As part of my assimilation into my new environment, I joined a social club that organizes a luncheon each month, at a different venue. Well, May’s selection could not be resisted – a limited-seat engagement at the Arizona Culinary School in Scottsdale, Arizona.
I am so sorry I didn’t take pictures – but then my camera is really lousy with close-ups, and I was very preoccupied with enjoying the food. The students cooked and served – for many it was their first experience serving, and you could tell they were a little nervous. But as it is with all things when people have passion for what they do, nervousness transforms into positive energy and it is all good. Our menu offered four appetizers, four entrees, and three deserts.
Everyone started with a gazpacho shooter – one hit down the hatch. Fun. Even with the crouton. Nice hit of spice without overpowering the flavors.
Bread was served in baskets – three kinds: A standard baguette, a brown grain, and a rye.
The appetizers were Salade Grecque, New England Clam Chowder, Sauteed Sea Scallop Romesco, and my choice, which was the Caprese Salad – a fresh mozzarella stuffed with sun dried tomato tapenade, prociutto and basil fresh greens and a balsamic reduction. Can I spell Heaven for you on that one? The mozzarella could have stood on its own, and I didn’t want to eat anything after that to spoil the taste. (Ok, I admit to filling in the spaces with the Montepulciano La Fiera, Abruzza, Italy). The prosciutto was rolled into the mozzarella, and the presentation included three young romano leaves.
The chefs-in-training were buzzing from table to table, checking this and that, answering questions and making sure everything was in its proper place. They were so serious about getting things right!
For the entrees, I passed on the Poitrine de Poulet Grille Chasseur and the Boef Roti a la Perigourdine. I can’t rave enough about my entree “Le Fletan Maltaise”, which was a pan seared, butter basted halibut served with potato corn ragout, fruit salpicon (that would be mango with red beets thrown in) and a blood orange hollandaise. For being flown in from Boston, the halibut was so tasty and fresh – I would have thought they caught it on the boat that morning (oh wait – Arizona is a land-locked state…..). And the blood orange was not overpowering – just enough sweetness to balance the hollandaise (which is usually not my favorite, but this version can make me change my mind). One of the ladies at my table of four had ordered the Strozzapreti Aglia e Olio, and there was so much of it that she couldn’t finish it – so we all got to taste that and the pasta was as light as air, yet flavorful at the same time. Again, heaven! (At this point I am not embarrassed to admit that when my plates were collected, they were wiped clean. Who cares about appearances? When it’s good, it’s good!).
Now I could have picked the Chocolate Mousse Torte, or the Creme Brûlée. It’s summer (or feels like it at 96 degrees outside) so I went with the Fresh Fruit tart with vanilla pasty cream. Again, light as air, went down the hatch smooth as silk. One of the ladies at my table was laughing because she could still hear my “mmmm’s” from across the table. Oh well, you can dress me up, but have to watch where you take me out, I suppose.
Another fun part of this was that all this cost only $20!!!! In our area of town, these days, it’s next to impossible to find a halibut entree that is less than $25. Of course, at the school, these kids are paying to be there, so labor costs (technically) don’t figure into the price. The gratuity add-on was well deserved, because they all stood up to the challenge. I know that culinary school can be pricey – here it is a nine month rotational program, for the fine sum of $28,000.
Afterwards we had the option of a student-guided tour of the facilities, which I jumped on and enjoyed the presentation. Our guide, Mary, was very enthusiast and made sure we got to see everything. The “go-to” gal (administrator, if you want to get technical) assured us that it was not a “restaurants from hell” environment. But I have heard and seen that working in the back can be a harrowing experience, and is not immune from the challenges that women face in the work place at large. Power to those with the passion to survive.
These lunches are sponsored by the school every week, and there is even a dinner once a month. Best to call, there is no set schedule and of course if a group like ours uses up the entire dining room then it’s better luck next time. I fully intend to find another opportunity to check it out again. This first experience was well worth the expense! If you have a culinary school in your area, I highly suggest checking it out for lunch and dinner programs. After all, their main objective is to feed you!