Cooking Class with Chef Tyson Cole
Posted by johngl
What does this guy have to smile about?
Adding to his numerous other accomplishments, back in April, Cole’s Uchi came in at number eight in Bon Appétit’s listing of the the top ten sushi spots in America. In 2005, he appeared as one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs. Uchi has been such a huge success, he is opening another one near Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Further, he may open a Spanish-themed restaurant in the new W hotel, slated for completion sometime next year.
Lucky for me, I first met Chef Cole not long after Uchi first opened in 2003. That was back when you could walk in nearly anytime and get a table immediately. In fact, we had wine dinners there. Eight to ten of us would get loud and boisterous and eat great dishes prepared by the master himself. One of the most memorable dishes I have ever consumed was served at one of those dinners – a monk fish liver preparation with Black Guts Shiraz.
Later, in 2004 and early 2005, I sat at the bar as he personally cut sushi and sashimi for me using his fugubiki knife — the one made for him by one of Japan’s oldest sword makers. It was marvelous. I have a fondness for blades and I’d never seen anyone use a knife like that at a distance of about two feet. His concentration and precision were remarkable. I learned many things between bites. It was also the first time I ever ate fish priced at over $50/lb.
So, when I heard he was doing a Central Market Cooking School presentation, we signed up immediately. I was hoping we could get front row seats.
There I was again, sitting in front of the master, his knife within touching distance. He didn’t have a clue as to who I was. I wasn’t surprised and actually expected that since the last time I talked to him face to face was probably about five years ago.
Anyway, enough of this rambling…
Chef Cole brought out the big fish — a Chinook salmon — and gave us a lesson in fish butchery.
We also got a peek at his playful side as he quickly removed the salmon’s head and stood it up on the counter.
I watched Chef break down the salmon and cut it into belly (otoro), tender, mid-back, and back sections in about two minutes. The belly is the fattiest and it gets progressively leaner as you move toward the dorsal fin. Different parts are used for different dishes.
Getting down to eating, the Chef and his crew prepared a wonderful Sockeye crudo (raw fish). The yellow watermelon provided sweetness, the pickled watermelon provided the crunch, the vinaigrette came forward with some clean acidity, and the salmon just melted away in the mouth.
The reason I go to these classes is that I always seem to learn something. This time, it was how to cold smoke salmon in a stove top smoker: just put some apple-wood chips at one end of the smoker and the fish on top of some ice at the other. Close the lid, putting the chip end over the flames. I wish I would thought of that.
I usually find smoked salmon wa-a-ay too smoky; this fish was just kissed with smoke. The watermelon radishes (called that for their interior colors) provided a nice bit of crunch, the fried apple puree came in with some sweetness. Wonderfully balanced!
I didn’t expect Chef Cole to actually cook fish. He is, after all, a sushi master. But this wonderful dish of pan-seared salmon (back section) was tender and flaky. What is a little odd, at least to me, is that the fried Brussels sprout leaves were the most interesting part of this dish. Just after frying, the sprouts were hit with some salt and perhaps a little pepper. Very surprising.
Then there were the roasted grapes (coated in oil and oven-roasted for 45 minutes at 375). What a shot of sweetness!
We didn’t get much of a demo on the dessert, it just sort of appeared. We did hear about a new machine they just put in at Uchi that whips up sorbet in about three minutes. I’m jealous.
This dish would work equally well as an amuse-bouche style opener or mid-meal palate cleanser. The tang of the grapefruit did wonders to wake up the mouth and sliced right through the salmon oil that the cooking brought out.
While Chef Cole was up front bestowing cooking wisdom upon the worshiping masses, the two men below did most of the work to bring these dishes out in a manner worthy of Uchi. I wasn’t at all disappointed.
It was almost like the old days: Chef Cole cutting fish with that sword-like blade while I sat there observing with rapt fascination. It wasn’t quite the same as going to Uchi, but the cooking class was a lot easier to get in to and was less spendy. At this point in Cole’s career, I’ll take what I can get.