guest post – how to picnic when it rains

It’s a dreary, dreary day, which made our Downton Abbey-inspired picnic seem a little less inspired.  We wound up instead in my dining room over a game of Scrabble – a slightly reduced but stalwart group, eating tandoori chicken skewers with mango chutney, scones with clotted cream and raspberry preserves, and butter square. All of it homemade, of course. It was delightful, even if our letters weren’t… but we couldn’t help looking out the window and wistfully discussing summer cocktails.  Claude is the master of summer cocktails.  He has introduced us to Lillet and to all manner of interesting taste combinations.  My favourites involved grapefruit, ginger or fresh herbs like lavender, basil and mint.

But the real question is: Claude, when are you going to find your vodka-soaked cucumber cocktail recipe?

– Rachel L.

 

Claude’s response:

Always wanting to make sure my guests are happy, I invite you to check out my favourite recipes page for the Cucumber-Ginger Fizz

guest post – trusted guinea pig

IMG_2289Claude is a marvel, a delight and a law unto himself.  Even apart from being one of my favourite people – he is the consummate host.  Everything is impeccable, and yet it is still comfortable such that I don’t panic when the dinner party is at my house.  I suspect this is partly why it’s been so fun to throw a few curve balls at Claude through the MasterChef preparatory social events.  I’m allowed to admit to finding this fun because it still didn’t throw Claude off stride.  Green papaya?  Perfect – modernized slaws are a Claude specialty.  Kalamansi?  No problem – dressing it is.  (I still think it would have been interesting in the pana cotta, although I did adore the grapefruit and vanilla bean version.  And, as a side note, the kalamansi G&Ts is a worthwhile endeavour.)  Beef heart… a little pause, perhaps, but promptly off to trimming and prepping for rouladen, dill pickle and all.

I’ve been asked what I consider Claude’s specialties to be.  Instantly, I thought of champagne grape jelly, oven-hot pretzels, and themes of piquant salads and interesting cocktails… and then I stopped and realized I couldn’t think of any other dish I’ve had twice at Claude’s.  I admire his zest for trying new recipes and his skill at making them so deliciously (really with only one exception, and fresh sardines in Winnipeg are a bit of a challenge), and I am honoured to be a trusted guinea pig.

– Rachel L.

guest post – to the market we go!

I’m on an early flight en route to Winnipeg as I type this out, it’s Canada Day and I can’t help but feel a little giddy because today is the last day before Claude’s audition for MasterChef Canada and I’m his self-appointed head cheerleader!

Friends and family are important to Claude, we have that in common.  He is the definition of Host with the Most in my mind.  As I reflect on the countless times I’ve sat at his table one time in particular sprung to mind.  We were visiting Rouge Mountain on the lovely island of St Martin.  Our housekeeper told us of the weekly fish market right on the shore and, always trying to embrace what the locals enjoy, Claude decided we’d be up at the crack of dawn to greet the boats as they came in with their catch of the day.

Since Claude is the planner that he is, we were early.  We found some locals getting coffee and a pastry I could only describe as a cross between a doughnut and a sweet bun and we happily tried one for ourselves.  Island time is a different sort of thing; the boats came in not en mass rather trickling in one by one.  We checked out the stalls as the attendants of each one tried to cajole us into buying from them.  Claude’s great to watch in a market.  He’s careful never to get to enthusiastic, and his laissez faire method usually nets us better pricing.  I on the other hand smile from ear to ear with such gusto that the market stall workers look at me as the answer to their prayers.  Suffice it to say I always let Claude carry the money and make the final decisions.Image

Phread and Eric believe that both Claude and I, when given the choice, choose the rarest ingredients (often searching a dozen stores to find it) or the recipe with the most ingredients.  Their assertion may be largely correct but I assure you Claude’s motives are simple; to make a pleasing dish.   On this particular morning he meet a man from a boat with a fish that we’d never seen before.  We made our purchases (after dickering on price en français) and headed back to the villa.

The fisherman told us he feed this fish to his kids lightly battered and it roughly translated to Old Lady.  It had one main piece of cartilage instead of many bones.  Unsure of what to do, Claude set to work cleaning and butchering it.  We floured it and lightly fried it in sort of a finger size format.  It was buttery, rich even and took a nice dusting of salt.  It was delicious but…weird.  Eating it was a little bit like eating ribs off a bone, not at all the fish experience one was expecting.  When our housekeeper saw what we made she laughed a little at us, which we took as a compliment.  Clearly we were the first visitors who braved a local dish like this.  That in itself is a win in Claude’s book.

I know the journey ahead for Claude will be filled with many first times and I know he’ll do well as he addresses all the challenges with reckless abandon.  And trust me, its going to taste great.

Sherri G.

guest post – it begins

There is something infinitesimally wonderful about a friendship that is formed on common likes and dislikes.

glfac2When I first meet Claude, we were ever so skeptical of each other.  This big strong fabulous man was coming into my inner circle with a claim on my best friend’s heart.  Love was in the air and I wasn’t sure I liked that one bit.  As it turns out Claude felt a similar skepticism regarding moi.  Who was this best friend and why did she seem to be such a solid team with his beloved?

Well it wasn’t long before our shared curious nature had us laughing together as if we were friends of old.  I knew in those early moments, I’d been gifted with a best friend within a best friend.  As precious as pink diamonds, Claude and I formed a friendship that simply stated, is the best thing since sliced bread.

Even though our common interests match up on a multitude of fronts, none run as deep as our love for hospitality and entertaining.  Together we rival the likes of even our mentor Martha Stewart.  That’s right, we own the entire collection of Living from its inaugural issue, in duplicate.  We have tested more cookie recipes then Betty Crocker and we’ve whetted every stone and queued every Barbie over our near double decade friendship.

The reason “we” work is plain.  Claude is better than me.  And to put a finer point on it, we, happily, both accept this.  It’s not my desire to be the best, its Claude’s. It’s not my desire to go so far outside of our skills et that we spend oodles just on practice rounds, its Claude’s. Its not my desire that makes us take on more then we can possible chew, its Claude’s. He is the visionary leader of our improbable duo and he is the master of all our plans.  I aim only to keep up.  Well that’s a lie; I aim to keep pushing him up.

Claude, my kitchen companion extraordinaire, I would go anywhere, do anything, and chop a mountain of onions to save your eyes from weeping, just to see you achieve one more culinary feat just to hear those stodgy ole scotch drinkers we love so much say ‘that was incredible!’.  (Let’s not ever tell them how much we spent on that Christmas dinner that cost us several hundreds of bucks in ingredients for four people, ok?)

If you’re following à la Claude for the first time, put your seat belt on, your about to have the time of your life and yes, pyrotechnics are included.

– Sherri G.

guest post – chez claude

One of my favourite things in the world is to be invited to dinner chez Claude.  The opportunity to be wined and dined and fêted by Claude and his extraordinary staff is too good an offer to pass up.  Given that Claude is fearless in the kitchen, at times it can also be good for diners to also be fearless.  I like to think I’m a fairly adventurous eater within reason.  I’ll eat nearly anything I’m given, but I have given Claude the caveat that my food must not still be alive and able to try to run off the plate.

Thanks to Claude, I’ve tried a variety of foods that otherwise never would’ve found their way to my plate.

  • baby octopus:  Did you know that baby octopus is available in Winnipeg? And that sometimes a bag of them is on sale? Much to my surprise baby octopus stew is a good thing, the eyes thoughtfully removed (even C was uncomfortable with the idea of all those octopus eyes staring) and such a flavourful broth.
  • fennel: I thought I was familiar with fennel, but after Claude’s ministrations it was totally unfamiliar to me. Fennel purée is wonderfully smooth and rich. I’ve also had it in a variety of other forms, including braised, pickled, salads and slaws, all good.
  • sardines: Not the sardines that those of us from the Prairies are used to. These were about 12 inches long, and barbecued whole. Consensus that day was that they tasted okay, but it was just too labour-intensive to deal with all those tiny bones.
  • crispy fish skin: – I thought I had experienced crispy fish skin, but when I had it chez Claude, it was unlike any I’d had before. I finally truly understood why the judges on Chopped get so very excited when crispy skin is done right. It takes on a whole new flavour, becomes something totally different, and is amazing!
  • champagne jello: having grown up with Jell-o and Bill Cosby, I thought I was experienced with jello. Once again, C proved me wrong. It turns out that it can be transformed to an elegant dessert, especially good on a hot summer day.  The addition of champagne and tiny grapes, and topped by vanilla bean whipped cream makes it one of my all-time favourites.

Claude and Linda P.

It’s to be noted that guests will be invited more often if they are open to trying new things. Claude fearlessly finds ingredients he’s never tasted or cooked with before, and for these experiments sometimes a little bravery is needed. But for those willing to try, they’ll find that it’s always delicious, and they will get invited back more often. I think C does better when he has complete freedom and doesn’t have to be distracted by restrictions.

Every time I dine chèz Claude, I come away feeling full, happy, content and ready for the next time.  It is also to be noted that Claude’s sous-chef provides the most excellent service and that the two of them will make sure at the end of the night that you’ve have a lovely evening, and that you’ll come away feeling great about life and the world.

– Linda P.

(Oh!  I didn’t mention the Cocktail of the Day.  That’s for another day.)