The Summer Chef Series -- Saturday afternoons through the beginning of September at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market -- has to be the best way to escape the heat, meet fellow food folks, learn something new in the kitchen, get fed, sip a variety of local wines, and lose ourselves in food talk.
Squeezed behind the Downtown Market's storefront, the Royal Coffee dining room was transformed into a cool (A/C and fans felt very nice), chic family-style dining room with long chunky tables, sparkling stemware, fresh flowers and a demo station.
Chef Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis presented a summer menu fancy enough to wow the toughest critics but simple enough that anyone can make. He shared his blueprint recipes for some of the favorites on the menu at St. Francis. Chilled Corn Soup, Lemon Chicken Salad and Cheesecake In A Jar. Chef Chamberlain aimed to create an intimate relationship with the dining students, hoping to share all of his secrets in such a way that everyone in the room felt comfortable to blurt out questions, scribble notes on their printed recipes and be able to run home and recreate everything with confidence knowing how to make these recipes and make their cooking that much better.
Saturday was all about the ingredients and technique. The recipes weren't endless lists of hard-to-find ingredients, but rather short lists with tips that make Aaron Chamberlin's food special.
The first course was a smooth and creamy Summer Corn Soup. It was screaming with corn flavor and the garnishes of shishito pepper and raw corn made it fresh and punchy. Copies of all the recipes were shared with all the diners. Side note: If you ask for a copy of a recipe while you're at St. Francis, they will go to the back and print you off a copy -- no secrets.
Find out about the rest of the meal and who's going to be at the market teaching this coming Saturday (and future Saturdays) after the jump.
Chef Chamberlin likes his food to include an acidic element and will make sure that all his recipes have a bit of "sparkle." He's often asked what makes his food so good. His answer on Saturday: preserved lemon. His crew at the restaurant make a big event of it during winter where they mix local lemons with a mixture of 70% salt and 30% sugar. He uses those lemons throughout the year to brighten his dishes.
That's exactly what he used in the Lemon Chicken Salad. It went in the marinade for the chicken and the dressing. Chef Chamberlain sweetly explained that this dish was inspired by his girlfriend's desire for a healthful summer salad. Similarly, Chef Chamberlain spoke throughout the class about how he was interested in creating nourishing food that took into consideration how you feel not only during but after eating. Unlike a tasty (but greasy) burger and fries that will leave you in a food coma on the couch an hour later, he wanted to focus his menu on nourishing food with an emphasis on sourcing local - especially vegetables.
We were instructed not to cut vegetables into the same old shapes that we'd been used to for years. We were to look at the shape and consider what might be attractive and interesting to eat. He suggested using a knife and fork to eat a cucumber that has been cut into long wedges. It creates a new way to experience the food.
The meal finished with Cupcake In A Jar with Chunky Strawberry Sauce, which was created with simplicity, ease and nostalgia in mind. The jars allow the cheesecake to cook more quickly and distributed much more easily. The strawberry topping was an ode to his childhood at Swensons where he used to get "the best chunky strawberry sauce." Just after we were served dessert, you could hear lots of clinking of spoons on jars, then silence, then a wave of "mmmmm," followed by more clinking and more sounds of pleasure.
We were treated to wine throughout the meal, including a moscato with dessert, all from local Arizona wineries.
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There are still six more classes in this summer Chef series - do not miss them:
August 6: Chrysa Robertson, Rancho Pinot Grill
August 13: Doug Robson, Gallo Blanco Cafe
August 20: Tracy Dempsey, Tracy Dempsey Originals
August 27: Jen Anderson, Windsor
September 3: John Hall, Canela Bistro
September 10: Michael Brown, Jamburritos Food Truck
Tickets are $45/ea -- hurry up and get yours before they're all gone. For each class you can expect a two-hour cooking class, wine tastings (or iced tea if you prefer), two beverages of the chef's choice and recipes to take home. Be sure to buy your ticket ahead.
Bring yourself, a date, your friends (we saw them all last Saturday) -- you'll be cocooned from the elements, fill your belly, steal lots of handy new tricks and recipes to try out on our families. Loved it.