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A Whistler chef hits home PCs to teach cooking class

Review of the DVD, The Salmon Show.

Personally I think salmon are one of the ugliest fish around, and I’ve never perfected the art of cooking it properly either so when I was given a DVD called The Salmon Show to review I could think of about a hundred other things I’d rather do. But once I finished my long spell at procrastination and slipped the DVD into the laptop, sitting back with pen, pencil and glass of red at the ready, things turned tantalizing very quickly.

For a start, the Salmon Show is made up of nine easy to follow chapters detailing how to cook an impressive variety of salmon dishes from around the world.

It also doesn’t hurt that host/chef Sebastien Desmarais is cuter than a freshly cooked crème’ brulee either. The Quebecois foodie trained in Montreal and Lyon, France and has travelled the world working in the top restaurants of Australia, San Francisco and of indeed, Whistler. Every summer Desmarais finds himself in the beautiful Queen Charlotte Islands, especially Langara Island, famed for being one of the best salmon fishing spots in the world. Desmarais loves fishing and obviously creating recipes that enhance the flavour of his catch. This was where his inspiration for The Salmon Show came to mind.

The DVD starts with a Discovery channel-inspired introduction to the wonderful world of this pug-faced but popular fish. This great little starter covers the basics of the B.C. coastline’s best bets. There are five species of salmon found on the West Coast: chinook (the biggest), coho, chum, sockeye and pink.

Chapter 2 brings us to the delectable Desmarais and a most useful section for the uninitiated among us on how to choose a good fish from the store, how to debone it and then store it for safe keeping. Without giving too many of our happy host’s secrets away, always look for fish that look alive.

"Look at their eyes," says Desmarais. "If they are still bright and clear, then that means it’s fresh."

The fish should look shiny and the gills should be slimy because that means the fish is still moist. And the smell – if it smells fishy, it probably is, and that’s not a good trait either.

While the Salmon Show is hardly award-winning film making, the dishes he whips up with an affable ease made me turn a mostly blind eye to the sometimes shaky camera work and occasional bout of Desmarais’ shyness. Snagging some of Vancouver and Montreal’s best chefs to show off their creations also cancels out some of the unpolished editing.

Bringing in the big guns from Vancouver, Desmarais introduces us to Tojo’s top sushi chef, Tojo Hidekazu, Eric Vernice from Umberto Menghi’s Circolo restaurant and head chef Marino Tavares from Montreal’s best Portugese restaurant, Ferreira’s.

Hidezaku shows us how to prepare and serve sashimi. Keep the fish in the fridge as long as possible is rule number one and preferably serve it after it’s been frozen for two days. Sockeye is the best salmon for sashimi and if you buy it pre-frozen, check the scales are reasonably flat for top quality. You’ll have to watch the Tojo master in order to get the cutting techniques right; just make sure you have a good knife.

Next up is Desmarais’ own dish, a Swedish serving of Gravlax. It’s essentially marinated fish perfect for anti pasto and I was inspired by how easy it was to prepare. Salt, brown sugar, a splash of gin, some dill and a couple of bricks (yes, bricks) and you’re all sorted.

Chapter 6 looks like a fabulous fast lunch of salmon tatake quick seared with Ponzu sauce and a nicois salad. Chapter 7 takes us to Montreal for an exotic offering from chef Tavares.

My favourite dish by Desmarais was in Chapter 8, pan-fried salmon cooked in a sun-dried tomato stew on a bed of green lima beans. I could almost taste it as it sizzled onto the screen. Remarkably simple, quick and easy, with minimal washing up – can’t beat it.

The last creation seemed to be the most difficult and not something I think I’ll be attempting too soon. But with Whistler full of gourmet cooks, no doubt many of you will be trying this one in no time. It’s a French dish from chef Vernice, serving salmon with a herbed emulsion, black truffle and leeks. The serving suggestion looked like a balancing act that would need a ban of all alcoholic substances in the kitchen while cooking in order to perfect.

In summary, the Salmon Show is an easy to use, easy to understand and adaptable DVD that caters to the amateur and the advanced chef in all of us. If Desmarais looked at the camera a little more and cracked the occasional cheeky smile, he’d be a lot better for it but for a first time effort and considering he’s one of Whistler’s own, it’s a winner. Bon apetit!

The Salmon Show is available from Armchair Books and other selected retailers around town for $19.99.

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