Small Spaces, Big Flavours
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.
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).”
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.”
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?
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
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
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)
Oven-Roasted Alberta Beef Tenderloin
Pre-sear, refrigerate and bring to room temperature before roasting
1 ½ lb beef tenderloin roast
2 tbsp coarsely ground pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
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.