What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had? A menu you’ve recited to your friends and recalled with your partner, a meal where you relished every moment? Chef David Adjey believes that this is the chef’s intent with every great dining experience: to imprint a meal in someone’s mind.
This week I was lucky enough to participate in a truly memorable evening sponsored by Air Miles and Chef Events, hosted by celebrity Chef David Adjey. The evening at St. Lawrence Market was an interactive cooking and dining experience, including a scavenger hunt, hors d’ oeuvres and cocktails, cooking class, and an intimate, bistro-style dinner.
For the scavenger hunt, we were split into teams and given a short ingredient list. I was paired with two lovely couples and we excitedly rushed into the market to search for our items. The search was frantic and fun, trying to explain to vendors why we needed such strange ingredients and being collectively scandalized by the price of sundried cherries. As soon as we got back to the Market kitchen we were handed cocktails and conscripted into prepping duties. Each team had a work station set up, and ours revolved mostly around cutting up collard greens and peeling shallots. Despite the lack of competition, low stakes, and general cheer and friendliness of all the participants, the evening had the feeling of some kind of cooking show. I fully believed I was in an oddly non-competitive episode of Chopped. And if you know me at all, you know that is a very good thing. The chef and his team were very hands on, and we were taught some really interesting prep techniques. While helping us chop the Collard greens, one of David’s friends told us about the chef punishing his kitchen staff for a mistake by forcing them to listen to “Oops, I Did It Again” on repeat for an entire day.
There was sushi and more cocktails as a few people deep-fried corn tortillas into bowls, while others stirred or added salt or pepper as instructed. What struck me right away was that Chef Adjey is full of charisma and everyone seemed to be having a really great time. To have a chef teach you how to make a perfect risotto while he regales you with anecdotes of people who claim they are allergic to certain colors is sort of surreal and wonderful. He was really funny, calling people out for improper knife skills while shouting out bizarre instructions. “The war is over folks, no need to ration that pineapple!”.
We sat at our tables and ate the first course while Chef Adjey and his sous Chef Shanna Dehaney continued to prepare other elements of the meal. Shanna seemed like a bit of a bad-ass, so I stole her for a few minutes to chat about what it’s like working for such a renowned chef. She told me about how important presentation is to fine dining, how key patience is during cooking demos, and how great it is to use the culinary training she gets from Chef Adjey to impress her family. “Even my spaghetti is like, top notch now” she told me with a smile. She hopes to one day open her own restaurant, using her knowledge of upscale cuisine to put a new spin on modern Jamaican dishes. I thanked her and rushed back to my table, where I talked with some other guests about food, cooking, and restaurants in the city. We may have also talked about Chopped.
Chef Adjey then encouraged us to drink more wine as he talked for a little bit about the flavor profile of the main course we were creating. He talked about how all of these elements we had helped to prep were coming together to create a distinctly Latin American dish, and how various elements of corn were being used to pull the plate together. He also talked about the importance of texture and flavour for making a dish that is not only delicious, but interesting: a conversation piece. He mentioned that although every person may not like every aspect of a meal, each part of the plate is reactionary. “We have great meals to talk about them,” he said.
Soon the main course was nearly ready, and we were all invited to come up to the counter and participate in a mini plating workshop, trying to nail the presentation of each plate. There were so many components of decoration, including a stripe of mole, a circle of cilantro sauce, a drizzling of a yellow pepper puree, corn tortilla bowls, corn husk shells. As a food lover, this was the greatest experience. It’s one thing to eat an incredible meal prepared by a world class chef, it’s another to prepare it with him. David, Shanna and the rest of his team were extremely patient with us, as we fumbled our way through some of the trickier aspects of the meal. If anything ever got too complicated, there was a professional to handle it, so the guests could step back and have their wine topped up. Of course all of the food smelled and tasted delicious. I’m a huge fan of mexican food, so all of the corn and cilantro and peppers were right up my alley, and the dessert was chocolatey and perfect. But the interactive nature of the evening, the hands-on cooking, the sprinting around the market with four new friends, these added up to make a truly unforgettable event. And you better believe I’ve already recited this meal to a few of my friends.
Thank you Air Miles and Chef Events for an incredible evening! We can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
~ Kristy LaPointe