Last week my wife was at a work dinner so I decided to take my daughters out to a nice restaurant where I knew the chef and they could get a peak at a working kitchen. The girls are 8 and 10 years old, typically good eaters and were thrilled to meet Chef Chris Van Ness at Carmines Creole, a New Orleans styled restaurant in Bryn Mawr, PA.
I met Chef Chris at a cooking class arranged by Carole Blum, the founder of Take Five, a couple of months ago and we instantly hit it off and started talking food and the restaurant industry. Chris is a graduate of The Art Institute in New York City and a wealth of food knowledge. You can imagine who asked the most questions in our cooking class.
By the way, this was not one of those cooking classes where you sit and watch the action. You walk into the restaurant on a night when they are closed to the public, are handed an apron and recipe and told to go prepare it. With 8 to 10 couples hustling around trying to figure out where to start and what to do next, it is very entertaining to watch.
Unlike Chef Gordon Ramsay from Hell's Kitchen, Chef Chris is as calm as a cucumber. When the rest of us were trying to figure out how to form a roux or prevent a sauce from breaking, Chris walked around offering tips and showing us techniques that only a professional with years of experience would know.
When I asked him how he could remain so calm with all these amateurs in his kitchen firing questions at him and requesting his help, he said, "This is nothing when compared to a Friday or Saturday night when you might put out 200 to 250 meals in 3 to 4 hours!" Ok, I'm impressed.
Back to the Girls
We arrived and walked into the kitchen from the alley next to the restaurant. Chris was first to say hello and introduce himself to my girls. The rest of the staff must have been a little surprised to see these two little girls in the kitchen especially my youngest who has cerebral palsy and walks with crutches.
The girls' eyes were as big as saucers and I could see they were as excited as I get every time I have the opportunity to watch the action in a professional kitchen. My girls are good eaters but I was concerned that they might have a problem with Creole cooking and the spices associated with it. Chris put them right at ease and told them he would make them anything they wanted.
Carmines is a grown up restaurant and you don't see a lot of kids so the wait staff were especially helpful and took great care to make the girls comfortable. Jen, our server knew we talked to Chris on the way in about what the girls were going to order and handled it great.
My oldest loves scallops so Chris prepared a simple bowtie pasta dish with a butter sauce and grilled scallops. On the side he offered her a balsamic reduction sauce and creamy mustard sauce to try.
Maddie, my youngest, loves steamers so Chris prepared a bowtie pasta plate with herbed butter and steamed clams. She was in heaven.
I started out with a seafood appetizer that included shrimp cocktail, tuna tartar, ceviche, and oyster shooters. I could have stopped here but I knew Chris had brought in a side of fresh Chilean Sea Bass that he served with a Creole curry sauce over some sort of dirty rice. It was delicious.
For dessert, Chris brought the girls (I helped sample it) a selection that included white chocolate cake, a Sundae with vanilla and chocolate ice cream and chunks of Milky Way and the most delicious apple crisp that Maddie renamed "Apple Chris."
We left the same way as we arrived, through the kitchen to thanked Chris and his staff and told them how much we enjoyed our meals. The kitchen was in full gear by this time so we hustled out so not to get in the way.
The girls talked about this night out for days and can't wait to go back and eat another meal at Carmines. As much as we all missed mom and knew she would have loved dining with us, it was a great way to spend some important Daddy - Daughter time and I highly recommend it.