Saturday morning saw us, hands scrubbed and crisp white apron tied restaurant-style (in front), dutifully chopping vegetables and splitting whole chickens in the kitchen at the Village Pub, a local eatery. Good friend Scott Loftesness labored away nearby, cheek by jowl.
No, we haven’t taken up a side job to augment our “retiree” income: we were attending a cooking class and lunch with the Pub’s celebrated chef, Dmitry Elperin. Given the Pub’s usual prices, this exercise amounted to lunch – which we students helped cook – with three hours of free instruction by one of the Bay Area’s great chefs.
Scott spotted this event one morning and immediately emailed me a “Wanna go?” I called the Pub as soon as it opened and reserved two of the eight spots. Scott is soooo on top of things, bless his soul. We lucky students were treated to Dmitry’s introduction to roasting meat, fish and vegetables. We trussed young hens, stuffed them with herbs, fennel and lemons and made vegetable-and-herb rafts upon which the hens would roast.
Asked “How long should you roast ‘fill-in-the-blank'”, Dmitry replied “Until it’s done.” We couldn’t help but be amazed by the fluidity of chef’s motion, prep that would take many of us 30 minutes was 5 minutes work for the chef, who husked, peeled, chopped, diced and sliced with such grace and precision that he’ll surely be a model for future robotic chefs.
The piece de resistance was a salt-encrusted striped bass: using a whisk, Dmitry turned six egg whites and three pounds of Kosher salt into a white paste with the consistency of wet sand. We students then coated the fish with an inch-thick crust which Dmitry patted into a smooth torpedo shape before carving an eye, smile, scales and a tail into the salt with a thin spatula. The fish came out of the oven perhaps thirty minutes later, a beautiful golden color.
At lunch the fish was broken out of the crust and proved to be the sweetest, most moist bass I’ve ever tasted. The menu also included our roast chickens, vegetables and a leg of lamb that chef had started when we arrived, later to be shaved and served “Medieval-style” at the table – “we don’t do this in the restaurant,” chef hastened to note.
The restaurant supplied three wine pairings, notable for their quality and surprising affordability, with the lunch, which may be the biggest I’ve ever eaten (in the U.S., anyway). A long nap was all I could manage after that…