Kitchen," "Top Chef," "Chopped" ó you can
get a glimpse into restaurant kitchens with the click of a remote. But
if you want to get off the couch and into a professional kitchen,
Sanford Restaurant will put you there. Despite the $500 price tag,
which includes a seven-course tasting, A Day in the Kitchen at Sanford
has a popular following among chef wannabes. Sanford chef/owner Justin
Aprahamian welcomes "a few people a month" into the
restaurantís East Side kitchen.
"A Day in
the Kitchen provides a connection to the meal ó people see things on
the menu, and they see our attention to detail and how things come
together in the kitchen," says Aprahamian.
I recently had
the opportunity to take on this individual, three-hour experience with
Aprahamian and his cohorts ó Jenny Lee-Adrian, Joe Burton, Nancy
Nelson, Dave Bruss and sous chef Adan Franco.
outfitted me in a crisp, new Sanford chef coat (which I got to keep),
and I confessed that I expected insanity similar to "Hellís
Kitchen." Aprahamian laughed. "Itís all lies. Itís all
made for TV. Itís nothing like that." Then Aprahamian gave me
some words of advice. "Youíre going to feel like youíre in
the way, but youíre not."
I did feel in
the way, and I hope I wasnít. The Sanford kitchen was smaller than I
expected but quiet and controlled. "We try to be as calm,
collected and focused as we can, so we can pay attention to
details," Aprahamian explains.
detail is a theme at Sanford; from the delicious amuse-bouche
(complimentary, meal-starting, perfect bite) to the artistic
cappuccino. The Sanford chefs tried to infuse me with this obsession
no such luck. My first confession ó my go-to chicken is topped with
a few swirls of Italian dressing and a random sprinkling of paprika.
Clearly attention to detail is not my cooking strong suit. Secondly,
spending a day in a restaurant kitchen was a bit intimidating. Iíll
admit Iím a pretty decent, but nowhere near gourmet cook. Merely
observing the pros at work was an option, but for the full experience,
Iíd have to jump in. Fortunately, the Sanford team was there to
Each of Sanfordís
chefs receives a to-do list depending on the dishes for that eveningís
menu. On this particular day, Lee-Adrianís list included prepping
duck breasts for an entrťe, while Franco created red onion
vinaigrette for tapenade with snapper. Aprahamian was working on a
coffee reduction for a duck tongue that would appear on an upcoming
menu. Everyone focuses on his/her own tasks, but in the spirit of
collaboration, the chefs taste each otherís work. "Needs more
salt" is a frequent suggestion. "We use lots of salt because
nothing we use is processed," explains Aprahamian.
Each chef shared
a skill with me. Lee-Adrian taught me duck breast prep. Right out of
the package, the duck looked clean to my untrained eyes, but Jenny
used a small, sharp knife and forceps to trim thin remnants of fat and
pry out hidden quills. After a quick lesson, she handed me the forceps
and a pair of gloves. I attempted to de-quill some duck breasts and
sort of succeeded, but duck probably wonít be appearing on my familyís
dinner table anytime soon.
Nelson showed me
how to peel and thinly slice orange and lemon skins for garnishes.
Bruss let me work on a garlic/olive oil puree, a Sanford kitchen
staple. Burton showed me how to put the finishing touches on amuse-bouches.
Since none of my work went into the trash, I considered it a
thing about A Day in the Kitchen is that it ends with A Night in the
Dining Room. Participants return to Sanford to taste the food they
helped prep, along with seven courses (with wine pairings, of course)
of food made solely by the pros. Itís easy to see and taste why
Aprahamian won the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the
Midwest. The food is impeccably plated and delicious. And the best
part? Not a drop of Italian dressing anywhere in the mix.