One could watch the Food Network or attend a demo at Williams-Sonoma but the experience would not be particularly engaging but rather passive – couch potato passive and adoring audience passive. Frankly, one needs more zip in one’s culinary life and what better avenue to culinary engagement than attending a cooking demonstration with Chef Matt O’Neil at the Blue Ox in Lynn. Chef O’Neil periodically presents an evening’s program which offers a three course prix fixe menu during which he demo’s the main course. The Dinearound of which I’m a member has been to three of these demonstrations – the evening, thanks to Chef O’Neil’s entertaining yet highly informative teaching style, is that engaging. And, did I mention, the food is excellent. For a recent demonstration, Chef O’Neil created a dish using wild striped bass with a vegetable medley featuring several spring vegetables. (When I hear the phrase “vegetable medley” I think of those restos I worked in where uninspired chefs would offer sliced zucchini, yellow squash and carrots as a vegetable medley du jour. Not so here at the Blue Ox.)
Chef O’Neil’s dishes are just a bit complex. The striped bass dish featured not only the fish but the vegetable ragout upon which it sat and the tomato and chervil salad with truffle dressing which it was topped. But Chef deconstructed the whole creation into manageable components for the home chef. He began by talking about the spring vegetables he was using and how to prep them ahead of time. For those unfamilar with ramps or fresh fava beans, time to listen up. Next he discussed the striper – what to look for when buying the fish, how to breakdown a large piece into serving portions and then prepare those for cooking. Then onto the salad. For those unfamilar with chervil and truffles and truffle oil, he provided the lowdown. While he prepared the various components, we began the first course, the deeply flavored corn and crab chowder. Chef O’Neil never misses a beat – the dialogue and cooking are non-stop. While creating good cuisine may be paramount, communicating culinary information and technique is essential.
At the beginning of the demo, Chef recommended two wines, both California chardonnays. Actually, though, I wanted to try the Paul Hobbs “Crossbarn” which proved to be an excellent companion to both the chowder and the main course. And that main course? The fish was perfectly cooked with extra crispy skin; the vegetable medley a fresh taste of spring; and finishing the dish, the earthy tomato and truffle salad. The tart provided a sweet - but not too sweet - finish; though local strawberries and rhubarb are available at different times, we often think of this dessert as essential springtime.
For a bit of culinary education and adventure, get out of the city. Like Worcester, there’s life in Lynn – and it’s well worth the trip.
The next demo is May 22nd and seats are quite limited. More info here.
Corn & Crab Chowder
Wild Striped Bass
Strawberry Rhubarb Tart