Pelican Hill Cooking Academy: With the Chef, in the Kitchen, by the Sea

As executive chef of the luxurious Pelican Hill in Newport Coast (just chosen top resort in the nation in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards), Jean-Pierre Dubray has to think big. He and his team of 78 cooks typically serve about a thousand meals a day between the luxury hotel’s five restaurants, two event spaces, and in-room dining—although an especially busy July this summer saw nearly 50,000.

So why is Dubray standing in the nicely-appointed kitchen of one of the Pelican Hill ocean-view villas, calmly, off-handedly, even, prepping foraged Oregon chanterelles destined for a sauté of Jidori chicken to serve a mere seven people? A Loire Valley native who’s cooked professionally for 25 years in California, Dubray made time in his schedule to teach three small-group Friday cooking classes in Pelican Hill’s Cooking Academy. The first is this week, Nov. 4, featuring a Loire Valley menu. Others are a Rhone/Alps menu Nov. 18, and an Alsatian on Dec. 9. Three other classes will be taught by Luca Cesarini, chef de cuisine of the resort’s Andrea restaurant: Nov. 11, featuring the cuisine of Lombardy; Dec. 2 the Alto Adige; and Dec. 16, a Tuscan menu.

At the cooking academy preview I attended, in addition to the aforementioned sauté, chef Dubray also prepared day-boat scallops on a heavenly sweet-corn purée that relied on the starch in the corn itself to thicken. The things you can learn, sipping prosecco on a barstool within easy range of querying the chef about methods and ingredients. The gently tightened, pure-tasting purée made a perfect pillow for a large seared scallop. (I believed I’ve mentioned corn is in my top 5?) Also on the menu was an heirloom tomato salad with buffalo-milk mozzarella, strewn with crunchy shallots, and dessert, a sautéed peach with made-in-house gelato and lavender meringue garnish.

Many of the vegetables used come from the Irvine Ranch growing grounds of OC Produce, whose high-quality output—much of it organic—is familiar to Orange County farmers-market shoppers. I learned that the chef himself frequents one of my favorite markets, Sundays in Laguna Niguel, for his at-home cooking. (OC Produce can be found there, too.)

Classes are limited to 14, which makes for intimate, easy-going observation of every part of the meal preparation. The $150-per-person cost, in addition to the welcoming prosecco, includes wine chosen for each course, served at the villa’s formally-set table. You can imagine what a festive and romantic holiday outing one of the classes would make, for singles, couples, or groups. The price is comparable to an evening of fine dining—but it’s really more like a fabulous private dinner party by the sea, that happens to come with discreet, designated servers and an executive French chef preparing your meal in real time before your very eyes. 

Pelican Hill Resort, 22701 Pelican Hill Road South, Newport Coast; cooking academy reservations, 800-820-6800

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