Saturday morning for me was not unlike a 4 year old on the morning of Christmas eagerly waiting for her parents to wake up and shower her with gifts. Although in my case, it was eagerly waiting for my train to arrive at Wynyard, meet Rach and head on up to Altitude for our Hands On lunch cooking class.
I have dined at Altitude twice before – this first time was for my birthday weekend where Stud booked us in to a Harbour view room and we had the degustation menu (our first degustation ever) and the second time was a Valentines Day dinner – both times we were really impressed with the venue (how could you not with the best view in Sydney), service and especially the menu.
As Rach and I were walking up to the Shangri La, we were like two giggling schoolgirls pondering what on earth we would make. Would we be in a kitchen and help every now and then? Would we get out own section and each work on it? Would the chef be nice or a little full of himself? So many questions on such a short walk!
We arrived just in time for the class and were taken in to the dining room and handed a glass of bubbly to start off the day. Everyone was standing around looking at the view and admiring the restaurant when Chef Steven Krasicki came out and introduced himself, shaking hands and letting us know we were just waiting on another couple of people to start.
Chef showed us to our aprons and then led us in to the private dining area that had been transformed into a mini home-ec classroom with the teacher at the head and workbenches on either side. Partnering up we stood at our benches eager to listen and learn and Chef was a really great teacher.
It’s so inspiring to stand there and listen to someone speak about their passion. I was also surprised how normal and down to earth he was. I think I have been slightly tainted by big egos and strong personality chefs that you see regularly on TV. Chef was a really nice person and a great joker as well. Rach and I being the butt of most of those jokes when it came to our pasta all in good fun ofcourse.
In front of us we had a coupe of bowls stacked, the top one had eggs in it and we also had little recipe cards.
Chef let everyone know we were making pasta dough and then would be making some tortellini with a scallop and crab mousse filling. Ummmm excitement much? I have made ravioli a couple of times but they usually end up with too much filling or looking more like Pierogi than anything else so I definitely wanted to get a good technique down and always wanted to do a mousse. Its something that looks really simple to make but will always impress your friends for dinner.
We added our eggs to our flour and salt (with a splash of oil) and started working it in to a smooth (ish) dough.
Kneading is pretty much my nemesis and I try and avoid it at all costs. Now that I have a KitchenAid, I let it do all the hard work for me but Chef also said a food processor works just as well. Once all our dough’s were cohesive and smooth (ish), we wrapped them in cling film and left them to rest on the bench while Chef started on a Shellfish stock and artichoke puree. Both things that I had always wanted to make and will definitely be using my recipe card at home.
We headed over to another workbench that had been set up in the middle of the restaurant. Chef showed us his choice for pre-packaged crab meat “Ceas Crabpak” (spanner crab) and said it’s still important to feel through the meat for any shells as you can never be too careful. Rach was called upon to chop up some scallop meat and I was assigned parsley chopping.
While we were doing this, Chef put a few extra scallops in the food processor and blended until pretty smooth but also checking for heat as you don’t want the friction of the chopping to cook the scallops. A very handy tip for us home cooks.
Combining all ingredients together,
then showing us how to quenelle (damn chefs make it look so easy), we headed over to the bench lined with pasta makers to roll out our dough. It had been about 20 minutes or so that our pasta was resting (just at room temperature) and it’s quite obvious the difference it made as it was much softer and easier to work with. We threaded our pasta through the machine a few times working in our pairs and Rach and I felt very much like the bad kids at the back of the bus as we had slight issues with our pasta getting stuck in the machine – constantly.
So Chef came over to assist us and we ended up using one of the other machines instead. It made us feel slightly better that it wasn’t out fault. Although when the filling was brought over and we were shown how to make our first tortellini, it was quite apparent that we were definitely special needs. Laughing so hard we only ended up making two each where the rest of the class had powered through about five or six,
we definitely knew which ones were ours when they were removed from the heavily salted water; as did Chef, and the rest of the class luckily, we were advised that he wouldn’t make us eat our own pasta.
Rach and I did sneak a bite once it was out though and the pasta was seasoned really well thanks to the water (we actually tasted the water before the pasta went in so we knew how much we should salt the water at home. I would say it definitely tasted of the sea) and the filling was delicious! I’m sure it was the perfect parsley and scallop chopping, if we do say so ourselves
Back in to the private dining area – ahem I mean classroom, to learn about cleaning a fish. I was really excited about this bit as I had always wondered how to do it but too scared to try. Chef had a beautiful Morwong fish that was caught 2 days prior and told us to always remember when it came to fish, if it looks like you want to eat it, chances are you’re right.
He then went on to show us how to fillet it. These chefs always make it look so easy! I will definitely give this one a try at home but maybe on some cheaper and smaller fish for fear of butchering. At least until I get it right.
Lunch time! We all sat down at our prepared table, Chef at the head and we all proceeded to pick Chef‘s brains about all things food. Just like having lunch with a mate, he was really open about everything and didn’t sensor himself (in a good way) about his opinions. We got some good tips on where to shop and what to look for and a great explanation about how our lunch was made. For the entrée we had balmain bug tortellini with scallops and artichoke puree which was perfectly cooked and delicious. It really did put all of our efforts to shame but also made us want to perfect our new skills.
For the main we had morwong fillet on bed of peas and asparagus and it really does show you how these guys earned and kept their Chefs Hat for the past two years.
We continued to chat through the afternoon and were presented with the petit four – chocolate fudge, crispy wafer and what I think was an orange and vanilla bean jube like thing – all delicious – reluctantly thinking our day was coming to an end.
Before we headed home, Chef took us out back to view the kitchen and how it worked. It really is like a well oiled machine and you can see the staff are perfectionists at their craft. No one batted an eyelid when they saw us all peering at them and continued on with whatever task set for them.
We had both had a great day and are really inspired by a chef who just loves what he does. He wants to provide a great experience and a delicious meal for people who visit his restaurant and we really can’t ask much more than that.
If you want to attend a cooking class at Altitude, they do them monthly (every 3rdSaturday) and Chef also let us know that they were soon going to be theming them. Definitely keep an eye out for the pie night!