Robb Report Culinary Masters: Cooking Class with Chef Angie Mar

When I bought Chef Angie Mar's "Butcher and Beast: Mastering the Art of Meat" cookbook, I never could have imagined I would be cooking one of her recipes in front of her, a mere few years later

After a lovely drive from Los Angeles to Orange County, I arrived at The Resort at Pelican Hill excited for the day. Getting directions from the valet, I made my way to the La Capella building, in the Upper Patio area of the resort.

I was excited for spending a weekend day in the cool comfort of Newport Beach, experiencing and tasting amazing delicacies at the Robb Report Culinary Masters 2024 event.

After checking in and greeting my friend Jason from Robb Report, I was ushered in to join the Team 1 cooking station. There, I met a friendly attendee who was a day trader; William of Scott Dunn, a luxury travel tour operator out of New York; and Chef Eunji Lee, the owner and lead chef of Lysee, a scrumptious retail pastry experience in New York.

As Chef Angie Mar (Le B, The Beatrice Inn)  introduced herself to the room, I was enthralled. To stand in the presence of a powerful, unapologetic bad ass female chef, whose cookbook I’d purchased a few years prior, read cover to cover and had been too chicken shit to cook from? And that I would now be cooking in front of? Yes.

A server quietly appeared before me and asked me which bottle of sparkling delight would I like to drink in my glass. I chose a glass of La Caudrina’s “La Selvatica”, the Dogliotti family’s Asti Spumante style sparkling wine. From the Moscato d’Asti DOCG region, the wine offered an effervescent sweetness that helped me settle my nerves of cooking in front of Chef Mar and meeting new people.

At our station, we had a kitchen set up that reminded me of my previous cooking class experiences at Ojai Valley Inn. There were two burners ready to go, with ingredients placed mise en place around us.  Our tools were prepped and ready to go.

Reviewing the recipe card, we divided the three dishes between us. I was volunteered to cook the lamb. Another, the poached rhubarb and last, the sauce.

First, we started the poached rhubarb. Once the full bottle of Barton & Guestier’s Sauternes varietal was poured into the saucepan, I knew my life was going to look a bit different for a few hours. This was the level of cooking I aspire to have in my kitchen: an elevated experience of the senses.

Then, came my time to shine. Now, I have never pan fried an almost 3 inch cut of bone in lamb. The piece of Barnsley chop was intimidating, to say the least. If I was at home, I would fire up my Trager smoker grill, smoke it and then finish it off with a delicious, charred sear. However, when the recipe of the day calls for pan searing in front of a world-famous chef  – to say I was a bit nervous was an understatement.

But, when the time came, I gave it my best shot. Unfortunately, we didn’t have meat thermometers at our stations to correctly gauge the lamb’s doneness. So, I woefully went on sight alone. Chef Lee used a knife to test the doneness. We winged it the best that we could.

Did I have fun cosplaying an episode of Top Chef meets Master Chef in Newport Beach? Absolutely. Was it incredibly challenging to gauge doneness with a bone in lamb? Absolutely. Was it fun? Yes! We each took turns at our stations, enjoying time when Chef Mar came over and checked on us.

Now, I need to say something about the sauce. After the lamb fat was rendered,  William – with Chef Lee’s guidance – was in charge of making the sauce. This included following a recipe that involved pink peppercorns, fresh mint and vanilla.

As the sauce reduced and we each took turns tasting the tasty mix, my mind was blown. The combination of ingredients, based with savory richness of the lamb stock and a whole lot of butter, was transformational. I had to stop myself from continuously tasting the sauce again, again and again.  I wanted to put it on everything I could think of.

Another glass of wine was poured – this time, Arione Winery’s sparkling Asti DOCG Spumante, an Italian Asti style done with Moscato grapes, from Piemonte, Italy. The brightness of the wine was delightful and refreshing. Perfect to go with the high energy, vibrant cooking experience.

Soon, it was time to plate. It was then that I realized the need to ALWAYS use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the meat. When Chef Lee began expertly cutting the fat piece of lamb – I was horrified. The tragedy of cooking meat without a meat thermometer was real.

The lamb was completely undercooked to my standards! I was so embarrassed – and just had to laugh. I took a sip of wine and then begged Chef Lee to let me cook the rest of the big boned cut to perfection.

Chef Lee laughed and then skillfully plated our sliced lamb, rhubarb and mint leaves on a beautiful hand thrown plate. C’est la vie!

We then took our plate to the judging table, where I – after some back and forth – took up the task of presenting and talking about our plate to Chef Mar (what the fuck, for real – WOW) and other judges.

To say that I was bright eyed with a slight tang of anxiety while rattling off words and pulling bullshit out the air like I’d just watched Top Chef’s most recent episode was not far from the truth.

I had no idea that we would actually  “present” our dishes. I just thought we were going to cook with Chef and then share our foods within our group. But hey, when the challenge arises, meet it head on.

Returning to Table 1, I still felt strongly that I had to redeem myself – again. Laughing, Chef Lee acquiesced and I had my own Quick Fire challenge.

The task? Finish the lamb to an appropriate doness.

The result? Chef Lee prepped tasting spoons with the (now, better cooked to my standards) slices of lamb, rhubarb and the sauce.

Upon first bite, I was in oral heaven. It was exquisite.

What I appreciated most about the experience – beyond meeting and conversing with Chef Mar – was the time I spent speaking with Chef Lee.

After browsing her Instagram and being wowed by her delightful creations, I asked her what she loved the most about crafting such beauty. Her perspective, as she explained to me, is that she sees pastry as edible art. That’s why at the first level of Lysee, yes – there is your expected luxurious pastry store. But, on the second level, there’s an art gallery.

Chef Lee told me that she knew from an early age that she wanted to create art. Because of her view of the world, she wanted to create a space that was able to share her love of art with her love of pastry. Through the love of her craft, Lysee was imagined and made manifest.

When I saw one particular creation on her Instagram – a pastry dish topped with caviar – I was immediately intrigued. I asked her about the flavor profile and how she viewed dish creation. Chef Lee explained that in that piece, she balanced the saltiness of the caviar with the overall profile of the pastry. Honestly, it made me curious to try it.

I marveled at another dish with impeccable pipping. Chef Lee explained that she views piping as a mediation. I was stunned. The pictures and videos of her creations make me truly understand how much food is an exquisite and delicious art form that sustains life and gives pleasure to the palette. And when you’re in the presence of a master craftsperson – all you can do is suck up the knowledge like a sponge and respect the time, dedication and talent it took for them to get there.

When I asked her about how she plans her pastries, meaning if she thinks of the end vision first and then works toward making it a reality, she affirmed yes.

Reflecting on that, it’s so interesting to relate to different manifestation styles. In some aspects, I imagine the exact end goal (like planning a trip) and then work to reach that goal. In others, like, when I sit down to paint or at the ceramics wheel, I tend to let the medium lead me in inspiration. It’s such a slight difference that I hadn’t thought of in that moment. But, I believe within casual conversations,  magic happens.

Before I knew it, we were being ushered to the upper terrace of the Upper Patio for lunch. As I took my last sips of wine, I relished the incredible nature of such an intimate experience. I was hungry and ready for what was to come next.

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Robb Report Culinary Masters 2024 at The Resort at Pelican Hill

22701 S Pelican Hill Road
Newport Coast, California 92657
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