For three years now, the NAIT Hokanson Chef in Residence program has brought world-renowned chefs to Edmonton, for the purposes of mentoring students who are training in the Culinary Arts program. This year’s Chef in Residence, Susur Lee, not only brings extensive restaurant experience – with establishments in Toronto, DC, New York and Singapore to his credit – but also the most diverse cooking influence thus far. Chef Lee is known for his fusion cuisine; he first rose to fame with his Chinese fare blended with French techniques and ingredients. In recent years, he has dabbled in other styles – inspiration that some lucky diners were able to experience firsthand this afternoon.
NAIT hosted a special luncheon dubbed the Element of Taste at Ernest’s today, with Culinary Arts students tasked with preparing a three-course meal under the tutelage of Chef Lee (recipes for all of the dishes served today can be found in Chef Lee’s book, Susur: A Culinary Life). I was fortunate enough to be invited to an event mostly filled by Edmonton’s hospitality community, alongside a few other local food writers and bloggers including Valerie, Kevin, Evonne, Maki, Mary and Liane.
Chef Susur Lee
The meal began with a spicy lobster tart with bonito. It was no doubt a bold introduction to Chef Lee’s cuisine: puff pastry adorned with tomatoes, lobster, olives, bonito flakes, goat cheese and a spicy tomatillo sauce. The presentation was gorgeous, a decorative arch of red draped artistically over the tart. There were mixed reviews around the table, and I had to agree with some of the opinions that there were too many elements at play – the briny olives overpowered much of the other flavours for me.
Spicy lobster tart with bonito
Our entrees were much better received: rack of lamb with chickpea puree in a sweet olive and spicy cumin tomato sauce. The dish had a vibrant quality about it, and perfumed the air with a cumin-scented fragrance as soon as the plates were delivered. The lamb, cooked medium rare, had been treated with an intense curry and coriander spice infusion that paired perfectly with the mint chutney. There were raves about the hummus, heady and rich. We later discovered (with Allan’s help) that the chickpeas had been individually shucked before preparing the puree – talk about attention to detail.
Rack of lamb with chickpea puree
Dessert arrived like spring, a taste of warmer climes. A bright, fresh passionfruit sauce enlivened a vanilla-speckled panna cotta. I particularly loved the adornment of thinly sliced pineapple and the tang of the raspberry paste. It was a beautiful end to a lovely meal.
Vanilla panna cotta
At the end of the meal, the students, deservedly so, received a standing ovation from the dining room. The service staff were also fantastic today – each course was delivered with a flourish fit for royalty.
Allan (who helped prepare the entrees), chats with Valerie and Kevin
Thanks again to NAIT for the invitation. It was a wonderful afternoon to be a part of.