On the evening we arrived at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wis., we toured the entire property. Its state-of-the-art culinary school, L’Ecole de la Maison, was quiet and serene. The immaculate, well-lit kitchen offered two professional gas stoves, two double ovens and two refrigerators, as well as dozens of stainless steel frying and sauce pans, and an enormous island full of cabinets and wine refrigerators.
The next morning chef instructor Scott Baker greeted us beside the island, now filled with parchment-lined baking pans, cutting boards, newly sharpened knives, stainless steel bowls and stand mixers. He directed us to individual work stations where recipes also awaited.
Rena and I began work on Vichy Carrots and Haricots Verts (green beans) with Walnut Butter. Baker patiently demonstrated how to make oblique cuts to ensure that each piece of peeled carrot would cook evenly. Compound butter, which we later stirred into slightly cooked green beans, intrigued both of us.
We toasted and then chopped walnuts, along with parsley and shallots and stirred them into softened butter. A kitchen assistant demonstrated how to roll the butter into a long cylinder and wrap it in parchment paper before placing it in the refrigerator.
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Baker showed Andrea how to use a mandolin slicer safely, attaching a tool to an onion destined for soup so that her fingers would stay clear of the blade. He also removed the “silver skin” from a large beef slab before cutting it thickly and demonstrated how to make clarified butter.
Nicole carefully filled a mixer bowl with crepe ingredients. After the batter was fully incorporated, Baker demonstrated how to cook each individual crepe to thin brown perfection. Nicole made several and then instructed us herself, creating a large stack that awaited orange sauce and raspberries.
Tamra and Shannon used another mixer to prepare batter for French Gougeres. The tiny round “biscuits” were full of fresh Gruyere from Wisconsin’s own Roth Käse cheese makers. After thoroughly mixing the ingredients, they carefully placed each gougeres atop a parchment-lined baking sheet before putting them in the oven.
Other class members prepped salad ingredients and baguette dough, and created Coquilles St. Jacques au Gratin — au gratin sea scallops. Time flew as we followed recipes, chatted and enjoyed the luxury of having somebody else clean up our messes. We finally adjourned to a long dining table set with linens, silverware, and water and wine glasses.
Our feast began with piping hot Classic French Onion (soup) au Gratin. It arrived in small crocks, topped with two thick slices of freshly baked bread and accompanied by complementary Chardonnay. Lyonnaise Salad combined frisee and Boston bibb lettuce with naturally smoked bacon bits and parsley, and sweet-tangy homemade Red Wine-Dijon Vinaigrette. A perfectly poached egg atop the salad added creamy goodness when gently cut.
Butter, white wine, lemon juice, shallots, mushrooms and fine shredded cheese flavored heavy whipping cream in which large sea scallops bathed for Coquilles St. Jacques au Gratin. Parsley-dotted and slightly browned around the edges, this rich, creamy course was served in large clamshell halves.
We hadn’t even sampled the entree yet. What a magnificent combination of flavors, from melt-in-your-mouth beef to thin-sliced and decadent Gratin Dauphinoise (potatoes). Sweet, tender carrots and buttery walnut-shallot-parsley-infused green beans completed the plate. Paired with red wine, it was hard to stop eating this course.
But we still had crepes suzettes to enjoy. Baker warmed the compound butter in a crepe pan over medium heat. He then flambeed the mixture with both Grand Marnier and Cointreau as the wafer-thin crepes soaked in the orangey goodness. Plump, gorgeous raspberries added color and tartness to this luscious dessert.
As we finally pushed aside our plates and removed our aprons, all agreed this highly memorable meal tasted extra special because we had prepared the feast ourselves — with the help of our patient instructor and unobtrusive kitchen staff.
Lisa Waterman Gray is a freelance writer based in Overland Park. She specializes in food and travel writing.