Monday, June 1, 2009

Raw Cooking at The Urban Element

My husband and I tried the raw diet for about two weeks a year and a half ago. Although we physically felt fantastic from it, the time and effort it took to make the meals was totally insane. Dehydrating things for 6 hours, soaking grains for 3 days. Unless you planned your meals well in advance, and I mean really well, it was difficult to follow. So when the Urban Element announced a hands-on class for raw cooking, we were in! I was interested to see how they could bring such a complex cooking form together in one evening. I quickly came to realize that not only did you not need to do the more time intensive things, but that your diet could easily consist of many meats and fish as well. Something we were lacking in our first attempt. I don't know about you but I'm afraid to make anything meat or fish-wise raw. I have way more confidence in a reputable restaurant than I do in myself. This class definitely gave me the confidence to go out and buy the right products to make these costly restaurant dishes at home. So I can enjoy the decadence without breaking the bank. In fact, what better way to get through a recession. Learn to prepare what you like so you can actually afford to eat it. It may seem a little pricey at first, but honestly, with the quality ingredients they use and the knowledge you gain, the price for these classes is so worth it, and probably would cost the same if you ate out anyway.

Before I go into the best part – the food – I want to comment on the fantastic people this place brings in. This is our third time here and each event has just been so great. It's also quite fun and really unique to be sharing a meal with people who are all loving it too. When you go out as a group, there's always someone who doesn't like something, or special orders to make things complicated. Not here. We obviously all chose this event for a reason. Chef Scott Adams (from Benny's Bistro) was amazing. Super easy-going, friendly and just a natural at what he does. You can feel his passion and love for quality food in the way he teaches. His calmness rubs off on those around him. It has to, because I found this experience to be quite therapeutic, and normally when I'm in the kitchen I often end up in tears from frustration. That's why I normally leave it to my husband. The sous-chefs there are also very knowledgeable and helpful.

Before we began, we were served an amuse-bouche of sashimi of halibut drizzled in olive oil and lime salt, so light and just the right tease to get our tummies and minds excited about what was yet to come. We each picked a dish to work with. My husband and I went with the duck since it's not something we've ever made at home. Although my husband is a king in the kitchen already, he did learn quite a bit about removing the “silver skin” and preparing the duck tartare. I on the other hand, learned quite a bit just about handling and cutting the meat, something I never do. Once we finished our dish, we got to sit down and enjoy all of the heavenly creations. And for once, I got past my fear of taking photos outside my home and asked permission to use my camera (that's for you Graham!) and as soon as I did, a few others joined in on the fun. These plates were so beautiful, how could you not!?

We started off with the live bay scallop ceviche served with a cucumber and avocado salsa. I unfortunately had to pass on the salsa because of my stupid avocado intolerance, but the scallops were to die for. They were so silky and fresh. Scott recommended you buy them frozen as they freeze really well. If you buy them fresh, they should be firm and sit up on themselves, especially if you're going to eat them raw. For anything you'll be eating raw, make sure to find out where the food came from and how long it's been sitting out. Raw fish should not taste fishy, it should taste like the ocean. For this dish, the scallops were sliced horizontally against the fibers. The acidity of the lime juice actually cooks the food.

Next came the Albacore tuna carpaccio sliced and served with a rhubarb and tarragon mignonette – so summery and sweet. I don't think I would have ever in a million years thought of pairing rhubarb and tuna. This dish was fantastic. Why anyone would cook this beautiful piece of buttery tuna is beyond me. All the fish came from one of my favourite places – the Whalesbone Sustainable Fish and Oyster Supply. So you know it's top quality fish! They served both these dishes with a 2008, Southbrook Cab Rosé.

It's hard to pick a favourite as all the dishes we were served got me pretty excited. But if I had to choose one, I'd have to say the bison tartare from the “tartare trio”. This plate is not only beautiful to look at but was an absolute pleasure to experience. I started off however, with the spicy lamb and green papaya salad. This Thai infused tartare was very light and refreshing for a meat dish.

Then over to the duck. My husband and I actually did a great job if I do say so myself. As we were cutting the duck, I tried a piece. Raw duck is quite nice. The aftertaste however, was a bit rare - you know, that tinny flavour? Not in a bad way. But once you mixed all the ingredients to make the tartare, including truffle oil and goat cheese, it all came together like a dream. They served the duck with a beet and watercress salad with a black sesame soy vinaigrette. I absolutely love when veggies like carrots and beets are cut long and thin. I found out tonight that the trick to this is the Benriner Turning Slicer. I need this product! This grabyourfork blog demonstrates it really well.

The third masterpiece on this plate, the bison tartare, was served below a cured quail egg and alongside a chervil and butternut squash salad in a truffle vinaigrette that tasted almost fruity it was so sweet. Maybe I have a soft spot for bison, maybe this recipe is the best complement to the meat. Whatever the reason, this was my favourite dish. So tender and moist and the best tasting meat ever without being overpowered by anything. They served the meats with a full-bodied 2005 Equus Tempranillo, Cab & Syrah.

For dessert, we had a mixed melon and cucumber gazpacho with mascarpone cream. The flavours in this dessert were very interesting. It was fruity but not desserty because of the onion and cucumber in the mix. It sounds weird, I know, but trust me, it was seriously a real treat. The mascarpone cream and insanely flavourful raspberries on top were enough to satisfy any sweet tooth without being too rich.

This is the kind of place that you really can't understand the full experience unless you try it. It's a great escape and a marvelous adventure. I'll be keeping my eyes open for upcoming sessions for sure.


Anonymous said...

Love the blog - had to comment on this. Wow. This place looks amazing. I think my wife and I will be checking it out in the near future. Do you know if they do groups? It would great for a group of friends (all at once for a birthday or something) or a corporate outing.

Rachelle said...

They totally do groups and corporate outings. I don't know the details but I've been to a corporate event – a friend of mine had her staff Christmas party there (I used to work there too so they invited me) and it was fantastic. I was just telling my husband how it would be so fun to have all of our friends go and do an evening there. It really is fun. I've been telling myself I should do an evening at least once a month – I always feel so great after and have so much to talk about.

andré said...

Give Marysol a call and they can set something up for you! They are GREAT! A really good group of people who work there too.

Eat it up!