There are so many things a person can learn by attending an Epicurean based event and the Elk Ridge 2nd event of the weekend delivered tons of tips.
We knew we were in for a special treat when we learned the lunch program would be an East Coast Cooking Demonstration on traditional East Coast Chowder with Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits.
Chef Ron MacNeil arrived at Elk Ridge Resort in November 2014 after establishing his previous establishment, The Birches, as a 5-star Dining Facility & Resort in his home of Cape Breton … an area renowned for it’s seafood, so we had an idea the East Coast Chowder would be phenomenal.
Chef Ron came through with an amazingly hearty rendition of the thick soup whose name origins are unclear.
As Elk Ridge Resort Food & Beverage Manager Jay Klarenbach explained, the word “chowder” is believed to be derived from the French “Chaudere” or “Chaudre”, the latter of which refers to a thick, fish soup. Both Jay & Ron have had experience with the rustic style of soup preparation. A big soup pot is fired in a general area, like a beach, and all the townsfolk contribute something … the fishermen donate part of their daily catch, the farmers come together with a variety of vegetables, including potatoes, carrots & whole corn on the cob. All who contribute to the “soup” enjoy the fruit of their labour in a large community setting.
As a result of this sea-side upbringing, Chef Ron is a seafood specialist who loves to work with local farmers & fishermen to produce the best possible products for guests of Elk Ridge Resort.
Throughout the Seafood Chowder with Biscuits demonstration, Chef Ron gave marvellous cooking tips.
When it comes to mussels, they must be alive prior to cooking. How to tell? Rinse them completely, making sure the shell is closed. If it’s open, give it a tap and the mussel should close indicating the mussel is alive.
If not, or if the shell is broken in any way, make sure to discard it.
To our delight, the mussels we enjoyed today were of the freshest selection, having been flown in from the East Coast just for the Elk Ridge Epicurean Weekend.
For the vegetables in the chowder, Chef Ron explained it’s best to use potatoes of the starchy variety, like Russet, preferable to a waxy variety like Fingerling.
The best onion to use is the Spanish White. Avoid using a red onion to prevent discolouration.
Although he prefers to use the freshest ingredients available, there does come a time when dry seasonings work to an advantage, as in the case of the Thyme used in the creamy Chowder.
Here’s a couple more helpful kitchen hints:
To make Creme Fraiche, add 2 tablespoons of buttermilk to a litre of heavy cream.
To make Buttermilk, add 2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice to a litre of white milk, leaving it to sit on the counter overnight.
The soup Chef prepared was more than filling for all 65 people in attendance for the Cooking Demonstration … and he did it all while answering a multitude of great questions from the attendees and giving us a ton of helpful kitchen hints.
The lovely couple with whom I sat mentioned that part of the reason they chose to attend the Elk Ridge Epicurean Weekend was to expand their Wine & Food experience. Monica & Doug, long-time members of the Opimian Wine Society, said they’ve picked up all kinds of food preparation & cooking tips from not only Chef Ron, but also from the many new friends they’ve made during the events.
The next event for Elk Ridge Resort is the “Annual Taste of Elk Ridge” on Friday May 1, 2015. It’s their “Welcome Back” event that showcases the talents of the Executive Chef’s Summer Menu.
Better book early … judging from the success thus far of the Elk Ridge Epicurean Weekend, future events are sure to be sold out.