Is it possible to "lunch and learn"? The answer, according to the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, is a resounding "YES!" "Lunch and Learn" is their name for a food and wine pairing demonstration series they do -- in which I recently participated. In our case, the one-hour event was a demonstration by two women (hurrah) as chef and knowledgeable wine consultant. The chef was Cathy Parsons (bio available here) who I could swear I heard say she has lost 78 pounds. The wine instructor was Cheryl Pitti, a former member of the Air Force; for her bio click here and scroll down! The cost for their expertise: $30 per person. While this seems a bit price-y (and certainly did when I purchased the tickets for 8 of us), the whole shebang turned out to be quite good. The demonstration was informative -- and the lunch tasty.
Here's what we saw: The event began with a little introduction, providing an overview. Then, we watched -- and listened to -- the chef enact and narrate the creation of a meal. Her aim? A "gourmet" seeming meal that could be created and served quickly, using mainly (though not entirely) local and seasonal ingredients. The menu: chicken stuffed with goat cheese and strawberries alongside a pea "salad" which had pearl onions and bacon. The meal was accompanied with two wines, a rose from Anthony Road and a dry riesling from Dr. Frank. (Oddly, I preferred the rose; and was glad to learn what the difference is between a blush and a rose wine. For another answer, click here. Both were quite good.)
Here is part of what I learned. First, though I already knew this, I was reminded that an airline chicken breast is one which still has the little drumstick bit of wing attaches. Cute. Then, the chef showed us how to make a deep pocket-like slice into the breast (and reminded us where the chicken "tender" is) into which we could slide a bit of (in this case Lively Run) goat cheese and some sliced strawberries. (Other options include a more Mediterranean idea with sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and some feta -- and frankly, something with blue cheese I cannot quite recall). The chicken breast is then baked -- at 350 I think for about 45 minutes. As I recall she did sear them off -- and did this by really really heating the pan first, then adding a tiny bit of oil. The searing ensures that the baking does not dry out the chicken. The second dish was fresh peas, shelled, blanched, and shocked, combined with bacon that had been cooked til crispy, and pearl onions (yes, these were Birds' Eye frozen onions) in a white sauce made from a roux. The main point she made on roux was: make it way way thicker than you think you are supposed to and cook it so that the floury taste disappears. Also important throughout her presentation: food safety issues around the chicken and also, she pointed out a maxim that is useful -- veggies from below ground (e.g., potatoes) go into water before boiling; veggies from above ground (e.g., peas) go in after the water is boiling. And like every other chef ever, she reminded us not to fool around with things too much; when rendering bacon, for example, do not spend a lot of time with a spatula moving the bacon around.
Of course, once she got done her demonstration, voila, mysteriously many dishes completed by others appeared for all of us! And, I have to admit, it was a lot better than I expected -- it was very good. And this was especially so because of the wine pairings. There were two wines, as I noted, and both went well with the relatively sweet chicken. For those of us of an age that think rose means either Mateus (yuck -- college days) or white zinfandel (again, yuck, days of yuppies and ?) the Anthony Road rose was actually really really good. (admittedly, I have not had either of the others in decades.)
After the meal, which was quite filling, I did indulge a bit more. Yes, there are beer tastings available in the tasting room and I had a tasting of 6 or so beers from New York State, ranging from Brooklyn to Cooperstown, to. . . well, all over the state -- and across a wide array of styles. Called the Empire Beer Tasting, I paid $5 for a taste of each of the following beers: Middle Ages Swallow Wit (Syracuse), Ommegang Hennepin (Cooperstown), Cooperstown Old Slugger (Cooperstown), Brooklyn Brown Ale (New York City), and Southern Tier IPA (Lakewood). The last was my favorite. One of my compatriots tried the juice tasting and came away with a case of Grower's Cooperative Grape Juice.
All in all, a lunch at which I learned a lot. So, yes, you can lunch and learn. Indeed.