Pastry crumbs and chocolate shavings peppered the granite island in the kitchen. A faint of aroma of low tide, ripe from last night’s fish cleaning, lingered in the air. An over-abundance of fresh vegetables, teetering on every shelf, packed of the refrigerator.
The kitchen was in disarray, the chefs were arriving within the hour, and I still needed to take a shower. So began the afternoon that two executive chefs were to have a cooking demonstration at my house.
I cater in my profession but I am not, by any means, a chef. I’d like to think of myself more an Envoy to the Taste Buds. I frequently entertain and love to host food workshops for friends at my house. Recently, I had the honor of hosting a cooking presentation for my girlfriends with world renowned, celebrity Chef Larry Banares, executive chef to the CEO of Rady Children’s Hospital, and Chef Cipriano Mancilla, executive chef of Hilton’s Torreyana Grille in La Jolla.
Chef Larry, a three-time Gold Medalist in the Culinary Olympics, was the executive chef for California landmarks such as the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, and the Queen Mary, an ocean liner-turned-hotel in Long Beach. He frequently cooked for Michael Jackson and has prepared his award-winning cuisine for many famous personalities including Leah Sonlonga, Imelda Marcos, the Sultan of Brunei, and various presidents of the Philippines. I was in awe that they would be cooking for us. But, even more honored, that they would be cooking in my kitchen.
When I host workshops at the house, I usually prepare a variety of foods beforehand. However, this time, I dared not cook anything too complex to avoid any ridicule.
How humbling to have two accredited Master Chefs in my kitchen, silently critiquing food that was on the table.
I dreaded picking up even a spatula, in front of the chefs, for fear that I would be using the wrong tool. Not as bad as parading around with boxing gloves in front of Manny Pacquiao, but just as humbling. No, not this time. Simple desserts and roast pork empanadas will do.
The day before the presentation I prepared my pastries and picked up the ingredients for Chef Larry and Chef Cipriano. I had requested they demonstrate something the girls could easily prepare, but would leave their spouses saying, “Wow! YOU made that?” Salmon Papillote was their dish. No big deal gathering the groceries, right? Get the freshest-looking stuff that I could find at the market.
Veggies, check. Herbs, check. Salmon fillets… salmon fillets… no salmon fillets, only whole salmon. Ok. I can do this. As a deep sea fisher, I’m used to cleaning and filleting big fish, so tackling a 13-pound salmon is a cakewalk. As soon as I got home from hunting and gathering at the market, I pulled out the fish implements from my arsenal of knives and began to dismember the fish.
Suddenly, it hit me. My fillets will be scrutinized by my guest executive chefs who, incidentally, hire other chefs based on their knife skills. Gads! I’m a self-taught cook. My only culinary training was eighth-grade Home Economics where a passing grade was given — not by your ability to follow a recipe — but by your ability to actually eat what you had just cooked. And knife techniques extended to the art of slicing your freshly-made hockey puck biscuit. One shredded salmon fillet and stray fishbone, I’ll be condemned to Hell’s Kitchen
With skittish hands, I scaled, filleted, and deboned the entire salmon, checking and rechecking for any of those nasty pin bones. It took me twice as long as it normally would, but it was well worth it when Chef Cipriano said, “These are very nice fillets. Where did you get them?” Yippee! Brownie point for me.
Fast forward… the chefs’ demonstration was outstanding, the Salmon Papillote was delicious, their celebrity stories were funny and enlightening, and my girlfriends had a wonderful time. I walked away, unscathed, confident that no salmon would be left unfilleted, and unboned, so long as I held a knife and tweezers in my hands. ♥
Serves 15 hungry ladies. Recipe adapted from Chef Larry’s and Chef Cipriano’s creation.
- 5 lb. Salmon Fillet, skinned and boned (whole salmon if the knife and tweezers move you) slice 3″ wide sections
- 1 bunch baby asparagus, cut into 4 inch pieces
- 2 zucchini, julienned
- 2 yellow squash, julienned
- 4 carrots, julienned
- 2 leeks, julienned
- 5 cups of freshly cut corn kernels
- 30 sprigs of thyme
- Salted butter
- Salt and pepper
- 3 lemons
- 15 sheets of parchment paper cut into heart shape. About 12″ x 12″.
Butter 1 side of parchment leaving a large margin for folding.
Layer in order on one half of the buttered heart-shaped parchment:
4 pieces asparagus, a couple tablespoons of the corn kernels, salmon fillet seasoned with salt and pepper, mound of julienned zucchini, squash and carrots, top with 3 sprigs of thyme. Add another dollop of butter (because butter tastes so good).
Fold other half of the parchment heart over your salmon masterpiece and begin to fold edges to form a packet, ending at the tail of the heart. Be sure to seal all the way around to securely enclose salmon, using the tail to fold and tuck under packet.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes or until done. When opening the baked packet use scissors, being careful of escaping steam. Serve with lemon and, if you’re hitting the gym afterwards, more melted butter. Enjoy! ♥