Chef Ken Lefebour is not only an accomplished and creative culinary master, you might call him “a real trouper.” On Monday night, he certainly saved my skin.
Lefebour, who has his own take out and catering business in Dundas called Chef and Wife, Gourmet to Go (http://www.chefandwife.com/), was about to prepare a meal for our Chef’s Table series and I was hosting the event. The evening had gotten off to an inauspicious start. A drawer in the kitchen was stubbornly obdurate — something was stuck inside making it impossible to pull it open and it just happened to be the drawer that contained all of our really beautiful, nicely-honed chef’s knives. I had hoped that we could get away with using one of the semi-sharp knives from another drawer, but Lefebour was boning quail and said firmly, “I need the boning knife.” Rising to the occasion, Peter Kline, our sommelier, cleverly fashioned a tool out of a bent coat hanger, but it took fifteen long minutes of probing and jiggling and shuffling and jerking, before the combined efforts of Karen Aquino, the Go Cooking co-ordinator, Peter and the Spectator’s security guard were able to get the drawer open.
Crisis averted and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Our guests arrived and were seated, and the chef began to demonstrate his prowess in the kitchen. The dinner started with freshly baked buttermilk biscuits, topped with seared venison loin and an onion gastronomique — a savory sauce involving chopped onions and balsamic vinegar. The main course, a ragu of quail, served with a hard wheat pilaf, required some time to make, so the chef started on that as well. Working with five pages of recipes in front of him, Lefebour whirled from dish to dish, never losing his place and explaining each step carefully and clearly. I viewed the masterful performance in awe. It was akin to watching a symphony being conducted by an accomplished maestro.
As Lefebour continued to cook and field questions, I moved around him, trying to keep the counters clear so that he had some working space. The hors d’oeuvres were served to appropriate “Oh’s” and “Ah’s”. Our guests muttered things like “melt in the mouth” about the rare venison. The onion gastronomique added a piquant and spicey top note. I tried to keep myself from surreptitiously noshing the leftover buttermilk biscuits. The quail was roasting in the oven. The hard wheat was softening on the stove. I scanned the kitchen for the fire extinguisher, as the ragu was flambéed with whiskey in the pan.
All went well, until Lefebour, preparing the sauce for the quail, turned to me and asked, “Where is the stock?” I looked around, and then, felt a very cold chill go down my back, as he said, “It was sitting on the counter in a metal container.” Rooted to the spot in horror, I recalled a pot of brownish liquid that I had poured down the sink, trying to keep everything cleared and out of the way. I blanched and then rallied enough to confess and apologize. Yes, I had tossed Lefebour’s homemade chicken stock down the drain.
The chef never missed a beat. “Well,” he said, “if we don’t have stock, we don’t have stock.” And then, with the help and advice of our wonderful guests, he quickly concocted a delicious substitute, on the spot, using bits and pieces of the leftover gastronomique, assorted vegetables and copious amounts of wine. The end result, thank goodness, was wonderful. The quail were served and eaten. The evening ended with a decadent dark chocolate tart, drizzled with brown butter and topped with whipped cream.
And I learned a few things. Not only about cooking, but also about professionalism, grace under pressure and the ability to innovate when things go wrong in the kitchen. (I also learned to ask before throwing anything out!)
Chef Lefebour will be joining Go Cooking again at our February 11th wine tasting with Karen LaVigne from Sélections de LaVigne(http://selectionsdelavigne.com/) and, I believe, there still are a few seats left. The wine tastings are always a lot of fun and this one will be a special treat since the chef and the sommelier are going to be celebrating Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Family Day and Mardi Gras, all together. I will be hosting the event and I’ll try to behave myself.
And here’s the chef’s recipe for Ragu of Quail — with the chicken stock.
Ragu of Quail
from Chef Ken Lefebour, Chef and Wife – Gourmet to Go
6 quail cut in half
1 onion (diced)
3 celery stalks (diced)
1 tablespoon garlic (chopped)
1 cup mushrooms (sliced)
10 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
6 ounces Canadian whisky
8 ounces cabernet franc
1 large tomato (diced)
2 cups stock (approximately)
1. Season quail and sear both sides in hot pan with oil
2. Place on greased baking sheet
3. Bake at 450 degree F oven for 13 minutes
4. Add water if pan is dry
5. In pan used to sear quail, add onions, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves.
6. Add enough oil to sauté
7. Cook over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes
8. Add whiskey and flambé
9. Add wine, tomato and reduce by 2/3
10. Add stock
11. Season and simmer gently
12. Remove thyme, rosemary and season
13. Place quail back in pan and cook for 5 minutes, turning occasionally
14. If ragu becomes too thick add more stock or water
15. Remove from heat
16. Whisk in butter.
This will serve 12, with half a quail each. The chef says that recipe can be halved. It looked like about 4 tablespoons of butter were added at the end — so suit yourself.