Sunday, July 11, 2010

Honeymoon Gluttony: The Cooking Class

This is SO delayed...but here's another post on our fantastic food-filled honeymoon in Anguilla!

As part of our gourmet package at CuisinArt, we got to take a cooking class with Executive Chef Daniel Le Guenan. We had already gotten to interact with him a bit at the Chef's Table two nights before, but this was a much more one-on-one setting. Of course, I have no pictures because my stupid camera stopped working days earlier.

It was just me, Steve, another woman from the resort and Chef. I was actually really surprised that no one else was taking advantage of this great opportunity but was happy that we got him (almost) all to ourselves!

We started out with a quick explanation of what we were going to do - chop veggies, stuff chicken breasts, make a vegetable stock and a green pea soup, and end with a banana bread.

With the hydroponic farm just a quick walk across the resort driveway, we each had a huge bowl of fresh vegetables at our stations. Eggplants, plantains, red bell peppers, onions, garlic...yum. Beautiful beautiful veggies. More on the hydroponic farm in a future post (that will not take two months to produce, promise!).

So we chopped our veggies how Chef Daniel instructed us to - taking care to not cut the peppers the way most people do. According to Chef Daniel, you lose too much pepper by slicing the pepper in half and then popping the stem out. All you have to do is slice the pepper down the side as close to the stem as possible - then you get the most pepper.

After that, we combined our veggies and let them simmer for about half an hour with plenty of water and garlic on the stove. After about 30 minutes, he brought the stock to a boil.

While the stock was simmering, we sliced up our plantains into slender spears about 2-3 inches long. Chef Daniel showed us how to butterfly the chicken breasts we had in order to stuff them with the plantains. According to Chef Daniel, the best way to butterfly the chicken is to slice the breast vertically down the center about half an inch deep and then slowly peel back the layer of chicken, working your way to the left and then to the right. Although our knives weren't the sharpest (probably because they don't want to give super sharp knives to potentially inexperienced tourists), we made quick work of the chicken.

The most interesting part was cooking the chicken. We stuffed the chicken breasts with the plantain spears and then - surprisingly - rolled them using saran wrap. I had NO idea it was ok to use plastic wrap to cook the chicken, but it turned out really well! By the time we had finished stuffing and rolling the chicken in saran wrap, the vegetable stock was finishing its simmer. Once it was boiling, we dropped the little chicken rolls into the stock and put the lid on the pot.

(Note: Steve and I liked this idea so much that we tried it ourselves, making feta and basil-stuffed chicken breasts for lunch one day. Turned out great! Only difficult part is making sure the chicken is cooked, because once you unroll it, there's no way to return it to the pot for more time in the pot.)

Since the chicken needed to cook for a bit, we strolled over to the hydroponic garden and Chef Daniel gave us a rundown on how he worked with the farm's produce every morning to figure out a menu. Combined with fresh-from-the-boat seafood, he said the hydroponic farm was the most consistent and best produce on the island. Surprisingly, Anguilla is dry and not conducive to farming, so hydroponic farming is the best bet for fresh produce.

When we got back, we pulled the chicken out, skimmed off the veggies and then dumped fresh peas into the pot to simmer for the pea soup. After that, we whipped together some banana bread (probably the least exciting bit of the class - banana bread is not difficult!).

Once everything was all ready, Chef Daniel booted us out of the kitchen with one last question - scallops or foie gras? He would put the finishing touches on the meal and then send it out to us at our table on the patio.

Steve and I, being the foie gras gluttons that we are, both jumped at the chance to indulge in rich, delicious liver. YUM.

Chef Daniel did not disappoint. We started with the pea soup, topped with a light creme fraiche and herbs (that, of course, two months later - I don't remember which ones). It was a tad bit bland and could have used a bit more flavor, but it was still yummy. Steve and I both agreed that the addition of ham or prosciutto or something savory would have kicked it up to being a really flavorful, excellent dish. However, it WAS served with a generous portion of seared foie gras, so I couldn't really complain THAT much.

For the main course, the chef sent out our plantain-stuffed chicken three ways - plain with microgreens, with vegetable stock and with a red pepper puree. I think the chicken itself needed more spice and flavor, but it was an overall good entree.

It was followed by our banana bread, topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Not terribly exciting or amazing, but it was a nice way to finish off our meal.

The cooking lesson was a great addition to our honeymoon and capped off our three days of true gluttony (with the chef's table two days prior and the tasting menu the day before). Chef Daniel was animated and very easy to talk with about cooking, different techniques, ideas and, much like my favorite French chef, had a great French accent.

I highly recommend the cooking class if anyone makes the jaunt down to Anguilla - even if you don't stay at CuisinArt! It was a lot of fun and great way to stay out of the blistering winds on the beach.


  1. I love this way of cooking chicken! I would never have thought to do it that way... nor would I have considered stuffing it with plantains. Sounds like a fun vacation!

  2. Yeah - I had never thought of that either! It's super easy. You just have to wrap the chicken twice and tie the last layer off so it doesn't unravel in the pot. We just cooked it in boiling water with a cube of chicken bouillon thrown in for flavor. And it was a blast - Anguilla is great! :)