If the expression “don’t trust a skinny cook” holds any weight, I trust chef Jeremy Keighley, a lot.
The Seasonal Experience in Langley, BC, embraces the sustainability standards of the 100-Mile diet by sourcing its ingredients from local streams, rivers and pastures. The “Farm to Fork” commitment is showcased in a menu that features local stinging nettle soup, Agassiz hazelnut oil and farmhouse chevre, heritage chicken and organic rhubarb.
In March, the restaurant offered a “Snout to Tail” menu with three, five and seven course options. From an amuse of fresh pork rinds to house smoked pork belly and pork Chorizo ravioli to, wait for it—apple pie with house made lard and bacon ice cream. Jeremy Keighley has alarmed unsuspecting diners before with untraditional pairings like dill sorbet served with smoked salmon. Surprisingly, his boldness with food coupling works well, edging out the blandness of the vanilla and chocolate mainstays of a Dairy Queen drive-thru.
In addition to champagne brunches and a chef’s table experience (guests take seats in the heat of the kitchen and watch the meal pan out before them), palates are consistently sent on a rewarding romp across the farmyards and barnyards of the Fraser Valley. Seasonal Experience also schedules cooking classes for those looking to woo and wow company with prosciutto wrapped halibut, spring vegetable risotto and chevril butter sauce. Or, something like that.
Last night Wanda and I reserved seats for the “Trip to Cambodia.” We ordered a bottle of Sandhill pinot blanc from Kelowna to keep within the 100-mile diet parameters as we would be traveling far from it in the class. Where possible, Keighley sourced out local greens, shrimp, chicken and shallots to incorporate into the Cambodian dishes. Finding local coconuts and kaffir lime leaves proved to be a greater challenge.
Previous classes at the Seasonal Experience have included “trips” to India and Thailand, re-tracing the honeymoon path that Keighley and his wife took on a four-month edible holiday across southeast Asia. The chef has returned with several Cambodian secrets up his sleeve—like how to ambitiously make your own rice paper wrappers for salad rolls. For the Khmer chicken curry he toasts five tablespoons of jasmine rice that he later grinds in a coffee mill into a fine powder to expertly thicken the curry.
Admittedly, this is the lazy man’s cooking class as Wanda and I sit at a table and watch the chef toil. He skillfully slices cod as thin as eyelashes, chops lemongrass and splits a whole chicken in seconds with a knife that could cut off the head of an elephant in one swoop. True, an even lazier man could remain at home and click on the Food Network, but the benefit of sitting in the same room as Keighley is the captivating waft of coconut and curry that permeates the air in minutes. The comical stories of his honeymoon are nervously shared at first, but he becomes more animated in time in front of the staring crowd of 13. Head down, he keeps to what he knows best, and that is preparing chili coriander dip, shrimp salad rolls, Khmer chicken curry with spinach and “Amok” Khmer fish stew (Cambodia’s national dish).
As each item is prepared, Shannon, the charming wife of chef Adrian Beaty (who owns Seasonal Experience), serves the anxious crowd. Shannon adds the sparkly effervesence to the class, taunting Keighley to tell more stories. She tells her own, poking fun at “the boys” she works with for breaking all the food processors—telling us that each appliance has died from “Shaken Processor Syndrome.” Shannon admits that she “just eats what the guys make,” which puts the crowd at ease. While she is well-versed in wine pairing, Shannon doesn’t attempt to be a food snob and welcomes questions about bird’s eye chilis and green papaya salads, taking the questions directly to Keighley.
Shannon and the chef are fluid as a team. The tightly-wrapped salad rolls arrive like little stocking stuffers and taste like a mouthful of fire and vermicelli. Mint leaves and Thai basil punch my tastebuds and each bite is a different sensation.The dip is a sweet bang of fish sauce, dark brown sugar, garlic, chili peppers and cilantro. I’d like more sauce, but perhaps that would diminish the powerful flavour of green onion matched with the cold shrimp.
More wine is poured and because of the emphasis on everything sensory, I can almost taste the pineapples, cloves and spicy oak that the label insists I will detect in the 2006 blanc. Yes, there is a rich mouthfeel, but I wonder about the “minerality on the finish.” I’d like to finish by licking my plate clean, but we are seated too close to the other couple. Although, the woman beside me was so preoccupied with her Blackberry that when her husband and Wanda both left our table to use the washroom, she had no idea.
“Where did they go?” She asked me. Good grief. Apparently she thought she was at home watching the Food Network and was on a commercial break.
When her Blackberry was temporarily put down, the conversation between her and her husband became a restaurant name-dropping contest. All of this was done in a voice loud enough for us and all other tables to hear. In an hour they chronicled their year of well-heeled eating. I suppose we should have been impressed, but Wanda was too busy watching our table guest scratch the psoarisis patch on her head. I noticed this too, but given my line of work as a massage therapist, I see horrifying skin conditions on a daily basis—and rub them with oil too.
The psoarisis influenced Wanda’s enjoyment of the rich curry, but I didn’t have the visual of the flakes falling from this woman’s head onto her black shirt. Which she then brushed off, probably onto my lap and into my wine glass. I was too consumed with the velvety textures of the coconut milk and chicken to notice. After all the fecal matter I was exposed to in Africa, what harm could a little psoarisis do?
The Amok stew was equally competitive with a buttery broth of coconut milk, curry paste, brown sugar and fish sauce. The cod married well with the bitter bite of swiss chard and smooth wash of pinot blanc. Everything that passed by my lips made me want to purr like a cat.
With now-empty bowls, the class came to a close and we were left longing for more. I was intrigued enough to Google Cambodian dishes when I arrived home. And this is when I started my list for things to eat when I go to Cambodia–
Sapodilla: a fruit resembling a smooth skinned potato with a grainy texture akin to a pear
Trei negat: dried salted fish served with plain rice porridge
Sankya Lapov: a pumpkin and coconut flan
Cockles: everyone loves a good bivalve!
Luffa (also known as loofah): before maturity it is eaten as a vegetable, after maturity it can be used as a coarse sponge to remove dead skin cells (for those tablemates with psoarisis)
Until that luffa and cockle-tasting trip, I think I will try to incorporate more Cambodian dishes into our weekly menu because as George Miller said, “the trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later, you’re hungry again.”
To learn more about the Seasonal Experience visit: www.seasonaldining.ca