Les Petits Chefs visit The National Club

Empty plate on eatlivetravelwrite.comSee that up there ^^^ It’s a clean plate. Nearly clean enough to eat another meal off of! That’s what happens when you sit 10 little boys down at a beautifully-laid table with plates of gorgeous fish and chips after they’ve had a long day at school 😉

The Petits Chefs were lucky enough to visit The National Club this week – one of the leading business and social clubs in Toronto, located in the financial district.  Their members are prominent professionals in the business community including sectors such as banking, insurance, investments, marketing, retail, law and finance, all joining for various reasons. Invited by The National Club General Manager, Bill Morari (a good friend of Mr Neil’s and also of Chef Geoffrey who the boys visited a while ago for an “Iron Chef” type challenge in his catering kitchens), the boys got to watch Chef James Stewart in action.

Chef James has been an Executive Chef for more than 25 years. Chef James received his Chef de Cuisine in 1991.  He has cooked for Royalty and Sports Celebrities during his tenure at private clubs including the world famous Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario.  James has been the Executive Chef at The National Club for the past 13 years. He leads a busy life – he is married and has four children.  As Les Petits Chefs will tell you,  his favourite dish to make and to eat is spaghetti!

Chef suggested that he could show the boys how to make fish and chips – by demonstrating how to fillet and portion an entire fish! We started out meeting a giant salmon and Chef James taught the boys the difference between round fish like salmon and flat fish like halibut.

When I was looking for a quick way to explain the difference to the boys (err… in the taxi on the way there!) I found this article which states that round fish “are fish with rounder bellies and an eye on each side of their heads, have a backbone along their upper bodies, with a fillet located on each side. Round fish include cod, trout, bass, snapper, salmon, pike, haddock, hake, and whiting.  A flat fish has an oval-shaped, flat, and narrow body. As a flat fish matures, its swimming style becomes horizontal rather than vertical and its eyes move to one side of the head. Flat fish include sole, flounder, and halibut.”

Chef James Stewart at The National Club on eatlivetravelwrite.comActually most of the boys knew the difference already. Who would have thought? We even got some demonstrations of the different ways the different fish swim which was fabulous (sorry I didn’t get a video of that!).

Chef James then proceeded to fillet the halibut (the “biggest fish ever” according to the boys. In fact it was nearly larger than some of the boys!) – and boy, did he make it look easy! (there are some good tips on how to fillet a halibut here)

Les Petits Chefs learning to fillet fish on eatlivetravelwrite.com(yes, the boys got to touch the fish at every stage! Very proud of them all for having a go – not all of them are fans of touching raw meat/ fish but they all touched and felt it which is so important when you are learning about food – all your senses come into play!)

Chef James Stewart at The National Club Toronto filleting fish on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe boys were fascinated to learn that one fish would yield about 60 portions – I could see them trying to figure out how in their heads!  In fact, when it came to portioning the fish, Chef James cut the fish in a way none of them were expecting – they all thought he would just chop it into a few pieces but instead he sliced it thinly at an angle to the board (not the right angle they were expecting) into what they boys thought were “tiny” portions.

Portioning fish on eatlivetravelwrite.comAnd then they got to watch the fun part – the deep frying. Honestly, I have never seen a bunch of boys so enthralled with something so simple. Fish, dipped in flour then batter, then slowly lowered into the deep fryer – looked like they could have watched this for days! And they asked all sorts of interesting questions – ones I would never think to ask, like “What happens if you leave stuff on the bottom of the deep fryer – does it just get really hot and cause a huge fire?” (yes).  We learned the importance of making sure the fryer is not overcrowded so that things cook quickly and how careful you must be to keep the oil clean and free of any “bits” (to avoid said fires).  We also talked about ways to make this at home if you don’t have a deep fryer (which none of the boys do) – that you can breadcrumb-coat and pan-fry the fish – it will be tasty (and we have worked with similar recipes in cooking club before) but it won’t be as crispy. The boys already know how to make oven-baked potato wedges and that is a great alternative (and more realistic on a regular basis) to French fries.

Les Petits Chefs visit the National Club on eatlivetravelwrite.comIn any case, what a treat – a plate of gorgeous, fresh (and freshly-fried) fish and chips – served with coleslaw, tartare sauce and lemon halves wrapped in cheesecloth – to catch the seeds as you squeeze (so clever – why didn’t I think of this???)…

Plating up fish and chips at The National Club on eatlivetravelwrite.comAlso: you’ve never seen little boys move so fast as when they have a gorgeous looking plate in their hands and there’s a place at a beautiful table waiting for them. I am surprised I got any photos at all!

Plating up fish and chips with Chef James Stewart at The National Club on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe National Club on eatlivetravelwrite.comSo fancy!

Fish and chips and ketchup on eatlivetravelwrite.comOf course, you could just have fish and chips and ketchup, right?

As the boys ate, they quizzed Chef James about his career, we told him about some of the neat things the boys have done in cooking club and we reviewed the difference between round and flat fish.  A few of the boys fish with their parents at their cottages so who knows, perhaps they might try Chef James’ filleting technique sometime! Although, as one of them remarked, you need a “really big knife” for that!

Thank you Chef James and the staff of the National Club for making us so welcome and for taking the time out of your  day to host a whirlwind of boys in the kitchen!  It’s so important for them to see where their food comes from and I honestly think none of them had any idea that the pretty fish on their plates starts out looking so, well, “ugly” 😉  Making those connections is really great!


US/Canadian and International readers: Win one of three copies of Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah. Ends Tuesday October 8th, 2013 at 6pm EST.

** Congratulations to Roxana who won my In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita giveaway!  I’ll be in touch soon to get your mailing address!

9 thoughts on “Les Petits Chefs visit The National Club”

  1. The National Club is such a wonderful place, I’m so glad the boys were able to spend some time with Chef James. What a treat to be able to eat in the dining room!

    Of course, all the RSGC boys would have jackets and ties – so fit right in! 😉


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