As previously mentioned, one of the many highlights of our just-completed visit to New York City was spending time in the kitchen of restauranteur Charlie Palmer’s Aureole restaurant with Chef Tony Aiazzi.
We had wanted to arrange some sort of cooking class for The Traveling Richters while in New York, but had no idea how to find someone to spend time working with us.
That’s where Relais & Châteaux came in. Relais & Châteaux is an association representing fine hotels and restaurants all over the world, based in France, but with offices in London and New York City. Their affiliated lodging properties tend to be high quality inns and even castles, not traditional hotels. And on the dining side, their affiliate restaurants tend to represent some of the best restaurants in the world. In the last few months, the Relais & Châteaux restaurants we have dined at include The Fat Duck outside of London and Le Pre Catalan in Paris.
Linda and I are members of the Relais & Châteaux 5C Club, which provides VIP treatment at Relais & Châteaux properties, and more importantly, provides priority access for reservations at Relais & Châteaux restaurants. We even have a special concierge available to us to help arrange such reservations and other special events, which is how we got connected with Chef Tony at Aureole.
We were told to show up at Aureole at 10am on Tuesday wearing comfortable clothes that we would not mind getting dirty. We did as we were told, and found Chef Tony waiting outside the restaurant for us. He guided us in through the delivery entrance (the restaurant was only open for dinner that day), along the way showing us various aspects of how a professional kitchen is set up. Aureole’s is actually on two floors, with desserts prepped in the basement, and the hot and cold kitchen on the second floor behind the upstairs dining room. That’s Chef Tony in the photo at right.
We were also introduced to Sous Chef Marcus Glendow-Ware (he’s in the photo with the pasta below), who actually ended up joining us for our cooking class as well – a pleasant surprise, as we were not expecting two chefs to be working with us.
In the upper kitchen we found four spots set up for us, each with an apron and a menu, and were asked to select the menu items we wanted to work on. The menu actually had five courses:
- Tuna Tartare with Ponzu Sauce
- Chilled Golden Tomato Soup with Piquillo Pepper, Melon, Fennel
- Market Sashimi with Fresh & Pickled Celery, Capicola, Black Lava Salt
- Caramelized Scallops with Fresh Linguine with Crab and Lemongrass Emulsion
- Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with Figs
Bas picked the Chilled Golden Tomato Soup, Krystyana the Tuna Tartare, Linda chose the Ponzu Sauce, and I started on the Lemongrass emulsion. The first quarter hour was spent chopping, cutting, measuring and blending, all under the careful supervision of the duo of chefs.
We ultimately each ended up doing a variety of tasks, learning along the way about a great way to make fresh pasta (use a cryo-vac machine to firm up the dough first), how to make a foam (use soy lecithin granulate, but make sure it’s not flavored), how to make fresh tortellini, and a variety of other tips and tricks we are certainly going to be putting to use in the coming months when we are home for a spell.
Marcus and Tony also explained how a commercial kitchen actually operates, including staffing, order processing and delegation to make sure orders are accurate and complete, how and when supplies are procured, and much much more. Anyone contemplating starting a restaurant without real hands-on experience should think twice – it’s not easy work. But Tony and Marcus have it all well in hand, which was even more obvious the following evening.
A cooking class in a top restaurant can be very rewarding, as we discovered when we got to sample the fruits of our various labors, and were also treated to two bonus courses: self-made ravioli and tortellini with a wonderful fresh ricotta filling and a Kobe beef carpaccio which Tony made for us using as a drizzle the Ponzu sauce Linda had helped prepare for our tuna tartare.
And as a sort of kudo to Krystyana’s culinary efforts, the extra sticky toffee banana pudding that Krystyana help prepare was put aside to serve to the kitchen staff later as a special treat.
We spent just over two and a half hours in the kitchen prepping, cooking, learning, and eating, and could have not been happier with the way it all worked out. Tony and Marcus were both enthusiastic, helpful, knowledgeable and charming. We learned that they had actually never had a small (four person) cooking class in the kitchen before – only cooking presentations where they did the work with an audience looking on, so this was as much of a first for them as it was for us. And it was executed splendidly.
Before leaving Aureole after our cooking session, we ended up making reservations for a chef’s tasting dinner the following night.
And when we showed up Wednesday evening we got the full red carpet treatment, including some special courses – sashimi four ways, three cheese ravioli, butter roasted Maine lobster, country ham crusted pork tenderloin, and a phenomenal grilled lamb with charred eggplant (and is an appraisal from a person who does not generally enjoy lamb). Great wine pairings made the meal even more special.
We also had personal visits to our table by both Tony and Marcus, and were provided a grand dessert tasting featuring six different plates of sweet delectables (including the best trio of creme brulee we have ever had – see photo at right, center of table). Capping off the evening was a present to Linda of a bottle of verjus (which was an ingredient used in making the ponzu sauce) and then to top that, we received a personal tour by Marcus of the fully operational kitchen at night.
While the cost of the cooking class or the subsequent dinner were not insubstantial, we felt it to be a very worthwhile investment as this truly was a remarkable and educational experience we would have otherwise not had, nor likely have ever been able to experience if it hadn’t been for Relais & Châteaux.
So, in summary, if you’re looking for an excellent fine dining experience in New York City, definitely visit Aureole – they are presently on the lower upper East Side (61st Street near Madison Avenue) but moving to Times Square later this year. And tell them The Traveling Richters sent you. I can’t promise that you can get cooking classes though. But if you can, jump at the opportunity. You won’t regret it.
Click on the above photos to see larger versions in our photo gallery. You can also see all of our photos from our experience at Aureole on Flickr.