The first technique we learned was to make tomato confit (kind of like sugared or candied). First you cut out the core end of a plum tomato. Then create cross-hair cuts on the opposite end. Blanch the tomato briefly in boiling water (just until the skin in starting to peel away) and then shock the tomato in an ice bath. The skins should peel away quite easily. For the confit, cut the tomato in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Place each half on a baking tray covered in parchment. Season with salt, pepper and copious amounts of olive oil. For a tomato tart version, cut the tomato into slices and arrange these slices into an organized circle. Bake these at 400 degrees until they are nicely dehydrated but not browned. The goal is to condense the tomato flavors and create a delight tomato with balanced sweetness. After removing from the oven, the single tomatoes can be refrigerated for a few weeks.
We also prepared a ratatoille, so we had to cube up red bell pepper, zucchini and eggplant. Each of these is cooked in lots of olive oil separately, then drained. They are all combined together and cooked briefly, et voila! ratatoille.
Our main dish was salmon to accompany the ratatoille. One trick we were shown was how to debone a fish fillet. You use kitchen tweezers and feel around for the line of bones. Each bone can be plucked from the fillet, leaving it completely boneless.
Here's the final product of the main course. The salmon is seared skin-side down in a hot skillet until it is cooked about half way. Then they are finished in the oven. That way you have a nice crust on the outside but the fillet is cooked perfectly on the inside. The salmon is resting atop the final ratatoille. On top was spread some fresh olive tapenade (tapen = caper).
Puff pastry was baked and rounds were cut out. The tomato rings were placed on top of the puff pastry to make a tart. To finish the dish, a fresh pesto was prepared and drizzled on top. An olive oil poached garlic clove was also included. The garlic was similar to roasted garlic, but it had its own flavor. Each dish was garnished with fresh herbs from garden (you could read out of the window for leaves from the bay tree).
For dessert, we had a great pineapple dish. The pineapples were cut into quarters and cored. Then they were arranged on a baking dish, sprinkled with brown sugar and some rum was poured on top. This was baked at 400 degrees for one hour. The restaurant served them with some fresh berries. The version in the picture above is actually one I made at home. I made a sauce of brown sugar dissolved in water with a splash of rum at the end. Honestly, this was probably one of the best syrup sauces I've made, especially since I did not measure anything.
While we were finishing up our cooking class, our tour guide came up to me to strike up some chit-chat. The chef had hovered around us while we were working at times, but he did not say too much unless we were messing something up. The tour guide let me know that he had told her he thought I had some good cooking skills. This may not seem like a whole lot, but this was one of the highlights of my day. A professional chef saw some promise in me. I'm still not cut out for cooking for a living, but this was a big boost to my confidence. Anyways, our cooking class ended as a marvelous (and tasty) success.