Tonight I was at the Pacific Culinary Institute, in celebration of the Molson Canadian cider launch. The cider is already available for the market out East, but this was its first time on select selves in Western Canada.
The venue is home to a very special restaurant, “Bistro 101”, where students enrolled are able to hone their skills, with patrons paying to taste the outcome. Think “Hell’s Kitchen”, but without the yelling. Though similar to the television show you have a charismatic head chef/instructor, and are able to enjoy your dinner within full view of all the cooking action. Soundless you are able to watch young chefs in white smocks with Royal blue detail shuffle around their kitchen. Mixing, stirring, and chopping. A unique dinner with an even more rare show.
Our table for the evening was elaborately detailed. An apple theme to match the Okanagan apples in the cider. Miniature trees with apples glued on; wooden chargers branded with the “Molson Canadian” logo; and everyone had their own apple place holder, personalized with their names in white. It was a light hearted and equally stunning setting. At the back of each chair an apron was tied. We would later be pulling them over our shoulders to cook our own meal.
As we waited for all the guests to arrive we were given reign of the bar and dining area, and encouraged to mingle. As we took photos and got refills of our cider, lovely canapés were being offered on trays. These and everything else we had tonight were well conceived, to pair elegantly with our feature beverage of the night.
Interestingly we were told that the cider we were enjoying included not only the apple juice, but the skin and the pulp of the apples as well. All its flavour comes from only apples. Types of food that would match such a cider are pork tenderloin, sausage, cedar plank salmon, and grilled cheese. Essentially anything that would go well with apple.
Cheese and mushroom stuffed tortellinis dressed in a tomato sauce, and topped with basil. It was easy to take and slurp from the spoon, but finding the proper place to discard the used spoon proved to be more of a challenge.
Our first lesson began with spot prawns. We were lucky to be able to have some a day before the start of the actual spot prawn season. Our chef had is ways. Julian Bond was our Chef instructor for the evening. As mentioned he was very charismatic, he used humour to keep the room engaged. We learned that the best way to prepare spot prawns is simply with a good searing in hot broth. In this case, boiled cider. And that you don’t need to de-vein your prawn when they come from clear waters and only feed on natural vegetation. And these prawns were so fresh that a couple of them made attempts to free themselves of their bowl-ed prison.
The finished product was cider poached BC spot prawn over an micro kale and apple salad, with a citrus caviar. We learned how to make easy vinaigrette. And that the stem of a leaf is its butt, and you should never have the butt stick out when considering presentation. After we each had our own appetizers were tied on our aprons and in to the kitchen we filed.
We were split into two kitchens, where we were further divided into pairs to tackle our own projects.
My partner and I were on pasta patrol. After a tutorial we rolled the dough and made our noodles from scratch, using a pasta machine. I have always wanted to try this.
The seasoning and sautéing of the halibut cheeks.
The apple fritter mixing.
The apple fritter deep frying.
Sadly our lack of cooking ability had our dinner delayed. With only a little of everything being completed by all of us. At the end it was the culinary students who fixed and finished off our plates. We only had ourselves to blame if we didn’t like what we made. Everything was amazing.
Sautéed halibut cheeks over tagliatelle in a cider reduction, with a side of ancho chilli and sweet pea. The fish was flaky and moist. The chewy noodles were cut thick, they made an excellent platform. The peas added freshness and sweetness; and its shoots gave the plate some flavour symmetry.
Rhubarb and apple fritter injected with cider and vanilla custard, served with a lemon creme. The self injection using an eye dropper made the dish interactive and dynamic. Deep fried it was crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside. With double the cream stuffed into the fritter’s centre and more smeared on the plate, it guaranteed you had some in every doughy bite.
And to end our meal on a high note, we shared a platter of chocolate truffles, fruit jellies, and dried fruit and nut nougat. This was made by the real chefs.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Understandably, my next visit would not include dawning an apron and making my own dinner, though I think the experience would be just as memorable. And if the recipes prepared to compliment cider, made by tipsy amateurs was this good, I can only imagine how delicious their regular menu is. Don’t deny your cravings.