When my friend BJ asked me to accompany her to a Masterclass at Gordon Ramsay’s Verre and take advantage of Time Out Dubai’s 2-for-1 special, I didn’t hesitate to belt out a, “Hells Yeah!”
Despite having seen a million TV commercials promoting his shows, I have yet to watch a single episode of any of Gordon Ramsay’s productions or dine at any of his restaurants. What is the “F” in “The F Word” supposed to stand for anyway? For some reason, I keep imagining a four-letter expletive.
I have, however, watched Gordon Ramsay’s YouTube video on how to make Beef Wellington when I was attempting to make one for the first time earlier this year. A video with more action than instruction but I love the catchy music, the fast-paced camera angles, and the final end phrase that’s uttered by Ramsay like a definitive stamp of approval and accomplishment, “Beef Wellington? DONE.”
Unfortunately, no YouTube tutorial could prevent me from dropping a carefully prepared Beef Wellington onto my kitchen floor. I am cursed with being a Kitchen Klutz.
Which doesn’t bode well for this Verre Masterclass because it’s one thing to screw up in my own kitchen but in front of others and people I don’t know?
Well, being a Klutz in public is so commonplace for me now (I’m one of those people who frequently trip and fall flat on my face) that I find it more comical than embarrassing. I only hoped that I wouldn’t injure someone else or break anything…expensive.
On an Friday in July, just one day before I left Dubai for the summer, I headed over to the Hilton Dubai Creek to attend the Verre Masterclass. This being Dubai, it took me about 15 minutes of driving around the general hotel area in circles, following dud detour signs, before I finally found the hotel’s entrance and valet parking.
Upon entering the restaurant, I was instantly struck by its minimalist black and white decor. Since we were there in the morning, the sunlight streaming through made the place feel very bright and airy.
Over continental breakfast, BJ and I chatted with our Masterclass-mates and fellow foodies. There were seven of us in total. Chefs Scott Price and Nick Alvis soon came out to introduce themselves and to give us an overview of the day.
Nick is the head chef at Verre, and Scott is the Executive Head Chef of the Hilton Dubai Creek and has worked with Gordon Ramsay for a number of years. My first impression of both chefs was that they looked very youthful – especially Scott! But I know it took a lot of hard work and talent to get where they are today. More so in a Gordon Ramsay kitchen.
We were soon shown into the kitchen that was adjacent to the dining room and each given our own workstation complete with a Verre apron so that we could look the budding chef part.
The kitchen was quite warm as expected and I was cautioned to be careful with my camera so as not to melt the lens by putting it too close to the stoves.
* * * * *
Apple Tarte Tatin
Cinnamon Ice Cream
Our fist task for the morning was preparing the dessert – an apple tarte Tatin – since it required an hour or so to bake.
A now classic dessert that was created by accident in 1898 at the Hotel Tatin in France. One version of the story tells of how one of the Tatin sisters baked a caramelized apple tart upside-down by mistake, served it to the hotel guests, and voilà a new dessert was born.
Scott demonstrated how to make the tart and advised us to use apples that were low in moisture (like Gala or Pink Ladies). After the demo, we spread out to our cooking stations to begin preparing our tarte Tatins. Scott and Nick rotated through our stations to make sure we were progressing along properly.
The apples were already peeled for us so our first set of instructions involved cutting three apples into quarters and the fourth one into halves. Having the memory of a gnat, I quickly forgot those instructions and quartered all four of my apples.
When Nick stopped at my station, he saw what I had done and commented, “There’s always one in the class.” He was joking (I think) but I was instantly transported back to grade school to those moments when I would often get in trouble for not following directions.
I was given a new apple but now feeling a bit nervous I managed to slice my apple into asymmetrical halves.
We had to use a small paring knife to core the apples and to shape them so that they would nestle snugly against each other. I found it very nerve-wracking to handle the paring knife as I’ve never used one in the way it was intended. Both Scott and Nick tried to show me how to properly hold and use the knife – with control and precision.
I tried. I was very very slow at it. I thought I had finished the task but when Nick came to examine my apples he had me re-do them. So I did. Then Scott came by and didn’t like the look of the do-over so I had to make one more pass at them with that dreaded paring knife. BJ, having sliced perfect apples on the first go and now with time to spare, came over for a chat and the first thing she asked me was, “So are you going to shape your apples or what?” Grrrr!
Next I worked on the halved apples. We had to make them perfectly circular with a straight outer edge. But the more circular I tried to make them, the more lopsided they seemed to get…and the smaller. I gave up on those before they became the size of non-existent.
Finally it was time to assemble the tart. Softened butter was spread at the bottom of a small copper pan and sugar was sprinkled on top of the butter. The shaped apples were pressed onto the sugar and lastly, the puff pastry (already pre-made for us) was laid on the very top and crimped.
I could’ve sworn Scott had made asterisk-like slits in his puff pastry during the demo so I did as well. Then Nick came over, took a look at my pastry, and made a few single slits. I walked over to see Scott’s demo tart and sure enough, no asterisks, just simple slits…hmph.
Our tarte Tatins were all placed in an oven to bake while we moved on to prepare the starter and the main course.
* * * * *
Butternut Squash Risotto
Sage Noisette, Fresh Parmesan
Scott demo’d the making of a sage noisette which is basically a sage butter. He heated up LOTS AND LOTS OF BUTTER until it began to separate into the solid and liquid components. He then swirled the pan around and around and we could clearly see the clarified butter floating at the top. Freshly chopped sage was tossed in, the pan was then removed from the heat and set aside.
I just loved the fragrant aroma released by the woodsy sage in the toasty browned butter. Mmm.
For the risotto, we prepared that on our own under the supervision of the chefs. The mise on place had magically appeared at our stations while Scott was demoing the risotto. I liked that we could focus on the actual cooking part instead of the tedious chopping and grating.
On our trays we had diced butternut squash, butternut puree, parboiled Arborio rice, chives, and grated Parmesan.
We prepared the risotto in a VERY hot pan set over a VERY high heat. I’m not used to cooking on such high heat settings but I can certainly understand that in a commercial kitchen things have to happen fast as there are hungry people waiting to be served in the dining room.
Butternut squash was sautéed, then in went the Arborio rice, chicken stock, butternut puree, butter, Parmesan and chives. Because the pan was so hot, everything cooked very quickly and I not only had to be careful to not burn anything but I also had to quickly remember what the next set of ingredients were to quickly add to the pan. Luckily, Scott and Nick were constantly monitoring us to ensure that we’d churn out something edible, and not burnt nor dried out.
The finished dish was poured into a deep serving plate. We were shown how to tap the bottom of the plate to spread the risotto around. Sage noisette was drizzled. A mini amaretto (almond-flavored macaroon) was crumbled and scattered on top for texture. The final garnish was a sage leaf that had been deep-fried in vegetable oil.
We brought our finished risotto into the main dining room to enjoy.
The risotto was just lovely. Vibrant in color, creamy in texture, and richly flavored with the sage noisette which really elevated the risotto to another level. I loved the crunch and almond taste of the crushed amaretto. The fried sage leaf was delicate and crispy and had such an amazing flavor – like eating essence of sage, if there were such a thing.
* * * * *
Roast Fillet of Australian Beef, Mushrooms a la Crème
Braised Onions and Roasted Celeriac
When we had finished savoring the butternut risotto, it was time to head back into the kitchen to prepare our main course.
Our mise on place for this entrée: Australian beef fillet (double-wrapped in cling film to keep its shape), wild mushrooms (shitake and oyster which Scott said were, “as wild as you can get here in Dubai”), baby spinach, and chives.
Nick sauteed the pearl onions for us (with fresh thyme and sage) and the celeriac (with fresh thyme). Again, everything was cooked over a very high heat.
We were on our own for the remainder of the preparation (well, with Scott, Nick, and a commis chef supervising).
Here is a slideshow of the beef fillet preparation:
In this kitchen, there were no pot holders (only a kitchen towel), no tongs, no chopsticks, only a spoon and my bare fingers. I had to turn the beef fillet over and over with my spoon and fingers and it was a harrowing feat for me.
I will forever be grateful to the commis chef who miraculously appeared by my side and held down the beef fillet for me (using a spoon) so that it would brown evenly on all sides.
With the beef done and resting on a rack, it was time to make the mushrooms a la crème and sauté the spinach. I had a small kitchen disaster at this point. When I tried to empty the small container of wild mushrooms into my pan, I missed. Those suckers stuck to the aluminum container a half-second longer than they should have and ended up on the intensely hot stove top.
I had to quickly pick them up one-by-one with my fingers (Ouch! No tongs remember!?) only to drop them again because they were so hot – or maybe because my fingers touched the stove. Ouch x 2!
I eventually managed to get them all into the pan and hoped that, other than my stove partner next to me, no one had noticed a quintessential Klutz moment.
Continuing on, I went and grabbed the handle of my pan, forgetting that the handles were extremely hot, and let out a a bit of a shriek as I felt a flash of intense burning heat on my palm. I don’t think anyone noticed the short yelp, thank goodness, and trudged on but this time remembering to protect my hand with a kitchen towel.
When the wild mushrooms were creamed and chived, and the spinach sautéed, it was time to plate. And eat :). We did not make the red wine sauce as it would have taken us days to do so.
Now how can anyone not love a seared fillet bathed and basted in butter with a red wine reduction sauce? The beef was slightly overcooked (I only have myself to blame for that) but still incredibly tender and juicy and went well with the creamy wild mushrooms.
As we finished the last bites of our fabulous fillet, Scott and Nick came out to socialize with us. We got to ask them a lot of questions about cooking techniques, moving to Dubai, working at Verre, and chefing under Gordon Ramsay.
Soon it was time to check on our tarte Tatins. We piled into the inner kitchen where our tarts were already being removed from the oven. We had written our names on the outside of the pots so that we could identify them.
Scott showed us how to make a decorative squiggle on the plate and of course his tarte Tatin came out perfect.
Mine and BJ’s came out not-so-perfect but a dollop of cinnamon ice cream hid some of the flaws.
I took mine home in a take-out container so that my husband Scotch could enjoy the fruits of my labor. Scott offered to split half of his with me as he was tarte Tatin-ed out. The caramelized apples were soft and sweet and it was nice with the cold cinnamon ice cream.
Would I recreate this at home? While I enjoyed the educational aspect of learning how to use a paring knife, creating, assembling, caramelizing, and plating the tart, I’m just not a baked apple kind of person.
I am, however, very eager to make the butternut squash risotto and the beef fillet again (especially so I can baste it over and over with butter!).
It was actually quite a leisurely Masterclass (minus the part where I dropped the mushrooms and nearly burnt my hand). Between the cooking, BJ and I enjoyed sampling our own kitchen masterpieces and we also thoroughly enjoyed the company and conversation of our Masterclass-mates.
Scott and Nick were both very down-to-earth, informative, and encouraging in the kitchen. At the end of the morning, when the tarte Tatins were all polished off into our bellies, Scott even showed us a bonus demo on how to make perfect poached eggs.
Also, we learned a tip on how to make herb garnishes in the microwave by placing fresh herbs (like parsley, basil, sage, etc) on cling film with a little bit of salt and oil and nuking it for 30 seconds – it will crisp up and retain its color.
I don’t have a great memory but I’ll never forget these words from Scott to us: “You guys were the most enthusiastic group we’ve ever had.” 🙂
* * * * *
If you are interested in booking a Verre Masterclass or for more information, please contact Verre at [email protected], +971 4 227 1111, or click here to visit their website.