This past Saturday, local celebrity and executive chef at Elements restaurant, Beau MacMillan, and the Sanctuary Resort & Spa hosted the sixth installment of their annual Lunch & Learn dining series -- and they were nice enough to invite us to join in the fun and experience this awesome summer event.
If you don't know anything about the Lunch & Learn series, here's a little background: Sanctuary came up with the idea 11 years ago to help stay busy during the slow, muggy months of July and August. It's a cool event that brings local and national chefs out to demo their skills and feed people great dishes paired with tasty adult beverages. The first event drew all of ten people but they continued with the program and turned it into a (more often than not) sell out.
This past Saturday, Beau Mac invited local chefs Lee Hillson, executive chef at Royal Palms' T. Cooks, and Charles Kassels, executive chef of Paradise Valley's historic El Chorro Lodge. The menu was kept secret until a couple days before the event so most of the guest were a tad surprised that the main ingredient of the evening was none other than the tiny green veggie that haunted most of our childhoods -- the pea.
Once the almost sold out crowd had downed a couple glasses of champagne and started munching on buttery, seasoned popcorn, they all seemed to forget about the fact that they were going to be dining on three-courses of a most hated veggie and the questioning sighs of "Peas?" turned into lively conversation as the crowd waited for the chefs to take the stage.
And when they finally made it to the Sub Zero/Wolf demo kitchen and started talking about their key ingredient of the night those sighs turned into anticipation (and hunger pains) as we all watched Chef Kassels sear thick pieces of Alaskan salmon; Chef Hillson make homemade raviolis stuffed with a pea and goat cheese puree; and Beau Mac describe his bacon miso broth with pea custard.
After a few entertaining stories were told and the chefs were done showing off their cooking skills, the food starting arriving. First up was Chef Charles Kassels' medium rare seared salmon that sat on top of a tasty yellow split pea and potato mash with an almost sweet pea purée and tender, lightly sautéed pea tendrills.
Next up was Chef Lee Hillson's fantastic dish of handmade raviolis filled with goat cheese and pea purée served in a sweet corn and cream purée with salty clams, buttery lobster chunks, micro greens, and a slice of crispy chorizo "bacon".
Our third course was a decadent plate of perfectly seared scallops with a creamy pea custard, bacon, and a bacon dashi broth. We were so full (and maybe a little tipsy from the excellently paired white wines) that we could barely finish Chef Beau Mac's salty seafood dish but what we did manage to shovel into our fat faces was delicious!
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Before the final dessert course arrived at our table, we had a treat: El Chorro's famous sticky buns. We resisted every urge not to wrap them all up and take them home for breakfast. (And my semi-joking request for a to-go box was swiftly laughed off.)
Once dessert arrived, we were so stuffed that we could hardly look at this epic creation of peanut butter custard topped with chocolate mirror glaze and a sesame seed cracker but we managed to get a few bites down and somehow waddled to the car.
Critic's Notebook Saturday Night: Who knew peas could be so good? The Crowd: Mostly older folks that may or may not be part of that one percent we're always hearing about and four super fun East Coast ladies. Overheard in the crowd: "I don't need the recipes, these guys are my personal chefs." Personal Bias: I love weddings and this event kinda felt like one -- but with much better food.