It all began with a lottery…

Since we first came to Reno we had been hearing about this amazing opportunity – a culinary class taught by chefs flown over from Italy. But the catch – the venue only seats 40 people and attendance is determined by a random drawing. Well, you know the old saying, “You can’t win if you don’t try.” So try I did. And we were chosen!

Part of the fascination with the class is it’s location. The kitchen/dining facilities are in a historical mansion which was designed by Fredrick deLongchamps, Reno’s premier architect. It is currently home to Arte Italia, a foundation whose goal is to commemorate and perpetuate Italian culture through the exploration and conservation of culinary and visual arts.

Built in 1914 for Joseph Giraud, a local sheep rancher, this home has been the site of a number of restaurants and was the first building on Reno’s Register of Historic Places.

Without knowing who would be teaching the class or what the menu would be we immediately sent in our reservation request. As we walked into the kitchen we saw that our teacher for the evening was already at work.

Master Chef Marcello Spadone is a contemporary Mediterranean chef who ties his Michelin-starred La Bandiera menu to the traditions of Italy’s central Abruzzo region.

While waiting for the other participants to arrive we enjoyed small bites and wine.  We also looked over the menu and the accompanying information pages that listed the various ingredients that would be used throughout the evening, many familiar but others not (eggplant powder?).

The appetizer, Eggplant Parmesan – Revisited, turned out to feature one of my favorite ways to serve dishes – deconstructed. Always a fan of eggplant, I was eager to see how this would play out. In Chef Spando’s restaurant this dish is served in a hand-blown sugar “bowl” that looks like a baby eggplant. When the ingredients are layered inside the “eggplant” falls open and reveals the luscious interior elements; grilled eggplant cubes, buratta cheese, Parmesan chips, oven dried tomatoes, fresh basil and oregano.

As the chef prepared the dish we watched the chef’s son create the eggplant-shaped sugar vessel. The dish comes to the table with the shell intact but cracks apart as the warm insides cause the shell to crack.(Note the speckled pieces to the upper right in the photo.)

Because it would be impossible to make 40 candy shells and be able to serve in a timely manner, we got our eggplant parmesan in glass globes. We were able to admire the lovely layers and we also got the addition of a light foam on top. (Foam – a topic for a complete blog post! Don’t get me started…)

On to the first course: Duck a’la Orange Tortelli with BlackTruffle.

Watching the chef make the pasta was great fun. Truthfully, the duck stuffing took longer to create, but the hand-working of individual pasta, done well, is quite a show stopper. The chef to the left is Chef Philippe Léveillé, from the El Dorado here in Reno. He choses the visiting chef and does much of the translation during the class.
This is the beautiful bowl of food that was set before me. The black truffle, which the chef brought with him from Italy, was milder than I have had before and the touch of orange in the duck filling was a perfect way to cut the richness of the dish. The sauce is a simple (though not low calorie or low fat!) combination of Parmesan cheese and whipping cream with a bit of demi-glace. The pasta was incredibly thin and seemed to practically melt in the mouth.

On to course number two: Chicken and his Grain. The chef created this dish as a whimsical tribute to chicken as a food source. The grains on the plate represent all of the things chickens would eat as they are raised. (Of course we are talking locally-raised chickens as used in Chef’s restaurant, not those from poultry facilities. If the latter we would have had some sort of manufactured kibble strewn about.)

The chicken breasts were lightly grilled and then finished off in the oven. The dark meats portions were made into croquettes. Our table participants had quite a discussion on which meat serving was their favorite. Interestingly, it split 50-50.

And on to dessert: Ginsing Creme Brule with Almond Sorbet and Dill Broth.

This is the dish that threw me a bit. Though I am more than fond of creme brule, the ginseng was too much of a flavor profile for me. The ice cream, however, was sensational. And I am still not sure where I stand on the dill broth. The fragrance was robust but, when tasted, it didn’t have much punch. It was suggested we could drizzle the broth over the dish or use it as a palate cleanser. I did a bit of each, drizzling to see how it affected the taste (minimally) and then saving some for the end of the course. I was glad I did the saving as the dill was a nice counterpoint to the lingering ginseng flavor.

So – what will I take away from this class?  Appetizer round: I learned a new method for oven roasting eggplant and I am still not a fan of foam. First course: I will definitely make the simple pasta sauce but it will be quite a while before I make my own pasta. Second course: Our Thanksgiving plates may have a new look this year. Bring on the popcorn! Dessert course: Old bread, crumbled and combined with a bit of brown sugar and butter, makes a scrumptious topping using things I typically have on hand. I also want a browning torch.

So – with apologies to those who are tired of seeing food photos, this ends the tale our adventure. Except to say that, as a dietary correction, it’s green salad for dinner tonight!