Christmas in November: Cocktails with Bob Blumer and a “Chopped” Reception

Before our gala dinner, we joined a small group inside the clubhouse kitchen for a VIP session with Chef Bob Blumer. Known as the energetic host of shows such as Glutton for Punishment and World’s Weirdest Restaurants, we were hoping Bob’s humour and enthusiasm would come through. In the end, we thought he had planned the perfect cocktail hour session, featuring recipes for both a drink and a nibble.

Bob Blumer

Bob’s caesar twist

Bob’s cocktail of choice was a caesar, made with a lemon vodka and a special rim. For additional kick, Bob recommended using honey and freshly grated horseradish. Mack, who is definitely a caesar fan, gave it a thumbs up.

Bob Blumer

Mack eagerly accepts a taste

For his cheeky shrimp on the bar-b, Bob continued the spicy theme with pan-fried chipotle-rubbed shrimp. Served with a cilantro dipping sauce, it was a tasty one-bite appetizer. And how is the dish related to its name, without reference to a grill, you ask? Simply serve the shrimp accompanied by what else – a Barbie doll.

Christmas in November

Shrimp on the Bar-B

For his final trick, Bob attempted to sabre a bottle of champagne, a trick he had taught fellow presenter Chef Lynn Crawford earlier in the week. Unfortunately, he must have had a faulty bottle, as his several attempts failed. It was a little nerve wracking to watch – a few of us were convinced the bottle would shatter before the end.

Bob Blumer

1…2…3!

Thanks to Bob for a fun start to our Christmas in November evening!

We headed back to the main lodge for the gala dinner. With everybody dressed up, it was a good time for photo ops.

Mack & Sharon

Gorgeous Christmas decorations

Santa was even on hand to make sure adults weren’t left out of the seasonal pose.

Christmas in November

With Diana, Vincci and Brittney (aka the Gastropost crew)

Jasper Park Lodge had pulled out all of the stops, decking out the reception hall in sumptuous linens and holiday colours.

Christmas in November

Gala décor

They had also organized great entertainment. The Willows, a trio based out of Toronto, sang a series of retro-inspired Christmas songs that lent a classic lounge feel to the room.

The Willows

The Willows

Dinner, unfortunately, was a little less consistent than our banquet lunch earlier in the day. The mountain foraged mushroom ravioli was pretty good, topped with braised beef short rib, but the buttermilk brined Alberta pork tenderloin was dry for most around our table (though I recognize tenderloin would be a difficult cut to prepare well for such a large crowd).

Christmas in November

Mountain foraged mushroom ravioli

Christmas in November

Buttermilk brined Alberta pork tenderloin

Dessert was an elegantly presented callebaut milk chocolate cup containing vanilla panna cotta.

Christmas in November

Callebaut milk chocolate cup

Before the dance closed out the evening, guests were treated to an “impromptu” Chopped-style competition, with teams drawn from attendees and presenters.

Christmas in November

Chef Dale MacKay advises his team

Chef Lynn Crawford (dressed as Santa) was the judge, and as the competition progressed, she narrated the proceedings for the crowd’s amusement. As you would guess, it was more than a little chaotic, but I had to respect the contestants. Cooking under the tenure of celebrity chefs isn’t easy, and they did it with good humour and grace under pressure. The winner of the contest was the team led by Charcut Chefs John Jackson and Jessica Pelland (the latter of which has actually won Chopped Canada).

Christmas in November

Chef Corbin Tomaszeski works with his team

A live band came on to close out the night, but Mack, Brittney and I had other ideas. We had spotted a games room in the basement of the lodge, and had time for a few rousing games of air hockey.

Brittney vs. Mack

Brittney vs. Mack

Back in our room for the night, we realized the staff of the hotel had been by for turndown service. It was the first time we’ve experienced this service, and though it wasn’t necessary, the Jacek truffles were a sweet surprise.

Christmas in November

Sweet dreams

It was a fun day full of learning, food and big personalities. We were glad to rest up for the last day of sessions.

The Cooking Chronicles: Coffee Creme Brulee

There are some kitchen gadgets, that while extraneous to day-to-day cooking, are justifiable. A food processor, for example, has so many uses that the expense incurred (and precious cupboard/counter space needed) could be rationalized – sauces, dips, bread crumbs, dough…the list goes on. Others, such as a mini kitchen blowtorch, are less reasonable. Though being able to make my own crème brulee was always an interesting idea, practicality got in the way of the purchase.

Fortunately, I had thoughtful friends who bought one for me for my birthday, and six months after the fact, I finally used it. Using Bob Blumer’s recipe, which seemed less taxing than many I came across (it removed a stovetop folding step), I made six Coffee Crème Brulees. While I had to be careful while pouring the water bath that surrounded the ramekins, the directions to bake it until the mixtures just slightly “jiggled” were spot on.

I took them out to cool, then, excited to finally use the torch, spread the necessary sugar on top of the custard. I took the torch out of the box, and then…couldn’t use it because I hadn’t thought to fill it with butane first. At this point, I wanted to eat one, so used Blumer’s suggestion of putting it under the broiler for a few minutes. The combination of too much sugar and not watching the dessert resulted in an overly-burnt crust. I was hoping the torch would allow for better control.

The next evening, I went to Burlington Tobacconists on Whyte to pick up some butane. For whatever reason I thought the gas would come in a disposable canister, to be inserted into the torch, used, then replaced. Instead, the butane came in an aerosol can. The staff person showed me how to fuel the torch (three second intervals is best, he said), and played around with the flame controls. I was set.

Back at home, I put Mack (and his pyrotechnic tendencies) in charge of the torch. He pulled the switch down and pushed the button (similar to how a butane lighter works), releasing an uncontrollable ten inch flame. It took us a while to finally realize we needed to tip the torch at an angle to make it release a small blue flame that we could utilize. A few minutes of concentrated effort later, we had a bubbling, golden brown crust.

The torch at work

Mack was surprised that the crust was solid all the way through, and like at an expert restaurant, required a quick wrist tap to break through to the custard below. He didn’t like all of the sugar, but I loved all of sweet crunchy bits. The custard was flavoured with instant coffee (and minus the stovetop step), was actually thicker than I wanted, and slightly more overpowering than I am used to. Vanilla bean, plain and simple, is my favourite, so I likely will have to try out an alternative recipe to see if I can achieve a lighter consistency.

Coffee Creme Brulee

It was fun being able to make one of my favourite dining out desserts at home. Thanks Annie and Janice!