Sauce it up

Other than tomato, I don't make much sauce at home. If something I make has a sauce, it is usually a result of the cooking process (liquid from a braise, cream or coconut milk added to a curry, wine to deglaze a pan of seared meat, and so forth). But in today's class, we focused on stand-alone sauce making. With some of the French classics on his list, chef/instructor Jeff Fournier of 51 Lincoln took us through a palette of flavorful and colorful liquids that ranged from thick, creamy hollandaise to deep, complex Espagnol, to bright, astringent gastrique. 

 The San Marzano tomatoes that went into our simple tomato sauce.

The San Marzano tomatoes that went into our simple tomato sauce.

Fournier, who is also a painter, peppered the day's activities with conversations about cooking as a creative process. He visually documents every dish at his restaurant, and we're not talking Instagram photos, but hand sketches. For Fournier, the drawings serve 2 purposes—they help him conceptualize a plate when he's in the development process, and they serve as a recorded documentation of his thought process and the finished idea. As a visual communicator myself, it was inspiring to see his work process and the way he has married his talent as an artist with his talent as a chef.

Between reducing veal stock for sauce Espagnol and whizzing up scallions, cilantro, garlic, oil, and vinegar for mojo, the chef discussed some of the challenges of running a restaurant such as balancing the needs of the guests with the needs of the kitchen. Like any creative business, success depends on employees that are inspired to do good work. If a young chef is forced to make the same repertoire of dishes month after month, the work is no longer inspiring and he/she wants out. But on the other hand, if a signature dish comes off the menu, customers get upset (and apparently quite vocal, according to Fournier). It sounds like this is a constant balancing act at 51 Lincoln, but he seems to take it in stride.

 Chef Fournier demonstrated what it's like to cook on the line—managing several hot pans and bubbling stocks at once.

Chef Fournier demonstrated what it's like to cook on the line—managing several hot pans and bubbling stocks at once.

The actual hands-on time in today's class was pretty light. We each made our own small batch of hollandaise (whip egg yolks with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice over a double boiler, add clarified butter, season), and then divided up some small tasks that formed the components of brown sauce, bechamel, bernaise, tomato sauce, pesto, gastrique (a beautiful glaze-like sauce made from a reduction of chicken stock, apple cider, and cider vinegar) and mojo—a bracing Latin American condiment. Most of the other sauces were made by Chef Fournier. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him in action and hearing everything he had to say, but I wished we had more interaction with the food. Finally, he seared some steaks and chicken breasts so we would have something to sop up all the deliciousness. We each dotted our little paper plates like paint palettes and dipped, smeared, and mopped to our taste buds' delight.