BY BETH COLVIN
Assistant Food editor
June 13, 2012
- Dry-Rub Barbecued Shrimp Skewers
- Real Deal Barbecued Chicken
- Rosemary Flank Steak With Balsamic Glazed Onions
- Summer Fresco Burger With Mozzarella Filling and Tomato Relish
- Filet Mignon With Three Sauces
- Black Pepper Horseradish Zabaglione
- Porcini Bearnaise
- Gorgonzola Mascarpone
- Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms
- Guanciale Mashed Potatoes
- Peanut Butter Pie With Chocolate Sauce
- Caesar Salad With Homemade Croutons
Behind an average-looking storefront on Coursey Boulevard is an outdoor kitchen paradise.
A visitor passes a vanguard of hot tubs, all on and churning, then a row of sparkling, glazed Kamado grills, each on its own platform. Then, on a warm spring day, a distracting gust of cool air from an outdoor air conditioner beckons to an outdoor kitchen paradise.
Dozens of villas, laced together by beautiful landscaped, raked-gravel paths, display gleaming grills, all of which are hot and ready for food. Taps set into granite countertops mean cold beer’s ready to drink in the kegerator. All of this is the domain of Jason Stutes, chief marketing officer of Shopper’s Choice, which operates http://www.shopperschoice.com and an array of specialty outdoors websites, including http://www.bbqguys.com. Motto: We smoke the competition.
“I call it passionate entertaining,” Stutes said as he navigated between the villas, showing off patio furniture, outdoor televisions, misting fans, fireplaces, warming drawers, outdoor pizza ovens and more. “We encourage our customers to come out here and actually cook. When they come out here, it’s literally two hours.”
While Shopper’s Choice sells a variety of grills, the gas grills that grace their outdoor kitchens are the centerpieces of the operation.
One grill, made by DCS, boasts a grease management system that has tilted grates to funnel grease from grilled meats away from the heat, which comes from ceramic rods for even heating. Another grill has a remote control and a button that raises and lowers the hood. In all, Shopper’s Choice showcases 50 brands of grills. The company will also launch its own line of grills, called Blaze, in June.
In the middle of this barbecue paradise, Shoppers Choice’s Chef Tony Matassa is grilling up stuffed burgers. He works the ground meat into fat patties with quick, deft motions. It’s clear he’s had some practice.
“Ground chuck is definitely my preference,” he said, picking up a baseball-sized chunk of meat. “It has more of that sirloin flavor that people associate with steak.”
He makes a depression in each patty, then stuffs it with shredded mozzarella, basil, Parmesan, salt, pepper and olive oil. The finished burgers will be topped with a tomato basil relish.
Matassa also prefers gas grills to charcoal. “You push a button, you light it up, and you go,” he said.
To ensure the perfect burger, Matassa says you set up your grill with a hot side and a warm side. The burgers are first seared on the hot side, then cooked to desired doneness on the warm side. Shoppers Choice also offers a range of grilling accessories, including things like the iGrill, a Bluetooth meat thermometer that syncs up with an app on your smartphone. The store also hosts cooking classes every other Friday.
Across town at the Hilton Capital Center, the Viking Cooking School Outdoors also fires up their grills overlooking the Mississippi River for classes.
“We’re the first Viking Cooking School Outdoors in the country,” said Nikki Tanner, the Hilton’s sales and marketing assistant. “We do sushi classes, Mediterranean classes, Thai. Everything you can imagine, on the grill.”
Their classes also include a full meal, and the school sells Viking accessories, such as grill surface thermometers, grill baskets, and tongs.
On a recent Friday night, several couples gathered on the hotel’s pool terrace for a Vegas Steakhouse class. The class, divided into three teams, cooked a menu of Filet Mignon With Three Sauces, a Black Pepper Horseradish Zabaglione, a Porcini Bè arnaise, and a Gorgonzola Mascarpone Sauce; Guanciale Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms. Chefs Matt Brewton and Raine Bayyan made the Caesar Salad With Homemade Croutons and Peanut Butter Pie With Chocolate Sauce ahead of time.
“Anything you can cook in your kitchen, we can cook here, I promise,” Brewton said to the class. “This is the first time in your life you get to cook and not clean and measure anything out.”
Each station had trays, cutting boards, knives and ingredients ready to go. As the dishes piled up, the chefs deftly swept both food and students to and fro, teaching things like knife skills, cooking techinques, food safety and food handling skills.
Heather Moret said that between she and her husband, Stephen, she does the cooking.
“He can’t boil water,” she said. “I mean it.”
Allison and Tom Davis were celebrating their eighth anniversary at the class. Allison said a co-worker told her about the classes.
Her husband, who does most of the cooking, made the bè arnaise.
“My great-aunt had a great recipe for artichokes and hollandaise,” he said, whisking away at the emulsion of egg and butter. “I’m going to have to dig it out. I’m not afraid to try it now.”
Kristin and Brett de Baroncelli live in Mandeville, but Brett works in Baton Rouge. Kristin drove in and met him at the class.
“I’m ready to do everything,” she said as she decided whether to help with the roasted mushrooms or the mashed potatoes.
Breweton and Bayyan also pointed out the ways that cooking al fresco is a little different than in your home.
“Season a little more than what you’re used to,” he said as the class prepared their filets for the grill. “You’re going to lose seasoning when you slap it on the grill.”
Other differences were that heat adjustments had to be made depending on the wind. And, when the class needed herbs like lemon thyme or basil, Bayyan just walked over to the garden and clipped some.
Of course, there was also the noise of traffic going over the I-10 bridge, music floating on the breeze from downtown’s Live After Five, and the occasional chug-chug of tugboats making their way up or down the Mississippi River. As the sun slipped behind the west bank’s trees, the class sat down for dinner.
After all the dishes were passed around, for the first time all night, the group was silent. The only noise from the Hilton’s pool terrace was the clink of silverware — the sound of a good meal.