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Vietweek learns to cook with an all-star chef

Risotto with pan fried scampi

Last Saturday, I joined a cooking class at Sofitel Plaza Saigon Hotel with Didier Anies, an executive chef from Grand Hotel Cap Ferrat in Monaco.

Cooking in the kitchen of a chef who has won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France and is a two-star Michellin chef was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Anies, who has cooked in famous restaurants in Germany, Austria and Monaco, has also acted as a culinary consultant for L'Hôtel de Vendôme in Paris since 2007. He is author and co author of many books including "Elixir du Caviar," "Un Chef un légume," and "J'aime Monaco."

For his class in Ho Chi Minh City, Anies taught us how to make risotto with pan fried scampi and sauteed scallops with spices and pear.

As Denies grew up the Toulous region of southern France, which is near Spain and Italy, his cooking recipes have a touch of Italian cuisine culture, with passionate, warm-hearted and natural flavors.

Sharing a passion, scallops in the garden

This chef has the style of a charming but modest artist who likes sharing his success with the people he meets. "I teach a lot and for me what is important is sharing," he said during an interview with Vietweek Saturday morning.

According to Anies, food is the best way of communication. He likes talking about food and sharing it with his customers, his team, and his cooking class students.

The first dish: we cooked will sauteed scallops with spices and pear it contained a lot of spices and flavors reminiscent of summertime.

To cook for six people, we needed to prepare a long list of ingredients, including 18 pieces of fresh scallops, two whole pears, 20 grams of pistachio nuts, 20 grams of lemon comfit, 250 grams of honey, 40 grams of fresh ginger, 15 grams of citronella, 15 grams of chopped peanuts, 50 grams of lemon juice, 10 grams of fresh coriander, one picante bird, 15 grams of garlic, 50 servings of ketchup, plus salt and white ground pepper.

To show the class how to cook the dish, the chef first explained what he was doing and preparing to do, and then cooked the dishes while offering additional explanations. That way we knew exactly what the process would be before we started our own cooking.

The first dish was actually not that complicated at all.

First we mixed all the ingredients (except the scallops, pear, and pistachio nuts) together in a bowl.

Chef Didier Anies preparing risotto with pan fried scampi

Then we cooked a peeled pear in the microwave for four minutes before making it into a puree and cooking it in a pan with a little butter and vanilla.

After that, we added the cooked pear to the original mixture and ground it up real fine. We then filtered the mixture to achieve a refined sauce, the taste of which reminded me of a wonderful dessert.

Chef Anies said he respected the natural taste of the ingredients and wanted to keep those tastes in his food. For example, we should not cook the mixture of spice and pear for too long, otherwise the pear would lose its fruity, crunchy taste, he said.

After that, we mixed the scallop with a bit of olive oil before frying it in a very hot pan (in order to keep the fatty taste inside the scallop). We kept the scallop slightly undercooked to maintain its tenderness.

Finally we learnt to decorate the dish with pistachio and lemon comfit on top, and served it with a spicy sauce.

The sauteed scallops with spices and pear looked and tasted lively, just like a seductive seaside summer garden that tempts with the mixed fragrances of different spices, nuts, fruits and flower blossoms.

"¦and risotto"¦

The second dish was a little harder to make: risotto with pan fried scampi.

This dish also requires a long list of ingredients, including 30 grams of olive oil, 75 grams of finely chopped onions, 150 grams of white wine, 450 grams of Carnarolli rice, 12 grams of Fleur de sel, 500 grams of chicken broth, fresh scampi (prawns), grated parmesan cheese, whipped cream, ground white pepper and chervil.

To make risotto, first we heated some 30 grams of olive oil and then added chopped onions for sweetness, and then added the rice. When the dish became a bit greasy we added the wine and reduced the concoction. Then we added the chicken broth and cooked it while stirring it from time to time.

After the rice is cooked to taste (some like to keep it raw, some like it less raw) we added parmesan cheese and whipped cream.

Chef Anies puts a cover above the rice pan to keep the heat so the whipped cream naturally melts into the rice after a few minutes.

Anies was curious and listened attentively when a student mentioned the difference between risotto and the way Vietnamese cook rice.

Then, we learned to make a decoration that looked like a long leaf by heating grated parmesan cheese in a hot pan. After one minute, when the heated cheese dried, we softly took it out of the pan and placed it on top of the dish we had created so far.

Finally, we fried the prawn with olive oil in a hot pan. Then, we placed risotto on a hot plate and added the prawns and then decorated it with chervil and the cheese decoration we just made. Anies said the hot plate was necessary to keep the rice good.

In comparison to Vietnamese soft steamed rice, with its rawness, risotto is a bit strange to the Asian palate. But this time I enjoyed risotto more than ever as we learned how to keep the level of rawness we like. Being a cheese person, I also used extra Parmesan cheese to achieve the best taste.

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