Supper in seven minutes. And no, we're not talking about something that comes in a microwavable container or something grabbed at a drive-thru window.
We're talking about restaurant-calibre dishes -- chipotle and chorizo mussels with pasta, spicy tuna with a five-chili coating, pork belly with white beans and bacon -- all prepared within a seven-minute limit.
In 7 Minute Suppers, a series of videos for MTS On Demand, producer Jeff Newman challenged seven of Winnipeg's hottest chefs to whip up an easy, fast, fabulous supper. "We really wanted to do something on Winnipeg's cooking scene," says Newman. "It was a way to promote Winnipeg's eating scene and its great chefs and have fun doing it."
"We didn't want to just do another chef profile," Newman explains. "We wanted to provide people with inspiration to do stuff in the kitchen at home at the same level as these chefs."
The chefs who signed on to race the clock on camera include Scott Bagshaw at Deseo, Darryl Crumb of Brooklynn's Bistro, Segovia's Adam Donnelly, Dario Pineda-Guttierez of Cafe Dario, Jayson MacCallum of Brandon's Echo Restaurant and Wine Bar, Fusion Grill's Lorna Murdoch and Darryl Riddle of Le Garage Café. (Their videos can be accessed through MTS On Demand, while their recipes can be found online at www.7minutesuppers.com.)
For Bagshaw, the tight parameters of the seven-minute challenge actually reflect his food philosophy. "One of the turning points of my life was reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain," explains Bagshaw. "His thing is, you can make good food with three or four items. You just need good, simple ingredients that are fresh."
The series proves that great meals don't have to be elaborate and time-consuming. You can also throw out the idea that you need a lot of fancy equipment and gadgets. "You need a good cast-iron frying pan, a good stainless-steel frying pan," says Bagshaw, "a couple of really good thick-bottomed pots, and a six-to-seven-inch chef's knife."
"Buy a good-quality solid, sharp knife, and that's the only knife you need."
Bagshaw says a lot of cooking comes down to mise en place. "In technical French terms that means 'everything where it should be.' In kitchen terms that means, 'your s is f ing ready,'" says Bagshaw, who is known to work that bad-boy chef persona. "Have everything in line and then do it."
Good cooking requires good shopping. Some of these seven-minute miracles take a little prep beforehand. Most of the dishes rely on straight-up ingredients like olive oil and lemon, onions and garlic, salt and pepper, but there are also a few things the average home cook might not have on hand. Unusual cuts of meat (bison scaloppini) or gorgeous produce (green papaya, enoki mushrooms) could require a trip to a specialty store or an Asian or Latin American grocery. And you'll need to make friends with a good butcher, as well as a good fishmonger (as the Brit chefs like to say).
When it comes to the actually cooking, it's all done in real time. Newman points out that each segment "is what it is. We didn't fake it." And watching these chefs work on the spot, throwing in a splash of wine or a knob of butter without worrying too much about exact amounts, you realize you can maybe loosen up a bit. As Darryl Crumb says (rather poetically) as he's tossing some cherry tomatoes, shallots and mussels with fresh pasta, "Randomness of life is what brings beauty."
Basically, the series is meant to encourage home cooks to experiment with new ingredients, move out of their comfort zones and break out of their "chicken-breast Thursday" routines. As part of his seven-minute segment, Segovia's Adam Donnelly cleans a whole mackerel and makes the process look easy, even elegant. Realistically, I don't know if that's something I'm going to do between the end of the workday and the kid's evening drama rehearsal, but I might venture a little mackerel-gutting on the weekend.
And I did pull off a sublime pork belly, something I'd never made before. I started out feeling a little daunted, but about eleven minutes later, I felt like I was coming round to the series' optimistic tagline: "It's not as hard as you think."
Bagshaw's seven-minute segment uses a little cheat by throwing a pork belly in a slow cooker all day, but everything else comes together in a flash.
Scott Bagshaw's slow-roasted pork belly
500g (16 oz) pork belly, skin off
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 an onion or a whole shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
125 g (4 oz) bacon, diced
Splash of white wine
250 ml (1 cup) white beans (cooked)
250 ml (1 cup) Brussels sprouts leaves
Big splash of beef stock (sodium-reduced)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Some flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Zest of one lemon
1. Place the pork belly, which should be heavily seasoned with salt and pepper and divided, into a slow cooker for 4-8 hours. (In the video, Bagshaw suggests searing it in a hot pan first, to develop the caramelized flavour. In the spirit of not needing a lot of equipment, he also gives a hint for getting by without a slow cooker.)
2. Upon arrival into the kitchen after a long, lousy day at work, you can begin the seven-minute segment of the meal. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the onions, garlic and bacon on high heat until browned.
3. Add the wine to deglaze the pot, then add the white beans and brussels sprouts leaves. Add the beef stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper, finish with parsley and set aside.
4. Remove the pork belly from the slow cooker and if necessary, finish under a broiler to crisp.
5. Make a vinaigrette by whisking together the zest of one lemon, a drop of honey, some olive oil, sherry vinegar, coarse-grained mustard and salt and pepper.
1. In four separate bowls ladle the bean and bacon mixture.
2. Place the now crispy pork on top and garnish with mustard vinaigrette.
Tester's notes: OK, it took me a bit more than seven minutes, but not much more. The taste-to-time payoff is huge, with the complex flavours of the beans and vegetables combined with the melting richness of the pork belly and cut with the sharpness of lemon and mustard. Working the sauté pan and whisking together my vinaigrette, I felt a little Food Network-y and cool, even in my small suburban kitchen.
I should have spent more time getting things ready, as Bagshaw suggests. I didn't notice that my pork belly wasn't skinned, so there I was at 7:30 a.m. doing some serious knife handling before my first cup of coffee. (A note: Since chefs do improvise a lot, there were some discrepancies between the website's written recipe and the video recipe. I went with the chef's words, as well as the video, with some last-minute advice from Bagshaw for the vinaigrette.)