Dan Gourmet

11 Dec

August 2011

In a bid to rescue my August nights from a deep pit of  smalltown evening-time boredom (Gilmore Girls and home redecoration will only take you so far), last week I attended an open evening at the Dan Gourmet culinary and hotel school, i.e. professional training run by Dan Hotels, one of the most successful hotel chains here in Israel.  From their educational center in Haifa,  chefs and teachers provide courses and practical workshops on cooking, baking, hotel management, wine and spirits… the list of classes is endless. I was inspired! With a large glass of white wine in hand, I floated up the steps of Dan Gourmet and let a charming young chef, decked out in blinding whites, usher me into a very cold, stainless-steel covered kitchen…

My first workshop of the night was in patisserie, although in Israel the term konditoria – confectionary- is the umbrella term used to describe patisserie, boulangerie and all other kinds of baking. In just under an hour, a very nice lady chef explained what the ‘A-Z of Confectionary’ course would entail, while 3 of her male trainee chefs (two were pretty darn hot #justsayin) demonstrated two dishes – kremschnitt  and individual strawberry layer cakes, all of which us participants were allowed to sample at the end. Yum! We received recipes for both desserts, and I was encouraged by the idea that learning everything under the sun about baking in this course – from scratch – would actually be useful in daily life.

While I pondered signing up for literally every single class that evening (it’s true, clearer  decisions could be made without guzzling Binyamina wine on a school night) I realised that one of the best, most encouraging parts of going to culinary school in Israel – despite the challenge of learning in a different language – is that everything at Dan Gourmet is 100% kosher.  They were kind of obsessed with making this point – “not only kosher, mehadrin kosher!” – and while I noted the lack of religious people attending the open evening, I sure appreciated it.  My older brother studied Hotel Management and Catering in London, but was restricted in so many ways by kashrut that it always seemed moot to me.

As I moved onto ‘Cooking A La Carte’ with chef Omri,  I realised the issue obviously isn’t inescapable for those pursuing careers in the culinary arts, as the Moroccan chef revealed that he also teaches extra courses in his own time for students who want learn how to prepare and cook with seafood or non-kosher animals.  In this class, we were served a delicious treat of moulard and orange-cointreau confit with a side of asparagus. Delish! Chef Omri teaches ‘fine dining’ courses, which can be taken alongside a workshop in service à l’anglaise i.e. silver service waitering. Am not convinced this is at all useful in Israel, where food is usually plonked in front of you (if not in your lap) at events/weddings, and little to zero attention is given to etiquette or finesse. If trainee chefs or students are looking to work abroad, however, this would be a great addition to a CV.

For my last class of the evening, chef Gal of the Dan Acadia, Herzliya, transported us to a velvety chocolate wonderland.  Although he is chef-in-residence at the Acadia and therefore skilled in all things food, apparently his true love is le chocolat. Gal demonstrated, with flair, how chocolate interacts with food colouring powder to create amazing effects on glass and ceramic plates. He explained the chemistry of the perfect chocolate souffle and whipped up a shiny, glistening chocolate ganache for cake decorating. He really, really loves the stuff.  Chef Gal didn’t disappoint with his taster either – mini chocolate soffles on a bed of mint leaves and vanilla bean ice cream. Yummers. For some reason, his classes are for women only and he too was obsessed with kashrut, pointing out that everything we were eating was parev! Of course thus ensued a mini debate, Israeli style, on why anyone would ever eat a parev dessert. It went like this:

Man: “Wow, chef, you’re sure this is parev? It’s delightful.”

Woman: “What difference does it make? Who cares?”

Man: “Well, it does make a difference. *chuckles* What’s wrong with you? You can’t eat meat and then have a dairy dessert.”

Woman: “I don’t think you can tell me what I can and can’t eat, mister. I love eating dairy after meat, I would never dream of making anything parev. *making a highly dramatic face* It doesn’t even exist in my house!”

Man: “Humbug.” (Am pretty sure whatever Arabic curse he muttered at this super annoying woman sounded like  ‘humbug’ at the time.)

All in all, twas a lovely way to spend an evening and I went home all excited about the courses I might sign up for and did somebody just open a skylight onto my deep, dark pit of evening-time boredom?

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