Small Spaces, Big Flavours

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Wee spaces can equal wow parties. Here, the chef on the famed Rocky Mountaineer shares his secrets to cooking in a galley kitchen – plus three recipes you’ll want to try at home!

Jean Paul Guerin thinks he has the best office views in Canada. On any given day, in his role as executive chef on board the Rocky Mountaineer, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the 50-something-year-old takes in the magnificence of the Canadian Rockies with its rushing rivers, tranquil lakes and abundance of wildlife.

Not that he gets to sit and gaze out the window all day.

On the trains, Guerin and his culinary team collectively cook up, among other things, some 45,000 pancakes, 22,000 short ribs, 20,000 chicken breasts and 4,500 dozen eggs annually.

And they do it in the train’s galley kitchen measuring a mere 8 feet by 18.

Last spring, I moved into a spacious apartment but with a long narrow kitchen that is significantly less than that size. When my kids dropped by to see my new digs, they were thrilled until they saw my condensed culinary space.

“I don’t know if you can handle this, Mom,” my son said to me gravely as though I’d been sentenced to the gallows, not the galley. “The kitchen is your turf. How are you going to have a party?”

I raised my family in the suburbs in a spacious home that featured a huge open-concept kitchen-family room perfect for entertaining. Since moving to the big city, I’ve hosted several get-togethers in the various condos in which I’ve lived, but the units were open concept with ample cupboard and counter-space. My galley presents new challenges, but as many a brave boomer who has downsized will tell you, wee spaces can equal wow parties.

It’s all about mind set, says Guerin. “Cooking is an adventure. Having fun is the most important part, and keeping a positive attitude helps.”

In small spaces, he stresses that organization is key.

“Everything should have a place and, in our galleys, everything is labelled. Ensure too that commonly used items – salt, olive oil, your favourite seasonings – are in easy reach. And when every inch of space counts, prep all of your ingredients before you start to cook. Assemble your mise en place (a French phrase used in professional kitchens, which means having all your equipment and ingredients together, prepped and ready to go before you start cooking).”

So what about equipment? Guerin is big on quality but says that in small spaces, functionality plays a significant role. Happily, these days, retail aisles are packed with space-saving wares, no doubt in response to the rise of smaller and micro-condo developments in Canadian cities; snowbirds opting for two smaller abodes versus one big one; and retirees looking for turn-key solutions.

On a recent journey through a few kitchen shops, I was amazed by the selection of appliances and gadgets that do double-duty; things that stack or stick to the fridge; colanders that collapse; cheese graters that fold … and just as I was about to inquire about a hanging pot rack, I came upon a set of pots that were – be still my beating heart – square so they fit into the corners of a cupboard.

Our next tip comes from Robert Vidra, the owner of Simply Elegant, a hospitality company in Calgary. “If you have a small kitchen, get rid of anything on your counter that won’t be used on the day of the event.” At first, his words strike me as obvious, but then I recall that when hosting past condo bashes, I’d never thought to move my dusty knick-knacks, aging vinegar collections, rusty toaster, space-hogging microwave and other assorted appliances to a spare room.

“De-cluttering makes pre-party prep easier and, once guests arrive, frees up much-needed counter space. Don’t forget – no matter how small your kitchen, people are going to end up in it. Guests go where the booze is, and they want to come in and chat with the host.”

Vidra also recommends keeping countertops clean and clutter-free throughout the party.

“Wash up dishes and glassware or stack the dishwasher along the way. And if you’re a couple hosting, know who is responsible for what. At parties, you often see one person running around like crazy doing everything; and the other just enjoying his- or herself. It’s important for both hosts to have a good time.”

Joie Alvaro Kent, who along with her husband, architect Ian Kent, owns Nomad, a Vancouver company that designs micro homes, says that parties are possible in even the tiniest places. And by tiny, she means tiny. One Nomad model combines a living area, kitchen, bathroom, and sleep area in a mere 10 foot by 10 foot space.

“Many cultures entertain in small spaces all the time,” she points out. “A tent or a hut, a Japanese tea room. One idea is to create a theme around one of these cultures.”

Potluck is another alternative. That way, says Alvaro Kent, guests can take turns in the limited prep area heating up or putting the finishing touches on their dish.

With the cooler evenings finally upon us and many Canadians having had their fill of barbecue, September presents an ideal time to bring the party indoors. Tasting parties are inherently suited for even the smallest spaces – you’re serving small plates with small bites of food, after all, not a lavish sit-down affair.

We’re going to do three regionally inspired dishes that are served on the Rocky Mountaineer train. All can be prepped ahead so that the only appliance you’ll require during your party is the oven.

To begin, a pre-assembled oven-safe skillet of Buttery Salt Spring Island Mussels, which can be served straight from the pan; next, a previously cured Maple-Cured Wild B.C. Salmon with a make-ahead Red Cedar Emulsion and, finally, pre-seared Oven-Roasted Alberta Beef Tenderloin drizzled in its own juice. Each dish is paired with an Okanagan wine recommended by Rocky Mountaineer guest sommelier Jill Spoor.

Now then, how many guests should you invite?

Vidra has done the math. “For a cocktail party at which people are drinking and eating standing up, you need five square feet of empty floor space per person.”

That means that even if I held an affair entirely in my galley kitchen, with 42 square feet of empty space I have just enough room for me and seven-and-a-half of my closest friends.

NEXT: What  You’ll Need for Set-Up and Ambience

What You’ll Need

3 small plates per guest (or less if you wash as you go)

2 forks + small or seafood fork (for mussels) per guest

serving ware for salmon, mussels, carving knife + fork for beef

skillet for mussels & basket for sliced bread; platters for salmon and beef

3 wine glasses per guest (or less if you rinse as you go)

Set-Up and Ambience

Set out all cutlery, plates and glasses in one space for easy plating

Enlist the help of a guest for on-going cleanup

Consider LED tea lights to create ambient lighting – safe, tough to knock over and can be tucked into tiny spaces

Create a diverse playlist of Western Canadian artists – Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, Randy Bachman, Chilliwack, Loverboy, Nickelback, Diana Krall, Michael Bublé

Conversation Starter: Share Jill Spoor’s pairing note and encourage talk. Does the duo work? Why? Which dish pairing is the crowd favourite?

*Click next page for recipes.

Buttery Salt Spring Island Mussels

Prepare everything ahead and refrigerate until ready to use

4 lb mussels, cleaned
1 cup sliced chorizo sausage
1¼ cups unsalted butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary Sea salt
1 loaf artisan sourdough bread, sliced

1) In heavy oven-safe skillet, combine mussels, sausage, butter, oil, capers, rosemary and sea salt to taste. Cook in 450 F (230 C) oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until all mussels have opened up.
2) Serve with sourdough.

Wine Pairing: A rich white suits mussels nicely. We recommend Intersection Sauvignon Blanc, Penticton, 2012. This wine has a richer mouth feel due to time on its lees and, therefore, matches perfectly with the buttery, richer style of mussels.

Maple-Cured Wild B.C. Salmon with Red Cedar Emulsion

Salmon (Prep at least 4 hours ahead)
¾ cup maple sugar chunks (or substitute a mix of maple syrup and brown sugar)
2 tbsp coarse sea salt
32 oz salmon fillet (coho, sockeye or spring), cut into small portions
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Crush maple sugar and mix with salt. Coat salmon with mixture and cure for up to 4 hours. Remove salmon from the cure, discarding excess salt and sugar. Place salmon on an olive oil-greased baking sheet and cook at 475 F (240 C ) for up to 10 minutes or until salmon juices have started to caramelize. Remove from heat.

Red Cedar Emulsion (Prep up to one day ahead)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp xérès (sherry) vinegar
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red cedar jelly (substitute any cedar jelly)

Mix mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Transfer to high-speed blender, add olive oil and red cedar jelly and blend on medium to high speed. Check seasoning. Let stand, covered, at room temperature until using.

Makes 8 to 10 tastings

Wine Pairing: Because salmon is a meaty fish, you can pair it with a red. We suggest Blue Mountain Pinot Noir, Okanagan 2010.

Oven-Roasted Alberta Beef Tenderloin

Pre-sear, refrigerate and bring to room temperature before roasting
1 ½ lb beef tenderloin roast
Sea salt
2 tbsp coarsely ground pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Fresh herbs

1) Season tenderloin with salt and rub with pepper. In skillet, heat oil and sear beef on all sides. Transfer to heavy metal pan and roast in 375 F (190 C) oven to desired doneness (15 minutes for rare, 25 minutes for medium, 30 minutes or more for well done).
2) Remove from oven and let stand before slicing. Drizzle with cooking juices, and garnish with fresh herbs. Slice and plate.

Wine Pairing: Tenderloin is rich and full of flavor and needs a smooth, full-bodied red. We recommend Laughing Stock, Portfolio, Naramata 2012, a Bordeaux-style blend. Complex layers of dark velvety fruit beautifully accompany the richness of this dish.