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Food & Wine Festival
Sunday, October 10, 2004
Culinard: The Culinary Institute of Virginia College
Pam Smith, R.D.
Author of Healthy Living Cookbook
Ice Cream Dome with Three Sorbets:
Manjari Chocolate Ginger Sorbet, Mango Sorbet,
and Coconut Basil Seed Sorbet
Coriander Chocolate Mousse with
Mango Orange Five-Spice Coulis
Lychee Wine Custard
Wine: Inniskillin Ice Wine
Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, ALL EARS®
When we got the listing for special dining events at this year's Food & Wine Festival in Epcot, one new program jumped out at me -- Sweet Sundays. Slated to be held at the Chef's Showplace in the Odyssey for $55 per person, the description stated that a noted pastry chef would prepare three wonderful desserts for you, paired with a dessert wine. Oh boy! Sign me up!
So on Sunday, October 10, my family and several of our friends headed to the Odyssey to try out this new program. Our chef for the evening was to be Antony Osborne, director of Culinard: The Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Birmingham, Alabama. The event was to be hosted by Pam Smith, a registered dietitian and author of several books, including the Healthy Living Cookbook.
About 40 of us entered the Odyssey at 7 p.m. and were seated at round tables set for six, with all seats facing the demonstration table at the front of the room. Smith introduced Osborne, a native of the United Kingdom, by enumerating his many impressive accomplishments: at age 25 he became executive pastry chef of The Dorchester in London, making him the youngest in the world to hold that position at a leading hotel; he served as executive pastry chef at several other major hotels throughout Asia, including the renowned Raffles Hotel in Singapore; he received the Golden Lion Award, the highest culinary award in Asia, in 1994, and won a gold medal in 1998 as a pastry consultant for the Oriental team at the Thailand Salon Culinaire. During a career that's taken him to 38 countries, he has prepared specialty desserts for many notables and heads of state, including former president George Bush and Prince Charles.
After Smith proposed a toast for a successful evening with our very sweet Inniskillin Ice Wine (about $75/half-bottle), Chef Osborne began discussing some of his philosophies on the art of making desserts and pastries, calling it "a very precise science." His very reserved and seriously quiet manner set the tone for the rest of the evening -- that is, it wasn't exactly the relaxed, fun-filled evening I had anticipated, but very much had the feeling of a professor giving students a "lecture."
Not one to use many stabilizers or preservatives, Osborne began preparing three fresh sorbets that would go into the first dessert of the evening, a Glazed Ice Cream Dome. He emphasized a fresh approach to dessert-making, and touted the importance of using the newest techniques and equipment available. To create the sorbets, he started by preparing a basic sugar syrup, then added the flavorings -- for one, a rich Manjari chocolate (a very rich, very expensive Valrhona chocolate used in many WDW restaurants); for another a low-sugar mango puree made by the French company Boiron; for the last, Boiron's coconut puree and an unusual Thai basil seed that was soaked in coconut milk, giving it the texture of tiny pearl tapioca. Osborne's assistants brought spoons with the saturated basil seeds for us to sample while he was mixing -- the rich coconut flavor and the creamy, though slightly lumpy texture made for an unusual treat. Each of these mixtures was quickly frozen into a fresh sorbet using a new ice cream maker called a Pacojet, which Osborne praised as making "perfect ice cream." (Of course, a Pacojet retails for about $3000 -- don't think I'll be getting one for MY kitchen any time soon, perfect ice cream or not!)
Because the process for this dessert is multi-stepped, Osborne was clearly not preparing the desserts we were going to eat that night as I had assumed. Instead, as he began to demonstrate the technique for making the cake part of the dome, servers brought out trays with the three desserts already beautifully arranged on cerulean blue glass dishes.
As we began to tentatively break into our ice cream domes, servers came round to top off our Inniskillin, a very sweet, golden dessert wine that I've sampled on several occasions. Although too cloying for my taste, most others seemed to find that it paired well with the sweet treasures on the plate in front of them. (I should note here that my 12-year-old son joined us for this event and, even though he did not have any wine, we were charged the same $55 fee for him -- there was no discount for a junior, nor did they provide him with anything other than water to drink. In fact, when we were seated, they removed his wine glass quickly before either my husband or I could take it -- since we had paid for the wine, we should have been able to have his share, don't you think?)
The second dessert of the evening -- Thai Coriander Chocolate Mousse with Mango Orange Five-Spice Coulis -- sounded to be the most promising, for the chocoholic that I am, although I wasn't sure exactly how fresh coriander (aka cilantro) was going to meld with chocolate mousse. The answer came soon enough -- it blended quite well! The coriander was chopped, stems and all, and infused in milk, then mixed with Manjari chocolate. It was then mixed with egg yolks, gelatine, chocolate and finally whipped cream, then set aside.
The most impressive feat of the evening came when Chef Osborne demonstrated how to make a chocolate cylinder to hold the mousse. He melted the chocolate, spread it quickly on a baking sheet, then rolled it expertly into the desired shape. How much more fun it would have been had he invited some of us to watch him do this trick up close -- merely watching his reflection in the overhead demo mirror just couldn't show us the detail of his technique. When asked how he did it, his answer, with a slight smile, was, "Experience."
When it came time for me to try the mousse, though, I have to admit that even though it was creamy and rich, it was just too much. I can't explain it -- maybe I'm not the chocoholic I thought I was -- but I just couldn't eat more than three or four spoons of it. (Of course, my pre-teen son had no trouble wolfing it down!) I more enjoyed the coulis the mousse cylinder rested on -- the fragrant combination of cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, star anise and cardamom mixed with mango puree and orange juice was very pleasing -- I could have licked the plate (but didn't!). Osborne suggested that this coulis would be a great accent to desserts at the holidays, and I have to agree -- since they gave us the recipe and it doesn't sound too complicated, I might give it a try myself. (In fact, it's probably the only recipe from that evening that I would even think to attempt.)
The final dessert of the evening was, in my opinion, the best of the trio -- a Chilled Lychee Wine Custard. (It was basically a fancy creme caramel, which is one of my favorite desserts anyway.) Osborne demonstrated his technique for making the custard, whisking the eggs, sugar and vanilla together expertly, finally mixing that with hot wine (he used Inniskillin rather than the Thai lychee wine the recipe called for) and egg yolks. A spectator asked him how he could do that without getting scrambled eggs, and again the answer came, "Experience."
Despite host Smith's efforts to engage Osborne in conversation by asking questions as he worked, I had the feeling he just wasn't comfortable in this forum, and it made for a very dry program. There was no real rapport with the audience, as I have enjoyed at other Food & Wine Festival events. As I mentioned earlier, when members of the audience tried to ask him questions about the accompanying recipes we received, his answers were rather condescending. For example, when I asked him how many servings his recipe for lychee wine custard would make, instead of giving me a concrete answer, he told me that since all molds were of different sizes, he didn't want to say. Well, duh. I know that all molds are different, but what if you had, say, 6 oz. molds? Or 8 oz. molds? Give me a ballpark guess. So I then joked that I would just make one big custard, and Osborne very seriously warned me of the dangers of attempting such a thing. OK, so maybe we were dealing with someone lacking a sense of humor? Perhaps a chef with a different personality could have made this experience more exciting and inviting -- but as it was, I felt removed and rather like an unwelcome observer.
In summary, I found the venue to be well-suited to this type of presentation, but I didn't think it was worth the $55 price tag. Should Disney offer Sweet Sundays again next year, I would suggest that they change it one of two ways: either make the event really upscale, offering several different dessert wines, and bill it as such; or attempt to present desserts that are more in line with treats that an ordinary person might prepare at home, and lower the price tag, serving a less expensive dessert wine.
you participated a Sweet Sundays program during this year's Food &
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