Tom eager for his first lesson with Chef Walter Leffler
In the sparkling restaurant kitchen of the Brunswick Hilton and Towers in East Brunswick, chefs and cooks in white coats and high toques work at a variety of assignments under the watchful gaze of Executive Chef Walter Leffler.
Along one wall of the large enormous kitchen is the restaurant line where chefs create the dishes for the hotel's cafe and sports bar. In another section is the garde manager station where a brigade of chefs prepares hors d'oeuvres and salads for the many banquets the hotel stages.
On a recent Saturday morning, the kitchen brigade was augmented by Diane and Tom Faglon, two amateur chefs who enrolled in Leffler's new "Chef for a Day" experience. Leffler began the "experience" this month to increase the contact he has with the restaurant's public.
The Faglons, a married couple from the Somerset section of Franklin, are enthusiastic cooks and party givers. During their experience, they spend the late morning and early afternoon cooking with a full menu that they planned with Leffer on a previous visit to the hotel and its kitchens. The menu included: sautéed wild mushrooms with South American prawns on grilled zucchini with herbed goat cheese and a parmesan tuile; tossed salad of exotic field greens served in a Hiromaki basket with raspberry-poppy seed dressing; pan-seared rack of French-cut domestic lamb with chived potato mash with sweet baby vegetables and a California-Cabernet jus; and a seasonal fresh fruit tart.
The menu was designed to help the Faglons learn some basic skills they felt they needed: butchering and trimming a rack of lamb and making a sweet pastry shell for a fruit tart.
In order to learn these skills, the Falgons will create a four course menu under the direction of Leffler.
The Faglons "Chef for a Day" experience begins with coffee in Leffler's office, and their donning chef's coat, apron and toque. The Faglons begin with simple activities--peeling potatoes. Leffler cautions them to cut large chunks, which are brought to a boil so the potatoes don't get mushy when cooking.
Within the next four hours, the Faglons dice, slice and sauté their way through their menu, with Leffler, pastry chef Patti Leyes and Richard Varga the restaurant chef, helping along the way.
Leffler is a generous teacher, organizing the day so all dishes will be ready a the same time; explaining each ingredient and procedure; giving scores of helpful hints for doing the cooking in a home kitchen; and liberally offering praise for the Faglon's work.
After one hour in the kitchen of the Brunswick Hilton, the Faglons have already prepared the potatoes for cooking; created the chive oil; diced the shitake, chanterelle, Cremini and Portabello mushrooms; and peeled all the vegetables that will go into the menu. Tom Faglon continues to work with Leffler on the sauce for the lamb, while Diane works with Leyes on the creation of the fruit tart.
Diane Faglon explains to Leyes that she has been very unhappy with her tart shells--they are as hard as rocks. Leyes shows her how to make the pastry for the shell, advising her to chill all the ingredients except the sugar. Diane Faglon is happy to hear the advice, saying "I never thought of chilling the flour, but it makes sense."
Leyes leads Diane through every step including arranging the fruits on the custard that fills the shell. As Leyes produces a baked shell just like the one she just created, Diane Faglon remarks, "definitely different than the last tart shell I made."
When the Faglons come together again, Leffler instructs them in trimming the rack of lamb. Diane Faglon shares what she has just learned about making the tart, while marveling at the grilled baby zucchini waiting on a tray. Tom Faglon says proudly, "I did those," before telling her about the kitchen's grill.
Both the Faglons do well in trimming and butchering the rack of lamb, which is set aside with the other prepared items. Tom Faglon is amazed when two hours have passed, remarking sincerely, "Time really flies when you're having fun."
During the next hour and a half, the Faglons do the actual cooking. They begin by making baskets for the salad by draping the spring roll shells over the bottoms of stainless steel milkshake containers and broiling them. Leffler and Tom Faglon create the raspberry dressing by blending fresh raspberries, oil, a touch of rice vinegar and kosher salt.
They strain the sauce for the lamb, which has been reduced on the stove. Diane Faglon mashes the potatoes over a large chinois strainer; the chive oil is added to the potatoes. The trimmed lamb chops from the rack are pan seared in butter. Diane Faglon marvels as Leffler uses a fresh rosemary sprig to brush butter on the lamb; it's then put in the oven to bake for eight minutes.
The mushrooms and prawns are sautéed by Tom Faglon as Diane arranges the grilled zucchini in fans on the plates; then using a napkin ring as a guide, she creates timbales of goat cheese that has been mixed with fresh herbs. The sautéed mushrooms and prawns are placed on the zucchini. The parmesan tuile is held in place by the goat cheese timbale. The plate is decorated with chive oil and small diced peppers. The first course is ready for serving.
The salad course is assembled and left waiting as the Faglons and Leffler sit down to
enjoy the very special lunch. The Faglons are delighted with the tasty results. As they
enjoy these fruits of their labors, the Faglons plan doing this menu at home for one of
their parties; Leffler continues to give them hints to make their work easier at home.
"Not only was this fun," Diane Faglon says, "we learned a lot."
Courier News Writer
Updated July 16, 2015