Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Cook Like a Chef: In the Kitchens of Hotel Macdonald

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of being invited to cook inside the prestigious kitchens of the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. It seemed too good to be true – an opportunity not only to peek behind-the-scenes, but also to learn from Executive Chef Serge Jost? But believe me, it was all that and much more.

Hotel Macdonald

Chef Serge Jost

I was among six food enthusiasts chosen to participate. The Mac organized this evening as one way to demystify its identity as an establishment reserved only for grand occasions. Its chefs want to spread the word that the Mac is simply about good hospitality.

Without a doubt, everyone we encountered that evening was gracious and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. This was not more evident than when we were each greeted with a personalized monogrammed chef’s jacket.

Hotel Macdonald

The crew (picture by Hotel MacDonald)

The interactive, hands-on session saw each of us paired off in order to prepare either the appetizer, main, or dessert. I immediately glommed onto Gail Hall, a chef in her own right, and fellow 104 Street resident. We were tasked with the appetizer, a savoury cheese tart, served alongside asparagus, a poached quail egg, and seared foie gras.

Hotel Macdonald

Preparing the tart shells

Executive Sous Chef Jiju Paul guided us through the multitude of steps, and was more than patient with me as I struggled to crack the delicate quail eggs without breaking the yolks. This was also my first time working with foie gras – I knew it tasted good, but the smell of them as they caramelized on the stove? Heavenly.

Hotel Macdonald

Searing the foie gras

Wouldn’t you know – I didn’t end up taking a single snapshot of the final dish. All I have are shots during the plating process.

Hotel Macdonald

What kind of food blogger am I?

Linda and Rebecca were responsible for the main, a complicated duck stuffed chicken cooked sous vide. It was wonderfully cooked, tender and moist.

Hotel Macdonald

Linda and Rebecca hard at work

Hotel Macdonald

Duck stuffed chicken with green bean mousse, mushroom foam and hazelnut lemon gremolata

Dessert was the purview of Karlynn and Phil, a strawberry gelee with rhubarb compote, sherbet and decorative strawberry tuilles. It was a beautiful plate, and a tart but refreshing way to end the meal.

Hotel Macdonald

Phil and Karlynn are serious about dessert

Hotel Macdonald

Strawberry gelee with rhubarb compote

Perhaps most generous of all – Chef Jost sat and ate with us, sharing his perspectives about the Hotel and his plans to make the restaurants at the Mac more approachable. For instance, the chefs are all on Twitter, sharing photos of menu planning, plating and interacting with patrons.

Regarding the Mac’s restaurants, particularly of note are the tapas at the Confederation Lounge, best enjoyed in the summer alongside the smashing view on the patio. To help promote this, the Lounge is offering 2-for-1 appetizers in the month of May, as well as drink specials.

I definitely think that’s a start, as perceived prices are definitely something the Mac needs to overcome. As I mentioned in my post last summer after a visit to the patio, another is the menu itself; a trendier, more inventive menu could potentially pique the interest of different diners. To do this without alienating their regular clientele would require a fine balance between the new and the established. I do agree with Chef Jost – the Hotel Macdonald is a living landmark that should be traversed much more by Edmontonians – but how can they do this without what could be seen as devaluing the Fairmont brand? It will be interesting to see what else the Mac develops in the months to come.

Thank you to Chef Jost, Chef Paul and the rest of the staff at the Hotel Macdonald for a memorable evening.

Check out Rebecca and Linda’s posts about the evening as well.