Christmas in November Host at Jasper Park Lodge 2010 : “It’s not what’s on the table, it’s who’s at the table!”
Setting the mood is key to everything. Michael Smith walks his talk. He is the quintessential teacher. Teaching the importance of cooking at home has become his life’s work. It is also my daily mantra at school: cook at home! Outside of his session, the aromatic scent of Christmas wafted through the air. Apple cider! Nothing says it more. Get your cup of Christmas and come in and site down in this homey environment set up to warm the soul. Before he opened his mouth, he had spoken volumes.
I did arrive early as I am prone to do to almost everything I am excited to attend. I liked the rustic nature of the set. The plates with little squares on them, below, perked up my curiosity. Hmmm?
This was Beavie’s first session. He was in a playful mood! When he saw the stag, that was it for him: “Let me ride ’em!” And up he went. Whoo-hoo! We had fun playing in the room all by ourselves. The JPL host standing at the door watching me was certainly more than curious.
Michael was actually in the room on his laptop when I first entered. He didn’t even raise his head. He was open and warm throughout the conference, but impossible to take a good photo of. He was always moving. He was receptive, but not interested. That was kind of sad. I did love him, though, and I have not been a big fan of his through his TV shows. They are important and good, but somehow, seem so scripted. Well, they are. I like a little more free form learning, I guess. By receptive and not interested, I mean that when he did raise his head from his computer, he apologized for being so focused. Certainly, I understood. Later, I was able to say a couple of words about my appreciation of his focus on children and getting parents to cook delicious, nutritious food for their kids. He said it had become his life’s work. I then said, “mine, too.” and he just nodded. He missed out. I suppose there have been times in my life where I felt I didn’t need to hear one more story or learn one more thing in a certain area, or talk to one more person in depth… but, I have learned now that there are so many interesting stories in the most unsuspecting places. I would have loved to have held an engaging conversation with Michael at that time… or even later. But, he was really not interested. Fortunately, my ego could take it!
He left me plenty of time in the room to myself with Beavie. We each had our own chairs on the front row… maybe that is what altered my credibility!!
Michael came in and was so warm and welcoming. He invited all to fill their cups before he started and the room was fragrant with cinnamon and cloves and apples and warmth.
He started with his personal story. A bit of it. This has been his 12th year to Christmas in November (unlike the information in the Scavenger Hunt on the bus here!) and he is the host! The photos on the screen when we came in were his from his new cookbook that will be published in the fall. He said that he finds when he is in Jasper each year that he is inspired to write a lot here. The setting inspires his work and that it is wonderful to “œbe the cook” over Christmas, as it is so important!
Briefly, Michael’s story in his own words:
- he attended Art school first, but cut couldn’t produce a product by 5pm on Friday
- he started to work at a restaurant part time as the sous chef during art school
- the chef moved and he became the Chef at 22
- he was at the top of his fame, but then her quit because he didn’t trust his knowledge base
- he enrolled at the CIA in NYC and had enough money for the first semester; as luck would have it (“horseshoes fall on me on a regular basis: I am truly blessed”)”¦. I was invited to cater a small dinner party one weekend
- and without realizing it, I was being auditioned for the position of Chef for a women who had a very important high society catering company in her community; the dinner party was for 8
- within 3 months, I am catering huge parties almost every weekend for hundreds’s of people with linens and silver and acrobats and bears and hiring all my friends to help
- doing this almost every weekend, one of her friends asks me if I would be interested in catering his corporate Christmas party: his name was Buddy (Valerie, here: I had a feeling we were all to know who Buddy was. I hadn’t a clue)
- it took two months to plan the party; on the appointed day at the appointed hour, I arrive at his home, but I cannot find the house. I am in front of the locked gate, but can’t get in when the gate opened and I go a good kilometer into the woods and the house was on top of the hill with a beautiful view. Now this house was as big as the entire JPL. Now I am really nervous.
- The butler opens the door, takes me into the kitchen; I have come to know that the bigger, the more expensive the kitchen, the more likely no one cooks; IÂ was ushered into a showroom kitchen
- First guests arrived and I know that I am just the help at this play
- I put my Chef’s hat on an d moved out into the room: looks great”¦. people were gathered around the piano singing carols, nibbling”¦ etc.
- Haven’t seen the client, but all is well
- then Buddy comes in and wants to know when the party is starting; I thought it was going beautifully
- So, I made some mulled apple cider: party is now louder and talking and wild”¦
- Some one put some cider in the dog dish…the party has started!
- Buddy came back to the kitchen and insists upon more cider
This story continued at depth and at length with the idea being that the more cider, the wilder the party and the happier the host until:
- the party has gone completely crazy”¦.
- I was packing up to go and Buddy wants one more round so we make another round and leave it on the stove and take off
- Point is: have a trick like mulled apple cider up your sleeve!
Michael Smith impressed me. He is a captive story teller. He used repetition and eloquence. He was articulate and expressive. This was unscripted… well, definitely memorized, but not read from a teleprompt of a script in hand. This introductory moment captured me completely. I am now a fan. Still sad that he is not interested in me. But, a fan, none the less. The adept integration of the introduction was not lost on me, either (as the master teacher).
Michael held up his business card for all of us to see. Under his name, instead of Chef… Executive Chef, Freelance Chef… or whatever incredible titles he owns and could have printed there, he had “Caramelizer” printer under his name. This represents flavour and I am all about bringing optimum flavour to everything I make be it sweet or savoury! I was again, enamoured. The Caramelizer. Hmmm. What am I? Valerie Rodgers Lugonja, B. Ed… The Learner? The Educator? The Blogger? … all completely miss the point. What am I? Valerie Rodgers Lugonja, B.Ed: Makes it Happen. That’s it! My by-line, after my e-mail has been “make it happen” for years. I listen; I do. I am the consummate stealer of everyone else’s best idea; then I take it, and make it my own. Others come up with great ideas, but often do not put them into motion, or actualize them. That is it: Valerie Rodgers Lugonja, BEd: The Actualizer. I do that. I make things happen. I am intrinsically driven.
Thank you. Michael Smith. Because of you, my new business cards will read Valerie Rodgers Lugonja, BEd: The Actualizer. I love it!
There was a similar theme here, to the Olsen’s morning session: keep it simple. Instead of adding sugar to the pan to make caramel, as Chef Anthony at LeNÃ´tre had so intently taught me (and I managed to accomplish), Michael Smith says to do the following…
How to Make a Failsafe Rock Solid Works Every Time Caramel in the words of Michael Smith:
- adding water: twice as much as you need, then taking it away works every time
- (he covered the bottom with water and sprinkle sugar over it)
- the water evens out the temperature in the pan; a to 1 ratio easily dissolves sugar, 2:1 is even easier (the amount does not matter as you will boil it all away, anyway)
- once the sugar is in the pan, it takes quite a while to turn brown, and then the window between it turning brown to it being perfect is very, very small; this method increases your window of opportunity, and is full proof (no one can make a good caramel without adding water to the pan, no one!)
- it works because the water is limiting the temperature of the pan
- sugar starts to brown at 340Â°F and it is easily 120Â°F away from that right now
- once it gets to 340Â°F,Â by 370Â°F it is black and burnt; we wait forever to get to this specific temperature, and VERY shortly thereafter, it will burn; the window of opportunity is very small (Valerie adds: exactly the same kind of tips were given with whipping cream and egg whites in the morning session by Anna Olsen: really valuable information, me thinks!)
- Never stir caramel. NEVER. It will turn into sand.
- the syrup will splash up on the edges of the pot; the edges are a lot hotter than the bottom of the pot, and the pure sugar on the sides of the pot crystallizes, then falls into the bottom of the pot and crystallizes the entire pot (crystals beget crystals!)
- this is a metaphor for all good cooking: we took something bland and white with zero flavour (only sweet to the taste) and we are adding lots of flavour, nuances and intricacies through caramelization. Through technique, we add flavour!
- Michael Smith’s Title: “œCaramelizer”. (Valerie: This is when he shared that with us.)
- once it thickens and the water is gone, swirl a little to even out the heat”¦DO NOT STIR; swirl the pan to even out the heat only
- the cooking will not stop immediately when taken off of the heat, therefore, have your mise en place to shock the caramel sugar
- so we now add the cider; see the mess in the bottom of the pan, (Valerie: there is a hard gooey mess) but don’t turn off the heat: bring it back to a simmer to “œmelt the mess”
- Tropicana Apple Juice is in the Frozen Juice section and it is reallyÂ Apple Cider (to use after cider season); it works wonderfully
- and add a little more fruit juice: red wine, maybe!
- don’t use a light white summer sipper, or a Merlot: you want the chewy reds: the Cabs, the Shirez etc”¦.
And at this point, Michael stopped and gave every one a lesson on how to use a corkscrew.
How to Use a Corkscrew in the words of Michael Smith:
- don’t look at the tip of the corkscrew
- place the centre of your corkscrew over the centre of the cork: centre over centre
- Spin the bottle, then turn it the rest of the way (for some reason, we DON’T spin the bottle!)
- Use a double levered corkscrew: use the first one, then the second, then open it
How to Make Apple Cider in the words of Michael Smith:
- pour the bottle of wine into the caramel and apple cider mixture (Valerie: he showed us how to empty a bottle in 10 seconds by tilting it to the side and swirling it to let air in and then that air forced the wine out as he continued to pour and swirl; then he commented that most chefs don’t know how to do that)
- now, what do we add: something sweet, or something savory?
- (Holding up cinnamon sticks, he asks) what are these for? Nothing! Garnish: in they go. There is no other reason to have them in the kitchen, except for garnish (Though, the Spice Goddess may disagree)
- (He put the cinnamon sticks in, and added) these will actually impart flavour here, as they will steep for quite some time
- a bay Leaf will give the cider a wonderful neutral aromatic flavour: it is a familiar neutral aromatic flavour
- Add lots : 3-5
- Star anise: small handful
- no boiling vigorously”¦Â ensure that it barely simmer for flavour absorbtion to happen
- cloves in orange in: why? Because it looks good…
- after 20 minutes of simmering”¦ vast majority of alcohol is gone (but not all, so if any of you cannot have any at all, this is not the drink for you
- mulling is warming with aromatic flavours.
- use any liquid under the sun: Cider, Apple Juice and Wine do taste particularly good together
- the challenge is to not get it to taste like Apple Pie: we want more savoury grown up flavours in it
- and why not use caramel instead of sugar: there is definitely more flavour in the caramel!
- Question from the audience brought about this answer: Caramel that you shock with butter is butterscotch (Butter scorch = butterscotch)
- 4: 1 (1 cup sugar and 1/4cup of sugar = caramel syrup); If I put 1/4 cup water into the original caramel mixture instead of the cider, I could have a lovely pancake syrup
As Michael is working fervently to teach us all to cook without a recipe, he did not include this recipe in the program, however, he did have copies of is printed at the front for those that absolutely had to have one. All recipes follow at the end of the post.
Now for a fun activity! The plates were being passed out and Michael announced that we were going to do a sugar cookie tasting! I love tastings! You may have noticed. I tried posting one a month, but that was impossible for me, so I post as many as I can. I have learned a lot through them, and this was no exception, and so much fun. Beavie loves games, too!!!!
Sugar Cookie Tasting via Michael Smith:
- cookies were passed out on plates and had been “glued into position” with a dab of icing sugar and water; the chocolate swipe marked the starting point, and we then tasted each in a clockwise fashion
The Tasting Game:
- Every one taste the first bite: when you think you know what it is, put your hand up
- Who agrees, hands up: those that were wrong, sit down (but you can keep tasting and playing)
- We played until there was one standing
Flavours made: (one heaping teaspoon of each dried spice and one heaping tablespoon of each dried herb into a typical batch of sugar cookie dough)
- Star anise
- Pink Peppercorn
- Brown flour
Every single one was absolutely delicious, and some were very savoury, even though this was a sugar cookie recipe. Michael’s point: play with flavour! I do this with my students all of the time at the end of each little mini-unit: Play with your Food (now design your own recipe within the constraints of the new learning)!
Brian, the JPL Chef that was tending to this session had made all of the tiles of cookies and said that it did take more than a little while! Brian, thank you! We had such fun! I hope you also got to play this game… well, you knew the flavours. But, big hug for all of your hard work. It was so very worth it! I will see what I can do with a double batch of cookies to have a fun family tasting over the holidays with sugar cookies. YUM. Thank you, Michael! I am definitely inspired!
The cinnamon sticks and the simmering cider. The aroma was so inviting!
Below, we are all dutifully playing the same with the more serious intent, and shocked by having to sit down. I did well, but thought that the thyme was sage! And knew the pink peppercorn. I knew it. (I should have; I have made pink peppercorn French Macarons) but I could not identify that one, either. The rest were a piece of cake for my sophisticated palate (hahahaha)!
A little more entertainment from the Michael Smith kitchen. He has been here for 12 years and does one session a day for 7 to 10 days here, every year, so it is apparent he has worked to fill our time with good information, good food, intense learning and a lot of laughs. What more could one ask?
Here is the Jasper Park Lodge Food Network Set, he announced, and asked for a volunteer. I wish I saw her name. She wasn’t wearing it, but she was a hoot! No one could have done this gig better! See her dramatic entrance through the door?
And as Michael talks and tells us what he does to make his Apple Cider Roast Chicken, she is to be doing everything he was saying. It was quite hilarious.
Roasting a Chicken in the words of Michael Smith:
- first of all, you need a really good chicken: one with flavour that was loved by a local farmer
- any kind of root vegetables and apples can be placed under the chicken withÂ one rosemary strand and some aromatics (onion, garlic, celery)
- at home, we’re just making dinner: as long as we make the choice to actually cook dinner for our families, we are doing OK! Don’t stress about the perfect ingredients; use what you have!
- season the mixture in the roasting pan
- place theÂ chicken on top and season it
- pour the cider over the chicken to add moisture
- Pre-heat the oven at the 350Â°F to 400Â°F range (that is the roasing range)
- spend a little money on a meat thermometer: at 165Â° F, the inside will be perfectly cooked and the chicken, still juicy
- I never stuff a turkey as the interior cavity helps cook the meat faster when empty
- I never slice a chicken
- I tear the meat off, leave it in the pan; bones go into the stock pan and leave wings in the stew pot, whole
- when making the broth or stock, simmer broth for 2 hours: never boil a broth
- Now is the time to add the aromatic herbs: a bay leaf, or few, and a sprig or two of rosemary
Michael showed us the rustic chop of the vegetables in the pan. The JPL Food Network Star was hamming it up.
And, as Michael said, with the magic of Food Network, here is our roasted chicken… all ready after one commercial break! At this point, he took the help and demonstrated his pulling apart of the roasted chicken. there wasn’t a knife in sight. Well, maybe there was, but he literally pulled it all apart: bones in one pot, meat, skin and wings on top of the apple mixture, then tossed it together. See it below?
The final garnish of green onion was added and Chef Brian then plated the tastes for each of us.
I think we all need to stop here for a moment. Well, in case anyone has read this far.. stop with me here. I have had a chicken or few in my life. This roast chicken was the best I have ever eaten. I know I am saying that too often already, but it is simply the truth. I was not at all hungry, so it wasn’t may hunger that made it so tasty. It was how it was cooked. Once again, I was blown away… literally. Over here stuck on the wall!!!
Again, this was like being inside of Michael Smith’s TV show and getting to taste the food. I never imagined, believed, trusted… thought… that anything this simple could be this good. I do know better, but that is what happened. Unbelievable.
And my bags were packed and I was running to the main door, “Hello! Can I get a lift to Gardner’s Cottage?” Absolutely, ma’am. Would you like to wait for a vehicle, or are you all right with the golf cart! “Golf carts are my favourite way to go!” So we were in and off with me snapping shots on the way and I arrived to my Scotch Tasting and Barbecue Session (particularly for men) with moments to spare. Don’t miss that post, either! Executive Chef Derek Ingraham, of JPL, also blew me away. (Maybe it was the weather that weekend?) No! It was the genius behind the stove… each and every time.
If you are still with me… tell me who you are on your business card, according to the Michael Smith school. I would love to know. It is fun to think about it.
Valerie Rodgers Lugonja, B. Ed.: The Actualizer
Michael Smith’s Mulled Holiday Cider
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 litres of fresh cider
- 1 orange
- 24 cloves
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 branches of rosemary
- 8 star anise pods
- 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla
- 1 bottle of any chewy red wine
- Spike the orange with the cloves
- Pour the water into a medium sized saucepan large enough to hold the cider and the wine; add the sugar and begin heating over high heat
- The mixture will form a syrup and come to a boil; continue simmering as the water boils away: DO NOT stir of shake the pot
- When the syrup begins to brown around the edges, gently swirl the pot until the resulting caramel is a beautiful golden brown
- Working quickly and carefully, add the cider to “shock” the caramel and prevent it from further browning (it will splatter, so be careful!)
- Bring the entire mixture to a simmer
- Add the orange spiked with cloves, and all remaining ingredients, except the wine, to the cider
- Simmer another 30 minutes, or so, and then add the wine
- Bring the mixture back to a simmer and then serve immediately in a festive mug; garnish each with a rosemary sprig
Note: after simmering for 20 minutes, most of the alcohol will be gone
Michael Smith’s Apple Cider Roast Chicken Pan Stew Recipe
- 4 local apples quartered and cored
- 1 onions, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 bulb or garlic, peeled and divided into crushed cloves
- (any root vegetable, Chef used carrots, here)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1 four pound (or so) roasting chicken
- 2 thinly sliced green onions
- Pre-heat oven to 350Â°F
- Toss the first five ingredients in the bottom of roasting pan; season well with salt and pepper
- Add cider
- Season chicken well with salt and pepper; rest it, empty, on top of apple mixture
- Roast until a thermometer inserted at the thickest part reads 165Â°F (about 20 minutes per pound)
- Rest the meat in the pan, lid off; when cool enough to handle (10 to 15 minutes) slice, cut, pull shred, tug and otherwise remove the meat from the carcass (leaving the wings as they are with the pan stew)
- Save the bones for stock making
- Toss the meat with the apple pan stew; sprinkle with green onions; serve and share