Monday, May 10, 2010

Ritz Carlton South Beach, meeting with Chef Connell

Some might think that spending 7 nights at a luxury hotel would be really great.  Those people would also be spending time outside of my windowless office at the said hotel. I didn't think it was possible but I may have actually been paler when I got home than when I left for Miami.

The one outdoor event that I allowed myself was the opportunity to take a cooking class with Chef Thomas Connell. I hate to say it but most hotel chefs that I've worked with are extremely arrogant.  Chef Thomas Connell was the antithesis of that kind of chef - he was an inspirational and charismatic instructor [and patiently answered all of my dumb irrelevant questions, of which there are many]. Even better, I found out that he was from Los Angeles - East Los Angeles to be exact.  He grew up always knowing that he was going to be a chef. [I couldn't relate. I grew up thinking I was going to be an accountant. I hated numbers, sucked at numbers so why I imagined that I'd be an accountant is still a mystery to me.]

Chef Connell spent several years in Spain opening the Hotel Arts in Barcelona. He said that he loved the lifestyle, the people, and of course, the food of Spain.  So it was only natural that the menu for the class was Tapas - Garlic Shrimp, Tortilla de Patatas, Paella, and Crema Catalana.

Due to hotel liability issues I was told that the class would be a demo with a small amount of interaction.  Little did I know that it was more than just a little interaction.  Chef pulled people from the audience to help out, especially children when they were around - it was a true passion for him to instill the love of cooking in the youths.
He patiently showed each person how to hold a knife [he suggested holding a raw egg in the hand opposite of the knife hand to force your hand to curl] and the proper cutting techniques.
I know most chefs can flip things, but this tortilla de patatas was huge.  Plus I've never got any other chef flipping stuff on camera.  So here it is.

Seriously. I don't know WHERE you get one of these AWESOME burnishers but i want me one.  NOW. This thing was SIZZLING hot [he threw sugar on the surface and it FLAMED]. I can only imagine the things I could make with it. "Imagine" because I tend to set things on fire and it'd be really dangerous for me to own it.

I almost took that whole plate back to my room with me.  The host of people standing around who would've stabbed me with their forks if I tried to run off with it pretty much prevented me from following through. 

The best dish of the day was the garlic shrimp.  My colleague and I repeatedly went back for some more of this shrimp.  It was so simple to make [literally, toast garlic in olive oil,  throw in the shrimp, top with chili flakes and parsley after shrimp has cooked, careful not to overcook the shrimp] and yet so flavorful! My colleague warned me that he WOULD stab me with his fork if I ran off with the bowl so I decided to stay put. He was my on staff EMT, so I quickly realized that he wouldn't do anything to stop me from bleeding to death.

After one of the classes had ended, I had the chance to speak to some of the participants.  I honestly can't remember a time when they were so inspired after an activity. One person shared with me that Chef's enthusiasm for cooking reminded them of why they were in their chosen profession - the love and passion of their job.  It reminded me how fortunate that I have that passion for my job.  Love what you do, if you don't have it, find it. 


  1. Great post Jen! Is that crema catalana and gambas al ajillo? Love these dishes. That flip is amazing!

  2. it sure is! it was SO freaking amazing!! i didn't get any good shots of the paella otherwise I would've included that!!


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