News Articles

Men’s night in the kitchen

A fledgling Edmonton dinner club brings food lovers together for evenings of cooking and camaraderie

By Liane Faulder, Edmonton Journal – February 20, 2010

Steve Rose holds a Portobello mushroom appetizer with the other members of the Edmonton Gentlemen’s Dinner Club seated behind him at Sorrentinos. The club is applying to become a chapter of a well-known international men’s cooking group, Les Marmitons (which is French for “kitchen boys,” or “chef’s helpers”).

Photograph by: Rick Macwilliam, The Journal, Edmonton Journal

Their name is the Edmonton Gentlemen’s Dinner Club, a title that suggests cravats and brandy snifters. But this new cooking club is anything but stuffy.

The club, which held its third meeting recently in the catering kitchen at Caffe Sorrentino on 109th Street at 107th Avenue, combines raucous good humour with a genuine desire to learn more kitchen skills. Along the way, fine wine is sipped and an elegant meal prepared. OK, there was a small frying pan fire the night I visited, hardly noticeable really, but it served to fan the flames of friendship by providing yet another source of merriment.

“It’s purely educational,” says member Ron Kruhlak. “I’m good at eating and good at drinking, and this is a very good experience. It also gives you a new appreciation for dining out.”

The club is applying to become a chapter of a well-known international men’s cooking group, Les Marmitons, an association dedicated to friendship and gastronomy. The association began in Europe many years ago, and the first North American chapter was created in 1977 in Montreal. Since then, Les Marmitons (which is French for “kitchen boys,” or “chef’s helpers”) has expanded to 20 chapters in Canada and the U.S.

Calgary has had one for more than 10 years, and Richard Ford, who now sits on the executive of the Edmonton club, used to belong to it. Last year, he heard of an Edmontonian named Steve Rose, who was nosing about, looking to start an arm of Les Marmitons in Edmonton. Ford was in.

“I missed my fix. It’s fun,” he says of Les Marmitons meetings, which are held about eight times a year. “I cook all the time at home, but here, it’s a lot fancier and you get a lot of expertise. You learn a lot more than by watching the food channel.”

The evening starts at about 6 p.m. on a chosen Monday, when members gather at Sorrentino’s. A glass of wine, selected and ordered by the group’s resident wine expert, Stewart Roth, is poured. And so it begins.

At each meeting, a local chef is asked to provide tutelage and a menu. The chefs volunteer, but a donation is made in each of their names to a charity chosen by Les Marmitons. (In this case, it’s Compassion House.) Groceries are ordered in advance through Sorrentino’s, which also donates the kitchen space.

At tonight’s event, Joe Kennedy, executive chef at the Mayfield Inn, has been brought in to inspire the members, along with sous chef Angela Piontkowski. (Chefs James Holehouse and Serge Beclair of the Shaw Conference Centre, and Chris Hrynyk, executive chef at Sorrentino’s, have led the group in the past.) As members tie on their aprons and lay out their knife kits, Kennedy hands out the menu: an appetizer of portobello mushrooms stuffed with garlic, onions and spinach, followed by a salad of pear slices with goat cheese and candied nuts. The main course is grilled and roasted chicken, accompanied by duchess potatoes, as well as roasted asparagus and red pepper. There are not one, but two, desserts: a fresh berry cup with Sabayon sauce, and a banana bread pudding.

The group — with about 18 members, and there is already a waiting list — divides into preparation teams based on the courses, each headed by a captain. (It’s a men’s group; you knew there had to be a captain.) There is an annual membership charge, which covers Sorrentino’s staff costs, as well as extra fees to cover wine and food.

The evening could not be more hands-on. Though Kennedy has things well organized, each man pulls his weight, chopping and whisking like mad to meet the dinner deadline. The meal preparation takes about two hours, and about two hours are spent enjoying the results.

Steve Rose, one of the founders and the group’s president, is in charge of mashing a great metal bowl of potatoes, and then squeezing them through a giant pastry bag to make the swirly duchess potatoes.

“This is hell; my arms are killing me,” he says jokingly.

Later, while the chicken is roasting and the air is full of the scent of onions and garlic, Kennedy demonstrates how to cut up a whole chicken. The class pays close attention, as this is part of the reason the men joined. Corey Ralph says he’s picked up several new skills in his short time as a member, including the proper use of knives, as well as how best to prepare fresh, leafy herbs (roll them up first, and then chop to avoid bruising).

The men here hold a variety of jobs, from real estate developer to accountant, and range in age from 30s to 60s. Some are married, some are not, but they have one love in common and that’s food.

“It’s about food and learning from some of the best chefs in the city, and the guys you meet,” says Bryan Evans, an elementary school principal. “I’ve always loved cooking. I watch Hell’s Kitchen all the time.”

At the end of the evening, members move from the kitchen into the front of the restaurant, where a long, narrow table complete with white linen and a variety of sparkly wine glasses has been set up. The hockey game is on the television around the corner, and dismaying reports on the Oilers are delivered with successive courses. During the eating of the feast, each captain stands up and describes his team’s dish and leads a toast. There are also short descriptions of the wine being served.

Outside, it’s dark and cold, but inside, good humour and good food keep things warm and comfortable.

“It’s the fellowship,” says member Scott Montgomery. “Nobody is selling anything. We’re not exchanging business cards; just having a good time.”

Any way you slice it, popularity of high-performance knives is on the rise

By Liane Faulder, edmontonjournal.com January 11, 2012

Steve Rose is with Edmonton Gentlemen’s Dinner Club, a men’s cooking club in Edmonton, and he loves his knife collection, and he loves to cook. He has maybe six or seven knives, but he also has the steel and the strop.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts

These items are useful, indeed. But also very pleasing to the eye.

“It would be like a high-performance vehicle,” muses Rose when asked to ponder the difference between a $200 knife and a $20 knife. “I couldn’t tell you the difference; I’m not an F1 driver. I like good knives because they are beautiful.”

Rose’s devotion to a half-dozen quality cutting implement puts him in growing company. The market for well-chosen culinary knives, particularly among men who cook, is on the rise. While women buy knives too, chefs and knife sellers say it’s different with men, who are drawn to classy cutlery in the same way they are attracted to other gadgets, both in and out of the kitchen.

“Women buy a knife because they want something that works, and doesn’t upset them,” reflects Calgary chef and knife store owner, Kevin Kent. “Dudes buy differently … it’s the guys that end up buying 27 knives, or spending crazy money. They want the Jaguar feel.”

The growth of Kent’s business is one indication of the sharpening interest in knives. He started selling hand-forged, Japanese brands from his backpack, on his bicycle, five years ago. Today, he owns a shop on Calgary’s 9th Avenue called Knifewear with six employees, and he’s working with Brewsters Brewing Company to launch a brand of craft beer inspired by his passion for knives. Kent says there are a couple of factors that have fed the surging interest in these muscular implements, including the boom of television food shows, where celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Michael Smith and Rob Feenie can be seen using all sorts of blades.

“Food is cool,” says Kent, whose customers come from as far away as Israel to buy knives. “Food is like the new rock n’ roll, and Japanese knives are like the new electric guitar.”

Jeff Gordon, a Red Seal chef and a cooking instructor at NAIT, sees more men signing up for continuing education classes in the school’s food labs, where he teaches a course in knife skills. He says that while it may be true that men like their toys, in and out of the kitchen, there are definite advantages to using high-quality knives for either sex. People who buy expensive knives won’t get blisters when they do a lot of chopping. Plus, expensive knives tend to be lighter, and that can make it physically easier to cut food. Gordon hesitates, though, when queried about whether a good knife will improve what goes in your mouth.

“Anybody can take a good knife, and not be able to cut with it,” says Gordon, associate dean in the school of hospitality and culinary arts. “A lot of it comes from practice, knowing the right techniques.”

In his NAIT classes, Gordon talks about safety, and the importance of always having a damp cloth under the cutting board so that it doesn’t slide around. Students are taught “the claw” — a technique that sees cooks using their knuckles to hold down a carrot or piece of meat for slicing, rather than the tips of their fingers. This helps prevent painful, bloody nicks. Other knife basics include never putting a knife in the dishwasher (it dulls the blade) and how to steel a knife in between sharpenings.

Gordon says the most important thing about a knife, regardless of the quality, is that it be sharp. Nobody would agree with that sentiment more than Rose, who belongs to a local men’s cooking group called Edmonton Gentlemen’s Dinner Club. He pays close attention to the art of cooking, with all of its tools and techniques. Rose cleans his knives with a soft cloth immediately after using, owns a knife strop, and sends his knives to Calgary’s Knifewear for sharpening.

“You don’t buy (a good knife) and just use it,” he cautions. “You have to put time into it. And if you don’t, do not go here. You’ll dishonour the whole thing, and be mad, and wonder why you spent the money.”

A knife that’s babied will make cooks coo, and will elevate the chopping piles of carrots, celery and peppers for a stir-fry from mundane to magnificent. Flavour is also affected; a tomato disembowelled with a dull knife will deposit juice and pulp on the cutting board, rather than into the spaghetti sauce. And remember, diners eat first with their eyes.

“There is the esthetic value, and that’s enough to me, but a good blade, properly maintained, gives presentation value,” says Rose. “Food looks better on the plate.”

Battle of the blades

NAIT cooking instructor and Red Seal chef Jeff Gordon says cooks can get away with a couple of decent quality, well-sharpened knives in their counter block. A French knife, also called a chef’s knife, and a paring knife are two essentials.

Size varies, but Gordon says an eight or 10-inch chef’s knife is good for most anything. If cooks want to plump up the knife kit, he suggests adding a serrated bread knife, a boning knife and a straightedge slicer for roast beef or turkey. Anybody with a chef’s knife should also have a steel, just to keep the edge on the blade between sharpening sessions.

With 25 years in the kitchen, Gordon has a fondness for a slightly heavier knife, preferring a European-style by Zwilling J.A. Henckels to other brands. But he notes it’s all “personal preference.”

Bill Marshall, area manager for Zwilling J.A. Henckels says that, broadly, European knives tend to be heavier, and geared toward everyday chopping tasks, while Japanese knives are lighter, with a thinner blade, a finer angle and harder steel. They are designed with a “delicate cut” in mind, says Marshall, but they require a lot more care to maintain.

Gordon says students in the full-time culinary arts program at NAIT often delight in a Japanese knife. Among the popular Asian-style brands on the market are Shun, with its distinctive oval handle, Masahiro, and the all-steel Global.

Calgary knife store owner Kevin Kent says you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get a serviceable knife. While he has a knife that sells for $3,700 at Knifewear (an elaborately lacquered Konosuke Honyaki, forged like a samurai sword), shoppers can purchase a quality paring knife for $60, and Kent’s chef’s knives start at about $90. He notes, however, that knives over $350 are dramatically different in quality, and worth the price for cooks who care.

“We call them legacy knives,” he says. “As a chef, you’ll burn off knives, but at home, you can probably give these knives to your grandchildren.”

lfaulder@edmontonjournal.com

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