Well, I am back home after spending several days in Switzerland.  It was a business trip, and a good one at that.  I was working with a group of managers of a client, and part of our time spent together took me into something I would have only imagined a few years ago.  After a day of meetings, we went off in a motor coach on a journey of delicious discovery.  And where did we go, you might be wondering?  We went to Coulisses Gourmand.  Yes, as they name and photo implies, it was a cooking school. 

This part of my sessions with the group was planned as sort of a break from all the incessant story-telling that seems to flow from my upper orifice when I am working.  The motor coach took us to Nyon, just north of Geneva, and after a short walk down some narrow streets, we were greeted by the proprietor – chef of the school Dominique Roué and his lovely and talented assistant Nathalie. 

The plan was simple.  The group was going to learn how to prepare a seriously complicated three-course dinner.  Well that was the first part, and the only simple part of the plan.  The dinner we would prepare was going to be OUR dinner, so if we buggered it up, we would go hungry.  Clearly a good incentive to do well.  The client team was divided into four groups, with each of us being responsible for one part of the meal.

So here is the menu we were given to prepare.  The starter would be Noix de St. Jacques a la plancha, puree & chips de panais (Seared Scallops served with potatoes mashed and parsnip chips).  The main was to be Agneu croustade with provence vegetables and a ratatouille cake (Lamb, wrapped in a perilously thin pastry, stuffed with cooked vegetables, and served with a tower of cooked tomato, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers - all of which I pretty much will not normally eat).

After the chef had demonstrated how to do each part of the dinner, we were set free to become premier chefs for an evening. Now I do like to cook, but I have been accused more than once of eating to live (instead of living to eat), and because of this, my attempts at demonstrating culinary excellence usually falls into the category of ‘safe’ things to prepare.  I am pretty good at doing all sorts of things with chicken, but admittedly, I usually just make the same things over and over again.  This was going to be a bit more adventurous, and even though I wasn’t really part of the team, they had asked me to participate with them in the evening, and (luckily), I was put in the desert group.

The desert – Fondant au chocolat, Coeur de fraise – undoubtedly created by a cholesterol terrorist, as you will soon see. Ingredients for 5 people (there were 14 of us, but this is how the recipe was given to us) 200g of chocolate, 100g of butter, 3 eggs, 40g of sugar, 50g of flour, 50g of milk, 50g of cream, 500g of strawberries.  For the English cream that was served with the treat, you will need 12 egg yolks, 220g of sugar, 1 litre of milk, and 2 sticks of vanilla.  If you are not drooling by now, you must not be really reading this.  I suppose I could go on about how to whip all this together into one of the best deserts that has ever crossed my lips, but the recipe is in French…but if you want it, let me know.  Here is a hint; close your eyes and imagine taking a spoon and gently sliding through a sliced strawberry so you can slowly cut into a small cake, only slowing down to watch the melted chocolate drip down the side of the cake onto the English cream that is surrounding it.  Hmmm, I think I had better stop here, or I will need to take a cold shower pretty quickly now, but just know it was pretty damn good.

We sliced, we diced, we seared, we fried, we whipped, we whisked, we said ‘yes chef’ repeatedly, we baked…and then we feasted on what turned out to be a spectacular dinner.

So right about now, you must be pondering what I prepared for my dinner after I returned home from Geneva.  As you ponder this, think of the fact that I was an avid participant in the cookery experience, and did learn how to make some pretty spectacular foods.  So what did I make for that first dinner?  A) Seared chicken medallions prepared in with mushrooms and garlic; served with steamed broccoli?  B) Pan-fried Bacalao, served with green beans wrapped in steamed carrot slices?  C) a small frozen pizza?


the 'fun' part of the meeting


Dominique, getting ready for the group


doing my bit in my trendy apron


putting the fishing touches on

doing things with greasy paper, this could be interesting

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copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, James B. Rieley