I need to improve my cooking skills and thought the kitchens of the Ritz, Place Vendôme in Paris, might be be a cool place for that. There, in the basement of the 5-star luxury hotel, you can join a small group of culinary students and aspiring home-chefs for a top-notch cooking course and demo where you'll do all the thing by yourself under the guidance of a renowned chef...Our workshop was about Seafood Risotto with Truffle Shawings...
We had arrived in advance and looked at the salons and hallways of the Ritz, had a glimpse on the indoor bar Vendôme and on the dining room of L'Espadon, the indoor restaurant where Chefs Michel Roth and Arnaud Faye are at the wheel. The Mohamed Al Fayed-owned Ritz will be fully renovated in 2008 and this was an occasion to see it before the changes.
We were guided from the lobby to the mysterious undergrounds of the hotel, where the Ritz's kitchens and their technical facilities stay out of the public eye. Just this labyrinthic walk along passages through the belly of the Ritz was thrilling. The usual access door for these Ecole-Ritz-Escoffier workshops is on the rue Cambon side (a side street), which is sometimes also used as a discreet exit option by famous guests of the Ritz.
A few words about David Goulaze, the cook : He is running this workshop in a manner that it is a lot of fun all along. He has a light South-Western-France accent, as he is a Landes native, and for us Northerners it means sun and good mood. He is the main Chef of the Ritz-Escoffier Cooking School and has taught cooking skills to thousands of French and Foreign students from all backgrounds, using english or japanese translators when needed. He even runs special workshops for kids, where the very young learn the pleasure to cook a real dish that they will be proud to duplicate for their parents. That's unjust, we have a double standard here, as you may have noticed on the page I linked to, these kids are allowed to wear tall cook-hats while we aren't... Among our group, some aspiring chefs were really passionated about cooking and the recipe, and men were not the least active.
The Chef underlines the importance of the ingredients and of their individual quality for the final product. The ideal rice is short italian rice, it is the one which gives this particular firmness that you have in a good risotto. The rice must not be washed or rinsed because it could remove the starch which plays an important role here. He explains how to begin the different parts of the dish, and has one of us pour the rice into a thick pot to cook with butter and olive oil and some onions for a while. We cook the mussels in white wine and shalots and then shell them along with the prawns on the nearby work-table, before cutting the prawns into small pieces and cook them lightly with onions and olive oil in a frying pan. The Chef even finds the time to show to a couple of us exactly how to swiftly chop onions, shalots or garlic. It seems always amazing how kitchen professionals can chop thinly and extremely fast with a big razor-like knife and not loose fingers in the process. It's all a matter of controlling the blade with some fingers and making a regular but fast circular motion ending into the onion, like this page explains it..
The wine, now. I'll trust David Goulaze and the Ritz : This Sancerre Paul Prieur 2006 seems to be a perfect match for the risotto with seafood. The creamy rice finds a good balance in this aromatic and fresh Sauvignon Blanc. There are quite a number of white wines that could also match this risotto with seafood, like a Cheverny or a Valencay white. Both are Loire white wines, and blends of Chardonnay/Sauvignon, plus they are more affordable that a Sancerre (the retail price for this Paul Prieur 2006 is 15 Euro in France). A quincy, which is a Sauvignon from the Loire would also be good here. Anyway, each time you cook a risotto, the wine choice will also depend of what comes with the rice, as it can be as diverse as artichoke, asparagus, mushrooms or meat, and some reds can do a better job in some cases.<