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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkNews from Around Banderas Bay | November 2005 

The ABC's of Gourmet
email this pageprint this pageemail usKathy Taylor - PVNN

Perla Ochoa in her first toque!

Click HERE for the photo galleries
Puerto Vallarta - What many consider to be the "heart and soul" of the Festival Gourmet takes place in the days between the opening and closing parties, and during the daylight hours before the coveted Chef's Tables.

The cooking classes offered by the Festival Gourmet are a great way to learn new skills, expand your repertoire, and rub shoulders with like-minded gourmands. The fact that this year's classes were conducted by Gabriel Bousquet, Chef Instructor, Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Francaise in Paris, was a windfall. It was a rare opportunity to learn from one of the great Masters.

Every day, for four days, Chef Bousquet created a meal of at least four courses. Jumping from one recipe to the other as he worked through the various preparation steps, he taught classic techniques and gave a steady stream of practical advice. Chef Roland Menetery of the Festival Committee effortlessly translated Bousquet's commentary into English while interjecting advice and details from his own years of cooking experience.

This was the menu on the day I attended:

Chilled Cream of Fresh Peas in Bacon Aspic (click HERE for recipe)

Fillet of Sole in Peppers and Crusty Smoked Rind

Supreme of Chicken Cooked Twice, with Sauteed Endive in Cream Sauce

Blinis of Pistachio and Raspberry

This menu provided Chef Bousquet the perfect platform to instruct as he would in Paris.

It started with recipe and menu design. Roland Menetery said "there are thousands of students who come from all over the world, and they never use the same recipe. They use a new recipe every day - students and chefs meet and create a new dish. That is why they produce such great creative chefs."

For example, look at the starter, the cold soup. Basically it is a deconstructed traditional pea soup, whose ingredients are reinvented with an innovative twist. It is a perfect soup for this climate.

As in an Ecole class, the basics are taught and reinforced. To clarify the stock Chef Bousquet employs a classic technique. He adds a mixture of beaten egg white and mire poix to the simmering stock, waits a few minutes, and then ladles the clear broth through a cheesecloth lined colander. Voila, a crystal clear consommé! Oh no! Forgot the seasoning. Well, even mistakes provide a learning opportunity. He seasons with salt and pepper and the advice that for a truly clear consommé, seasoning must be added before straining.

Using the best ingredients and tools that you can afford is also part of the lesson, even when it comes to kitchen wrap. As Bousquet wraps the seasoned chicken breasts in clear wrap before poaching, he admonishes using cheap wrap which would only give you hours of frustration. "Don't try to save pennies and nickels," says Chef Menetery.

Bousquet has not stopped talking and working for two hours. Each recipe is unfinished, with components at various stages of completion. Sauces are reducing, chicken is poaching, aspic is setting, and tuiles are cooling over the curve of a rolling pin. We take a coffee break and come back for the final steps.

Chef Bousquet continues.

"Be flexible." The blinis in the dessert recipe call for a pistachio paste, which is unavailable in Puerto Vallarta. Chef Bousquet's solution is to finely chop fresh pistachios, and add a bit of green food colouring, drop by drop. It did the trick - pistachio blinis. Both chefs laugh as they advise being very careful with the food colouring - obviously someone had green hands for days.

"First you eat with the eyes..." Ever wonder why restaurant food looks so great on the plate? Well, there are tricks to mouth watering presentation that enhance taste of the food.

As he plates, Bousquet provides a running commentary. "Always place the meat or main item directly in front of the plate. If the plate is a clock, the main item should be at 6:00, with a balanced composition of the other items around the face of the clock. And don't forget height. Give your main item a base, and stack... pour the sauce around the food, not on it... don't smother it... let it be beautiful. Always wipe the edges of the plate."

Just as the sauces have been reduced to their essence, the three hours of cooking and talk have been reduced to the four plates in front of us. After three hours of cooking, they look especially good to the hungry students in the forum.

The class is comprised of amateur and aspiring chefs, as well as a significant number of chef-jacketed professionals. The top rows of the bleachers fill with excited students enrolled in the chef program at the local technical school. One of my favorite moments of the entire Festival is when one of the students, Perla Ochoa, is fitted for her first "toque" during the break. She beams!

My seat mate on the left is Dana from Alaska, a former fishing trawler cook, and VIP pass holder for the Festival - he hasn't missed an event yet. He confesses that he thinks that he will never miss a Festival until he dies!

Next to him is a wide-eyed 19-year-old cook from the Best Western in Monterey, sent by his company to get experience. On my right are Executive Chef Victor Mendez of the very trendy Nude Restaurant in Guadalajara, and Chef Victor Garcia, opening chef for the new Nude in Cancun; they are looking for inspiration.

In the seats across from us are Carlos Obando, owner of Bianco, who has brought two of his servers, Ezequiel and Miguel, "to learn" and "broaden their experience." I myself have cooked for a living for many years and can't resist the opportunity to continue to learn and broaden my own experience, especially from such a highly regarded teacher.

We applaud Chef Bousquet and Roland's effusive translations. Those of us who are having lunch move into the dining room where Chilean wines are poured and a fashion show featuring clothing from local boutiques begins. The first course is placed in front of us, the cream of pea, just the yolk of the quail egg floating in a pool of the most gorgeous green... mmmmm. Buen provecho!

I love school.

Read all the event stories and view the photo galleries of the Festival Gourmet International 2005, from the Jungle themed kick off at the Mayan Palace to the Tropical Odyssey Closing Gala at the Sheraton. Just follow the links below.

Tropical Odyssey - An Exotic End to Festival 2005
Kathy Taylor

For an evening to be truly memorable, it takes a combination of ambiance, music, wine, food, and often, company. The Tropical Odyssey Gala that was the closing event of the Eleventh Annual International Festival Gourmet Vallarta had all of these elements.more »»»

The Chef's Table Masterpiece of Cocina de Autor
Kathy Taylor

Imagine this... you've invited two of the world's finest chefs into your home, as well as a sommelier, a maitre d' and staff, and a jazz duo. The linens are crisp, the glasses gleam in the candlelight, and soothing water cascades down the rock wall in your outside atrium as you watch Chefs Blouet and Tapia create a masterpiece.more »»»

To Know Wine is to Understand Life
Denise Derameé

It has been said that "to know wine is to understand life," and thanks to the wine tasting events taking place at the Sheraton Buganvilias during this year's Festival Gourmet Expo Forum, you don't have to be a wine connoisseur to explore the wonderful world of wine.more »»»

Bianco - The Best of Both Worlds
Erich Haubrich

Just a month after their gala opening, Bianco's Chef's Table event, as part of the Festival Gourmet, was a huge success. Guest Chef Bernard Guillas from La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, and the Bianco staff created a one-of-a-kind 6 course meal in their unique fusion style, bringing together European cuisine and traditional Mexican ingredients.more »»»

Festival Gourmet Brunch Highlights
Kathy Taylor

One of the most anticipated events of the Gourmet Festival is the Brunch at the Sheraton Buganvilias in Puerto Vallarta. Chef Francis Drillien of the Sheraton Cabo San Lucas, guest chef for this event, celebrated the sea with a minimalist brunch for 400 guests on Sunday. more »»»

The Flavours of Contemporary Chile
Kathy Taylor

In the leafy aerie that is the top terrace of Chef Thierry Blouet's Cocina de Autor, his guest chef Oscar Tapia gave us a little gift yesterday, an amuse-bouche, which not only pleased but teased in anticipation for the chef's table dinner they will offer this Tuesday.more »»»

Hot Opener for the Gourmet Festival International
Kathy Taylor

Fire. It is fitting that this most primitive and basic of cooking methods was the theme of the opening festivities of the Festival Gourmet International at the magnificent Mayan Palace in Nuevo Vallarta.more »»»

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