I know my way around the kitchen pretty well — or at least that’s what I thought. After spending a few hours with Charlotte City Club Executive Chef Kamel Dahmani, I realized that I’m not exactly ready for my close-up on the Food Network.
Chef Kamel recently joined the Charlotte City Club team after working for 25 years in some of the finest establishments around the world, from Paris to Miami. You don’t work in French restaurants without learning a thing or two about gourmet cuisine.
He invited me in to learn how he prepares his slow-cooked bone-in rib dish, which can be found on the dinner menu of the club. He took me step-by-step from prepping to plating to show me exactly what goes into a fine dining meal.
When I entered the kitchen, there were several chefs busy preparing for the daily lunch buffet. I immediately felt overwhelmed with all that was going on around me. But I had to focus if I wanted to keep up.
“Are you ready to cook?” the chef asked. Somewhat hesitant, I nodded yes.
He first explained how he marinates the ribs for 48 hours before cooking them. He creates a mixture of 20 oz. of Pepsi, a half cup of soy sauce, a fourth of a cup of brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of Korean gochujang sauce, 2 tablespoons of shio koji, a half cup of water and a Granny Smith apple to bring the thick flanken short ribs to life. After searing until carmelized and bringing them to 135 degrees, he vacuum seals them with the marinade into a plastic pouch. That pouch is submerged in a 145-degree water bath, where it rests for 48 hours.
Note: If you want to try this marinade at home, you could place 3-5 pounds of 1½ - 2 inch thick short ribs in a sealed container and allow them to rest in the refrigerator overnight.
This is only the prep — stay with me because we’re just getting started.
Next, it was time to get to work preparing our sides and garnishes. I slipped on my medium-sized gloves and awaited direction from the chef. We would be pairing the ribs with flash-fried Brussels sprouts and a creamy mashed parsnip with a foamed cambozola cheese spread for the plate.
After slicing up the parsnips into paper-thin rounds, we boiled them in a saucepan until tender. With careful handling, we transferred them into a blender, where we mixed them with a little salt and pepper, milk and butter. Chef Kamel then placed them into a large metal mixing bowl and he folded them until they were as smooth as satin. In true chef fashion, we sampled a small spoonful to ensure they were the perfect consistency — and they were.
The Brussels sprouts had already been cut and the core removed. We were only working with the outer layer. Chef Kamel tossed them in a mix of drained capers, diced onion, red pepper flakes and EVOO. (That’s extra virgin olive oil for you non-foodies.) We dropped them into the deep fryer for no more than 60 seconds, to get them perfectly crispy. Once fried, we coated them in sliced almonds and set them aside for plating.
Last on the list was our cheese spread — this is where things got interesting. First, we melted the hard block of cheese into a liquid by boiling it with a little butter and milk. We transferred the liquid into a mixing bowl and used a little restaurant magic to get it as close to a meringue-like texture as we could. Chef Kamel’s assistant showed me how they use several natural ingredients to change the texture of nearly any kind of food you can imagine. We then put that new mixture into a pressure canister that helped the cheese hold its form for plating.
While I was busy preparing the cheese, the chef took the ribs out of their bath and placed them in the oven until heated through.
It was finally time to plate, and then get to my favorite part, eating.
Chef Kamel carefully spooned a little of the creamed parsnips across the plate. He gently sat the ribs on top and added a handful of the crispy Brussels on the side. He finished it off with a generous portion of the meriguened cheese spread and tossed a few fried parsnip pieces across the plate.
It all looked so delicious. We all grabbed a spoon and dug in. The ribs were so tender that we didn’t need additional cutlery. They were falling onto our spoons. Every single thing on the plate complemented the others so well.
While I only helped prepare one plate, I was beat. I tip my hat to chefs all around the world who do this day in and day out. Of course, it’s what they love, so it’s more fun for them. I don’t think I’ll be enrolling in culinary school in the near future, but I did have a great time being a chef for a day.