Tips and Tricks from Paul Petersen of the Gage Hotel

I’ve been to many cooking classes in the last several years, and while most provide a good meal and a useful lesson or two, rarely would I label any class an “experience”. Today was an absolute exception. I had the great pleasure of attending “The Gage Hotel: Grillin’ & Thrillin’ Wine Dinner: and for three hours I experienced the exceptional cuisine and exciting personality of Paul Petersen, Executive Chef at the Gage Hotel in Marathon Texas. As if the food wasn’t good enough, Petersen is fantastic teacher. He comes to class not only ready to cook, but ready to teach. It’s a stated goal of class that everyone walks away with a menu they can replicate at home and a collection of useful tips they can put to immediate use. He accomplished that today – in spades.

It’s All About the Grill

Petersen is a self-proclaimed “grill master” (and he jovially points out that being self proclaimed means he’s the one who said it and he may be the only one who believes it), and given that collecting grills seems to be a hobby – he currently has seven – it’s hard not to believe him. His food only reinforces the idea. His menu at the Gage Hotel is seasonally based and features grilled foods prominently. He admits that even on his day’s off, he grills. Given his love of grilling, I knew we were in for a great treat.

A Simple but Amazing Menu

Remember that one of Petersen’s goals is to offer a menu that folks in the class can replicate at home and he absolutely succeeded. What I liked most about the entire menu is that each dish is relatively easy to prepare if you’ve spent any time in the kitchen at all, uses fresh and seasonal ingredients, but has a surprise or two lurking along the way that will make even the staunchest foodies sit up and take notice. The menu included:

  • Grilled Romaine Lettuce, Endive and Tomato with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette and Point Reyes Blue Cheese. All of the main salad ingredients – the lettuce, endive, and tomato – were all grilled just long enough to create a nice char and hash marks. If you’ve never had a grilled salad, it’s a must try. It’s a great treat for guests as well because it’s completely unexpected. Two recipes to try are this Grilled Caesar or this Grilled Romaine with Blue Cheese Dressing. The Lemon Basil Vinaigrette had a Sherry vinegar base – Petersen’s favorite vinegar – and incorporated a nice handful of fresh basil to really brighten it up. He used both honey and brown sugar to sweeten the dressing which gave it a nice background sweetness to reduce the acidity just the right amount.
  • Spiced Grilled Shrimp with Mango Couscous and Charred Papaya Vinaigrette. I discovered today that shrimp take on a whole new character when you sprinkle them with chili powder. When paired with couscous mixed with mango, green onion, and parsley, the dish is spicy yet fresh and light. The papaya vinaigrette was very thick and absolutely complimented the mango in the couscous while balancing the bit of the chili power on the shrimp.
  • Grilled Buffalo Tenderloin with Twice Grilled Potatoes and Fire Roasted Onions.
    Each time I have bison I think I want to abandon beef wholly in favor of this American original. Petersen coated the outside of the tenderloin with a spice rub and cooked it until just barely medium rare. It was tender and flavorful, with the spice rub working beautifully with the bison. The twice baked potatoes were pretty standard – except of course they were grilled making them more than standard – and were a great pairing for the bison. The insides of the potatoes were creamy and the skins crisp. The roasted onions brought a hint of sweetness to the dish that completed it.
  • Rum Glazed Grilled Pineapple and Banana Split with Coconut Milk Caramel and Maraschino Cherry Ice Cream. The great secret about this recipe is that the ice cream isn’t some home made concoction that starts with a custard and ends up in an ice cream maker. Instead, it’s good ol’ Blue Bell ice cream with drained, chopped maraschino cherries mixed in. But let me tell you, it’s so much better than vanilla ice cream with a cherry on top. As the base for this lovely dessert, Petersen marinades pineapple rings and bananas in spiced rum (yum!) and grills them to create those ever-present hash marks. To top it all off, he makes homemade caramel that uses coconut milk instead of cream which adds to the tropical feel created by the pineapple and bananas.

I don’t have Petersen’s permission to reprint the recipes here, but I’m going to e-mail him to ask and will update the post if I am lucky enough to be able to post them.

Don’t Forget the Wine

Petersen didn’t stop with fantastic food – he included a different wine pairing for each course as well and talked at length about why he chose the wines that he did. The pairings included:

  • Grilled Romaine Lettuce, Endive and Tomato with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette and Point Reyes Blue Cheese: Roederer Estate Brut, NV. Anderson Valley, CA. The crisp sparkling wine is a compliment to the light and bright flavors of the salad, particularly those of the vinaigrette.
  • Spiced Grilled Shrimp with Mango Couscous and Charred Papaya Vinaigrette: Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux de Languedoc, 2005. Picpoul is a Blanc is a grape grown in a small region in France that is typically used for blending, but it’s one of Petersen’s favorite grapes. The wine has citrus notes and a little minerality, which contrasted nicely with the fruitiness of the couscous and vinaigrette while still working well with the shrimp.
  • Grilled Buffalo Tenderloin with Twice Grilled Potatoes and Fire Roasted Onions:
    Cartlidge and Brown Pinot Noir, 2007. Loaded with cherry and berry this juicy wine went nicely with the tenderloin and potato without overpowering it. It’s a great $14 Pino which only made it better.
  • Rum Glazed Grilled Pineapple and Banana Split with Coconut Milk Caramel and Maraschino Cherry Ice Cream: Slightly sweet gevurztraminer. I couldn’t lay hands on the bottle to get the specifics but I expect any slightly sweet gevurztraminer would work here. Because the dessert is so sweet the gevurztraminer immediately lost its sweetness and the remaining acid was a nice counterbalance to the dessert.

Some Very Practical Tips and Tricks

Petersen is a classically trained chef and has developed an approach to cooking that he’s more than willing to share with his students. Some really useful things I picked up today include:

  • To oil the grates of a grill, don’t sacrifice your favorite kitchen towel. Instead, cut the bottom third off of an onion and firmly plan the ends of your kitchen tongs in the core at the other end. Dip the cut side into olive oil and rub it on the grill as you would a towel dipped in olive oil.
  • Before adding oil to a vinaigrette, combine all of the other ingredients first so that any salt you’ve added will dissolve. Then add the oil and emulsify away.
  • Chili powder that is lighter in color typically has less cumin that darker powder.
  • When you wrap food in aluminum foil for cooking, be sure the dull side is facing the food and the shinny side is facing out. This helps prevent the food from taking on a metallic taste while it cooks.

Great News for Austinites

During class today Petersen shared two great bits of news that are nothing but good for those of use in the Austin area:

  • He’s coming out with a new line of salsas that will be sold exclusively at Central Market. We were fortunate enough to taste-test the red and green versions and both were exceptional.
  • He’s convinced his boss, the owner of the Gage Hotel, to open a restaurant in Austin. The current thought is the name of the restaurant will be 12 Gage and it will open in 9 months or so. I asked if he was taking reservations now so I could be one of the first in line.

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