Editor's Note: Guest blogger Roger Hart is a friend and the executive editor of AutoWeek magazine. He's also a professional photographer and world traveler who loves a fine meal.
Twelve times each year the chefs at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, Mich., open up their kitchen and share some of their secrets during their “Cooking With Style” program. My wife, Lisa, was lucky enough to win two tickets to the November event – “Roman Holiday, Italian Favorites” – and we came away having had a wonderful evening with some good recipes to boot.
Now first off, the Ritz bills this as a cooking class (at $225 per couple), and while it’s true that you do get an inside look of the kitchen, the class is not hands on at all. Participants receive a Ritz-Carlton apron, but all we used it for was to make sure the appetizers didn’t get on our clothes. So if you’re looking for a hands-on adventure, don’t bother.
But that’s not to say you don’t learn something. Just being inside a commercial kitchen gives any cook a chance to gather some new ideas or a new technique. Plus, we had at our disposal one of the Ritz’ line chefs, plus the chef du cuisine…and you can ask them questions all night long.
My wife and I have visited Italy, I get there often for my work, and we both enjoy Italian food quite a bit, so we expected this to be a terrific evening. And we weren’t disappointed.First off were appetizers galore, set up in the kitchen. While sipping a glass of red wine (sorry, I didn’t write down the name) we enjoyed a variety of cheeses, Asiago, Taleggio, Pecorino Romano, Gorgonzola, Fontina and Ricotta Salata. Add to that a couple of unique spreads, one of olives and one of sun dried tomatoes. Bruschetta, of course, plus a variety of Italian meats, including Bresaola, Mortadella, Capicola, Prosciutto and Salami.
I could have a dinner of just appetizers, and with the broad variety available for tasting, I was happy right there. But the best was yet to come.
While we were enjoying the appetizers, chef Eric (the line chef) was whipping up a basil vinaigrette salad dressing in a good processor. It would be the dressing for the salad of mixed greens, pine nuts, fried prosciutto, artichokes, olives and parmesan chips that we would enjoy later.
And speaking of later, once we were done with the appetizers, the group was led to an elaborately decorated ball room in the Ritz, set up with tables in a large X pattern. The flowers and decorations were a nice addition, and with the low-lighting and candles on the table, created a romantic atmosphere, fitting for the Roman Holiday theme.
Following the salad was a course of Italian Wedding Soup. Featuring meatballs made of beef, veal and pork, we found the soup, much like everything else this evening, terrific.
A pasta course of penne noodles topped with a marinara was served family style along with the main course, Chicken Piccata. Knowing there were cannolis for desert (and they were some of the best I’ve ever had), I indulged in just one of the two eight-ounce chicken breasts. The Piccata sauce, rich with butter, white wine, lemon juice and capers, had a wonderful crisp tanginess with a creamy finish. Delicious.
Our only disappointment with the evening was that we hadn’t planned ahead to spend the night at the Ritz, taking time to enjoy the wine. Yes, we’d attend the class again, and pay our way this time.