Saturday, May 12, 2012

Banquet Service and Spring English Pea Soup

During a business trip my colleagues and I were invited into the professional kitchens of the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort in south Florida.  Fairmont kitchens are known for their innovation and ability to serve hundreds of guests a banquet meal as good as they would get in many fine restaurants.  This is not an easy task and to let us experience how they do this, they took us to their recently updated banquet kitchen.

We are shown here around the plating assembly line which works just as you might imagine if you were building a car.

The food moves down the line on the blue belt and each of the cooks adds their previously prepared item to the plate.  Note the round mold in the plate center to shape the rice.

The prepared plates are then placed in these high-tech holding racks, sealed closed and kept at the desired temperature and humidity before being moved to the dining room and placed in front of you to enjoy.  They also showed us how they prepare steaks for big banquets, which includes browning the meat on the grill and then with it nearly raw inside, moving it into storage containers similar to the above where the meat can finish cooking to the exact correct internal temperature in very short order.  As you can see, having some high-technology tools on your side to serve the masses is very helpful. 

Before enjoying our self-prepared main course, we dined on the chef's version of English Pea Soup as our first course.  It was the first time I had enjoyed this dish and it was served chilled.  You can prepare and serve it warm as well.

Fresh English peas are only available for a short time in the Spring.  The rest of the year we typically eat frozen.  Until about 400 years ago, the only peas in existence were actually much larger, starchy, field peas which were usually dried and then used to make split pea soup.  This new variety was developed by English gardeners from which the current variety now get their name soon became the object of desire throughout Europe and eventually the world.  So make this dish only in-season and marvel at the sweet, fresh pea taste.

When buying English peas (aka garden peas or sometimes called sweet peas in your store), look for fairly plump-but not full-to-bursting-pods that are a bright green. Fat pods contain large peas that are less sweet. Flatter pods means very sweet peas, but they're so tiny, you won't get much for your money.  Wrinkly or bumpy, light colored or brown pods mean the peas are too old, and will taste woody. The sugar in peas converts into starch very quickly after picking-causing them to lose that wonderful sweetness-so you want them as fresh as possible. For freshness, buying from a farmers' market, in season, is the only way to go.

Here is a recipe based in combination on one from the Fairmont chef and Ina Garten. 

Fresh English Pea Soup
Serves 2

1 small onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped (white and light green parts only)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cups shelled fresh English peas (about 3 lbs. unshelled)
3 cups homemade chicken stock or low sodium commercial stock
⅓ cup chopped fresh mint, plus a bit more for garnish
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons crème fraîche

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and cook the leek and onion over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, until soft.

Add the chicken stock to the pot, turn up the heat and bring it to a boil. Add the peas and cook for only 3-5 minutes, Do not overcook them, they should be a bright green and still pop in your mouth when you taste them.

When the peas are done, remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped mint, and salt and ground pepper to taste.

Puree the soup with a hand blender, or in batches using a countertop blender or food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche in the center of each bowl and a sprinkling of the remaining chopped mint on top.

~  ~  ~

Although Fairmont and the owners of the Turnberry Isle Resort have since parted ways, the resort is a lovely respite near Miami but away from all of the hipsters.  Consider it an option for your next trip to the area, especially if you are an avid golfer.

View from my room at the Turnberry Isle

1 comment:

  1. that looks awfully good... I was planning on a pea sorrel soup next week... you certainly got me in the mood!