographing soup!)
The main course was the roast duck with wild rice and butternut squash "orzotto" and our cranberry port chutney. The duck was outstanding, roasted in the restaurant's wood burning oven, cooked to a perfect medium rare. And while not being a fan of squash, I found the "orzotto" very flavorful. I loved the contrasting texture of the soft orzo pasta and the somewhat puffy wild rice. The cranberry chutney added a nice sweetness to round out the dish.
The roast duck and wild rice "orzotto" we prepared for class, along with the chutney my team made
Dessert was really interesting - wild rice waffles with caramelized apples and sage ice cream. The waffles contained wild rice and were seasoned with "fall spices" (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove), so they had a lot of flavor on their own. They apples added a syrupy sweetness. Sage ice cream falls into that "sounds weird, but is really good" category - Chef Judi explained to us that sage is from the mint family, so it makes sense that it can be used in ice cream. And she was right. It was incredible. You definitely have a dusty sage flavor, but there is also a lot of sweetness, and it did indeed taste sort of minty!
Wild rice waffles for dessert!
I had the best time. What I learned, and a couple of mistakes that were made:
1. I need better knives! The chefs knife I used to dice bacon, finely slice leeks, and plow through a couple cups worth of fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut like a laser. Must get new knives!
2. It was really interesting to cook in a professional kitchen and to see the environment the chef and her staff get to cook in. It was small, and on a busy day they crank out 100 covers for dinner. Incredible that they can put together all those amazing dinners on a six burner stove.
3. The scone recipe was nice to see demonstrated because the dough looks almost too wet and loose. It became clear to me that this would be easy to overwork, so the key to the scones appears to be that you mix until it barely comes together, and then just walk away! Related to this, I learned that flour ages and may require more or less liquid depending upon how old the flour is, and that is why feeling the texture of the dough becomes so important.
4. Mistake #1 - The "orzotto" recipe - this was stirred too much and broke up the chunks of butternut squash too much. The flavor was still good, but the chef wanted to be able to see the chunks and retain that texture. So, a gentler hand was needed when stirring.
5. Mistake #2 - Caramelized apples need to be made in something other than a non-stick skillet! We essentially made a flavorful apple sauce, and it didn't quite achieve the correct brown color and sticky texture. Tasty indeed, but not quite what we were after.
In the end, it was a most enjoyable experience. I had a blast. Chef Judi did a really nice job working with all of us in her kitchen, my classmates were fun, and I learned a few tips along with some nice recipes I got to take home (well, except for the sage ice cream, which is a restaurant secret!). What a great day! I definitely want to do this again.
Thanks for my "Masters Division" gift, Mom! :)