Chef Stephen Schmitt Gets Us Ready For Valentine’s Day
Many readers may be fretting over how to impress their significant others this Saturday (it’s Valentine’s Day if anyone needed a reminder). When reservations seem too easy, and some heart-felt cookery is all that will do to win those ever-important brownie points, we recommend you turn to the likes of Executive Chef Stephen Schmitt who taught a course on February 7 at the Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar in South Park to an intimate class of 12 eager home cooks. Being in the month of love, the “Italian for Two” menu centered around some classic romantic foods like oysters and chocolate, as well as some unexpected ones like pancetta roundsÂ and vinegar-dressed smashed fingerling potatoes.Â The four-course menu also was accompanied by wine pairings, including a syrupy 20-year Tawny Port with dessert.
Schmitt’s teaching style was very explanatory, which was usefulÂ for the audience members who may have had less experience in the kitchen than others. He added enough humor into the mix to keep the attention during times when, as with any cooking demonstration, the visuals got old. One can only watch chocolateÂ being mixed for so long before going stir-crazy. Some Valentine’s Day-themed sexual innuendos may have been subtly dropped too, but nothing the crowd couldn’t handle.
Chef Schmitt may look young, but his cooking and understanding of ingredients is that of a chef with years’ more kitchenÂ scars. The amuse bouche with fennel and apple paired perfectly with the featured cocktail, the “Apple Crisp,” made with apple-flavored vodka, cinnamon-infused Calvados, apple simple syrup and lemon juice. It reminded us of the wintery apple drinks we’ve been used to with the cold weather, but was refreshing enough that it could be enjoyed on a porch next a julep drinker in summer.
The first course was the most visually pleasing and had the highest level of execution. The briny radishes and bright, peppery watercress gave great depth to the saltiness from the pancetta and the creaminess from the polenta-fried oysters. The main course was beautiful North Carolina black grouperÂ (from Charlotte Fish Company) on a warm salad.Â Schmitt decidedly has something against completely raw vegetables as the blistered tomatoes, wilted arugula and his commentary on the subject would reflect. The warmth did take the edge off of having too many raw vegetables on the plate with the delicate piece of fish, and the roasted broccolini gave the dishÂ some firmness to play against the soft filet and salad.
Finally, dessert wasâ€”in a wordâ€”decadent. The tart wasn’t veryÂ sweet, but paired with the Gnam Gnam strawberry gelato, it became a perfectly balanced reflection of the last (clichĂ©d but absolutely necessary) item on the plate: a chocolate-covered strawberry. Many who took part in the class tried, but only a few managed to clear their plates by the end. That must mean that this menu could very well be the perfect thing for RT readers to try and execute come this Saturday, especially with reservations being snatched up left and right. As for the class, we think the $50 ticket was well worth the price for a fantastic meal and some face time with one of Charlotte’s up-and-coming chefs.