Like millions of Americans, I am a loyal Food Network fan. Each night I get some deranged kind of pleasure from watching famous chefs prepare meals I will probably never make. The shows always give me a flicker of hope that I, too, can cook.
My boyfriend Dave knows well of my Food Network addiction, so he put up no resistance when I told him we were going to a cooking demonstration at Cucina Bella in Kahului. In fact, he actually likes to cook, so he was excited to learn a few new recipes.
We entered our culinary classroom with big appetites and eager minds. Six perfect rows of desks—the kind with little wooden writing surfaces wrapped around plastic chairs like I used to nap on during high school biology classes—were set up between tall shelves of pots, pans and cooking equipment. At the head of the class was a working demo kitchen. I think I was having serious high school flashbacks, because we instinctively grabbed two seats in the back row.
Chef de Cuisine Jojo Vasquez was our fearless leader on this cooking adventure. He brought three of his favorite recipes from the Banyan Tree Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, along with the intention to teach the group of 30, mostly novice cooks, how to prepare restaurant-style cuisine for a dinner party of four. His focus, he said, would be to show us simple and elegant presentations for the dishes and a few tips and tricks about his ingredients along the way.
“I could talk about food for a very long time,” Vasquez said.
His menu began with a salad. First he macerated Kula strawberries with lavender from Ali‘i Lavendar Farm, which is also in Kula. A simple but elegant champagne vinaigrette came next as Vasquez argued against ever buying bottled salad dressing. The salad came together with hydroponic watercress greens from Waipoli, little spoonfuls of Surfing Goat Dairy chevre and toasted macadamia nuts.
My eyes rolled back into my head with pleasure when I tasted the perfectly sweet, creamy and crunchy mixture. I’m not sure that I could duplicate his fancy plating technique, but even a cooking idiot like me can whip up this delicious salad.
Miso-manila clams were next on the menu. I’m a shellfish fanatic and was stoked with the bowl of tender, shelled clams and shitake mushrooms in miso broth that came my way. Vasquez taught us to “bruise” a stalk of lemongrass to bring out the bright, intense aroma, which was totally news to me.
The main course was a filet of Kona kampachi, which our personal celebrity chef prepared simply with Enoki mushrooms, diced Roma tomatoes, ginger and green scallions. He presented the dish on a bed of baby spinach wilted in a lime vinaigrette and topped with a fresh mango puree.
Then Banyan Tree pastry chef Ashlie Koehler taught us to make a dulce de leche gelato, apple cider beignets and a rum dipping sauce. She explained every step of the dessert slowly and thoroughly, but I think I’ll leave this one to her and head to the restaurant the next time the craving for sweets hits.
The evening was like one long, satisfying Food Network show, without the commercials. Next week, Sam Choy will present his own flavors for a new crowd that gets to indulge in some delicious dishes and exciting culinary knowledge. MTW