BACKYARD CULINARY ADVENTURES
Contributed by Lynne Crandall
Wednesday, 02 April 2008
Le Chat Gourmet Culinary Arts brings new meaning to the term culinary adventure. Owner and executive chef Denene Vincent holds weekly cooking classes on cuisines from around the world. During the summers, she offers students an intimate, hands-on culinary tour of France or Italy. Last summer, her group toured the Bordeaux region of France, where students met with Chef Jerome Dumoulin, who has cooked in Parisian restaurants and is among the last five artisan mustard chefs in France.
At Le Chat Gourmet, in Eaton Rapids, Vincent teaches Wednesday through Saturday, and while she recommends registering for a class two weeks ahead, you can occasionally squeeze into one if you call on the day of.
The menus are world class. Last Wednesday’s menu was called “wood smokin’ Southwest,” with mesquite wood smoked chicken. Thursday featured southern charm, with grilled peach glazed ham steak and molten Macaroni and Cheese. The theme for Friday’s class, which will run again April 25, was “Springtime in Provence,” featuring Provencal rosemary encrusted Lamb with Dijon crème sauce and lavender-scented chocolate crème Brule. Saturday’s theme was Tuscan three-cheese cannelloni with ricotta, parmesan and pecorino Romano. On April 26, the “Wine Trail Michigan” menu will infuse all three courses with a Michigan wine. Vincent also has special classes for the serious foodie, like artisan salts and herbs demystified.
When the season permits, Vincent says the students will begin by touring the gardens on the grounds. From herb to vegetable, to edible flowers and on through fruit orchards, students pick the foods they will cook that day. “When it’s possible, everything we cook is dripping with the soil from which it was just taken. This is the way you should always cook.”
Trained as a classical French chef, Vincent has traveled the world, living on location and cooking with local chefs in Italy, France and England. In 2009, she will take a group to Tuscany’s Pecorino Romano region. “We’ll be staying with a family of four generations with an olive orchard and a vineyard,” she said. “It is a sheep farm that produces Pecorino Romano, a cheese that is like parmesan but made from sheep’s milk so it has more bite.”
The cheese is partly famous for its variety of flavors, which can change depending on whether it is wrapped in grape leaves, skins, truffles, herbs or ash.
“When I travel, I find a place like an inn to rent with a kitchen, and I only take eight people,” Vincent said. “We visit local farmers markets, vineyards and farms to learn everything about the food of that area, from the soil to the table.”
The classes at Le Chat Gourmet are geared toward home cooks, and students learn in three and a half hour sessions with hands-on experience. “I give a lot of individual instruction,” Vincent says.
She also teams up with the popular cooking magazine Saveur to bring special classes. The next one, on April 24, is “Saveur cooks India.”
Vincent’s favorite Michigan menu is smoked. “I love to smoke meats,” Vincent said. “My favorite would be wood smoked pork tenderloin with apple bourbon sauce and fire roasted sweet corn that I fold into Michigan white potatoes.”
An avid locavore and supporter of agritourism, Vincent grew up on a farm in Leslie. “You should always support the farmers and vineyards in Michigan,” she said. “Food should be an experience that brings you closer to the bounty of your garden. I have a passion for cooking, and I try to impart a love and respect for the earth and her bounty to my classes.”
Le Chat Gourmet’s classes are offered 6 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Cost is $65 to $75 per person. Classes can also be arranged for private groups. Class dates and menus are listed at www.lechatgourmet.com. Le Chat Gourmet Culinary Arts is located at 11874 Bunker Hwy, Eaton Rapids. (517) 663-7322.