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Class is in. Get to one!

Chef Fred Decker, left, and Jeff Keleher work on a saffron risotto.

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There are many things that make for a great chef.

Innovation, imagination, skill are some of the obvious things.   Teaching ability is one of the traits that might not occur to the non-chef but it’s a big part of every day life for many top cooks.  Restaurant chefs are in constant teaching mode as they come up with new dishes that keep the menu fresh and the kitchen cooks have to be taught how to prepare them.  Teaching comes naturally to most chefs and most of them actually enjoy it, as it’s an extension of the passion they have for food.

Local chef Fred Decker taught a group of food enthusiasts a few dishes at the Rothesay Atlantic SuperStore community room recently.  Chef Decker regularly puts on classes in this region for public and private groups and its classes like his that can be a huge benefit to us home cooks, regardless of your level of cooking expertise.  Like any profession, the pros always have a tonne of tips that can benefit the amateur, making events like Chef Decker’s session worth every penny and more.

Plus, you get to eat great food which is worth the price of admission alone.

On this evening, the group, organized by young foodie and friend of mine, Jeff Keleher, got to get hands-on with some very cool savoury and sweet pastries, a velvety-smooth vegetable soup, a saffron-infused risotto, roasted asparagus and some herb-stuffed chicken breasts.

Following any of these recipes at home wouldn’t be that difficult but in this setting, the instruction and knowledge of the chef along the way makes a huge difference.  With each technique, from chopping to seasoning to rolling and roasting, you hear why it’s done the way it is and why that affects the flavour, the pitfalls you can run into and how to deal with them – a slightly lumpy pastry custard was quickly fixed when Chef Decker forced it through a regular wire strainer – and as well, the interesting and inciteful history of many of the dishes and ingredients that give context to what you’re preparing.

All that and the food to eat for what you’d likely spend on a regular dinner out?  That’s a great deal.

Classes like this take place every Thursday at the Atlantic Superstore in Rothesay and every Wednesday at the Atlantic Superstore on Rothesay Avenue in Saint John.  Some inns and restaurants in the region such as Shadow Lawn Inn in Rothesay host cooking events from time to time as well.

You can read more about Chef Decker at www.bountynb.ca.

Watch your temper.  Carefully tempering an egg-mixture for a pastry custard that’s been infused with a vanilla bean.

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Magic mushrooms.  Dried mushrooms and fresh portabellas are sauteed and reduced in wine and stock to make a filling for a savoury pastry.

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Phyllo pastry is filled with intensely-flavoured mushrooms, buttered and ready for the oven.  Chef Decker taught the group several methods for turning sheets of phyllo and puff pastry into easy but impressive appetizers and desserts.

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Fresh raspberries are placed atop the pastry custard which will then be wrapped in puff pastry and baked.

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Onto the main course.  Jeff carefully slices a pocket into the chicken breast which will then be filled with a mix of flavourful herbs.

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Stirring it up.  Constant attention and careful additions of stock make for a perfect, creamy risotto.  Note the specks of saffron.

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Easy asparagus.  Tossed in olive oil and seasoned, it’s simply placed on a sheet of parchment and roasted at high heat for about 10-12 minutes.  Some of the simplest things are some of the best.

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The vegetable soup.  Thick and creamy but made with just scant ingredients of carrot, leek, potato, butter, stock and seasoning.  Boil and puree.  This was one of several dishes where Chef Decker drove home the point that less is more.  Simple flavours will shine through if you don’t add too many other competing ingredients.  Leave the garlic out of this one!

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The finished dish.  Solid but simple technique with great flavours made for a wonderful, satisfying meal.

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A little sauteeing with butter and sugar turned off-season peaches into an eye-opener of a dessert.

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Sometimes it’s great to be flakey.  This peach-stuffed phyllo was a hit and surprisingly easy to make, proving you don’t have to fuss with dessert if you don’t want to.