At the beginning of November we went to our first Bon Vivant cooking class, Carne y Vino, featuring Chef Dylan Benoit from YARA Global Steakhouse. A night of meat and wine, the happiest of mediums for this couple. Let's just say that after 3-4 years of living here, we are kicking ourselves for waiting this long to partake!
We started the evening with a little bit of education on the complex body of the cow. Most are familiar with the basic cuts… rib eye, t-bone, sirloin, etc., but few venture into the world of the round, flank and rump. Chef Dylan explained the complexities of each cut and the art of dry aging beef, a process that only the best steakhouses practice because of the time and money that goes into it. Ever wonder why a dry aged cut costs so much? Probably because the chef spent 30 days prepping it, only for it to be consumed in a matter of minutes. There's a reason select cuts have limited availability.
Chef Dylan says, “Dry aging is a technique used by many of the top steakhouses around the world to concentrate flavor while also tenderizing their beef before cutting it into steaks. During the dry aging process the meat is stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment where evaporation of moisture is carefully monitored while naturally occurring calpain enzymes in the beef breakdown the muscle fibers. The result is a stronger, nuttier beef flavor in the meat with a more tender bite. The minimum aging time is around 28-30 days, with steaks most commonly being aged to 40-60 days. However with high quality beef in the right conditions, it can be aged for 90, 150 or even 200+ days.”
Talk about a steak full of wisdom.
We also reviewed the four wines that would be paired with each course as chosen by Maureen of Bon Vivant, courtesy of Premier Cayman. The purpose of the wine selection was to demonstrate how it is possible to find and drink a variety of quality wines without spending an arm and a leg. Anyone who enjoys a glass of vino and has spent any time in Cayman knows that buying wine at the liquor store ain't cheap, nor is a single glass at your average restaurant. I tend to be hesitant in choosing new wines that are priced “too low” for fear of sacrificing quality, however, Maureen introduced us to flavors that not only complimented each dish quite well, but tasted far more expensive than they actually were.
With that, we dove right into the main event.
Course 1 – Beef Tartare on a Seasoned Crostini
If you asked me a month ago if I would eat beef tartare, you'd probably get a hard no. While I do like to think that I have a fairly adventurous palette, there are certain things that I just can't wrap my head – or should I say, tongue – around… beef tartare being one of them. So, you have to imagine that when Chef Dylan announced that our first course would be none other than Beef Tartare, I got a little nervous. But, over the years I've transitioned from a medium-well girl to a medium and sometimes even medium-rare girl (gasp!), so it was potentially doable. As I watched him add Dijon mustard, cornichon and a variety of ingredients to the high quality diced beef (and as I sipped my ‘make me brave' wine), I started to warm up to the idea. I mean, we were paying for an experience so I might as well go all in, right? It didn't hurt that it was being served on a seasoned crostini, which is always a good idea in my book.
Before we were served, we were advised to sip our wines to get a feel for the flavor before pairing it with course one. Then, each guest got a dish piled high with beef tartare. I was like, ‘alright, I'm going to try it but dang, that's a lot. Am I going to be able to do this?' … on the inside, of course. I took my first bite, albeit hesitantly, and about 20 seconds later, my plate was empty. Beef tartare convert right here, but only if prepared by Chef Dylan. It may have been my favorite dish of the night. You can find the recipe here.
Course 2 – Chimichurri Marinated Denver Steak With Fresh Cilantro
The next course was made with the freshest cilantro chimichurri you ever did taste, made right in front of our eyes with the help of an enthusiastic guest. One of the most entertaining parts of this type of event is that guests are encouraged (but not pressured) to participate. While it is largely a demonstration, there are plenty of tasks that the chef needs help with. This is a great way for people to get comfortable in the kitchen – under the watchful eye of a pro. At the same time, you are more than welcome to kick back, socialize with your neighbors and enjoy the class without having to actually get your hands dirty. The seating is set up in such a way that guests sit at a large counter that horse shoes around the cooking area. This allows plenty of space and visibility for you to watch the food being prepared.
Anyhow, onto course two! Denver steak comes from the shoulder, which is why it's a very tender cut. Pair that with the most wonderful chimichurri and you've got yourself wishing it was your main course. Almost. This beef was like butter; so tender that it practically melted in our mouths faster than we were ready to part with it. The chimichurri had the slightest kick from the chili flakes, which Chef Dylan explained could be enhanced with scotch bonnet or jalapeno, if you've got a taste for spice. Cooking tips such as these were also very much appreciated by those of us who like to play around with recipes, adjusting to personal preference.
Course 3 – Striploin With Green Peppercorn Cream Sauce
Just take a look at that strip loin, will you? Good lord, it was perfect! People often struggle with achieving the perfect color on the inside of a steak, largely because they're afraid of heat. Well, it's the high temperature that allows you to quickly flash sear the meat for that flavorful browned outside while keeping that juicy pink in the middle. We watched Chef Dylan pan fry the strip loin on medium-high for just a couple of minutes on each side. The smoke is deceiving, as it suggests that you are overcooking, but in this case we were far from it! The telling moment was when he sliced into that steak to find a perfectly cooked strip loin.
This course was topped with a green peppercorn cream sauce that was created with a special beef jus made in-house at Yara – another process that is incredibly time consuming, but so worth the small amount it reaps. The sauce was so good that some of us opted to have some on our final course as well. Can't let it go to waste, obviously.
Course 4 – Grilled Goat Loin with Beef Jus, Garlic Roasted Potatoes and YARA Caesar Salad
Like beef tartare, goat is something you'd probably never see me order. I've always considered it to be a very tough and gamy meat, which, when presented on it's own, isn't exactly what I'd call appetizing (no offense to goat-lovers out there – please, read on!). If anything, I'd taste my husband's order if he were convincing enough… a rare occurrence. But, we were already 3 courses deep so I was obviously going to put my adventurous face on and dive in with an open mind.
Goat steak is very difficult to get. In order for Chef Dylan to have those three steaks for us (I would guess the total weight was no more than 1.5 to 2 lbs), he had to purchase a whole goat, butcher it, take the two most tender parts which is what you see above, then use the rest of the goat for other types of dishes. This tender cut is located on either side of the spine. It is hard to get large cuts like that from a goat because they are so small. Unlike cows, goats don’t produce a lot of meat which is why you often see goat meat cut up in cubes or as a whole shank. You will rarely ever see a full steak let alone a full steak that is as nice and tender as these.
I'm not lying when I say that if Chef Dylan didn't tell us that the last course would consist of a grilled goat loin, I probably would have thought I was eating an unfamiliar part of the cow. I don't know if it was the cut, the way it was cooked or the unreal beef jus, but this final course left me wondering if we would be sent home with a to-go bag. The meat was so wonderfully tender and seasoned in such a way that we tried our damnedest to convince Chef Dylan to reveal exactly which ingredients went into his secret Yara seasonings. Our efforts were fruitless, but understandably so. Chefs can't give away all their secrets, after all.
Our first Bon Vivant cooking class experience was absolutely one to remember. The casual, hands-on vibe made for an extremely enjoyable Wednesday evening, and we are already looking forward to participating in another. The best part? We got to go home with three of the recipes we created in class, which I honestly cannot wait to replicate. Sorry, not sharing… you'll have to sign up for an upcoming event ;)