I can’t think of a better place to usher in spring than Primland. I booked my stay in a Fairway Cottage adjacent to another friend, John King, who is also a dedicated fan of this resort. John suggested we should celebrate the spring solstice, his new year, in style. Our shared passion for organic gourmet cuisine and love of nature is enough to bring together the most unlikely of friends. Originally, from California, We met John at Primland on New Year’s Eve. He is eccentric hippie with long gray hair, beard, and a very casual sense of style. While John, who could be mistaken for an Indian, was out exploring some of the 12,000 acres Primland has to offer and barefoot running on the golf course (not kidding), Mike and I took in a different aspect of the lodge, the kitchen. Mike and I have spent many evenings in the upper kitchen, just off Elements dining room, where the Chef’s Table is located. It is always an amazing spectacle and treat to enjoy the nine courses of food and wine that the chefs and sommelier thoughtfully prepare. I thought it would be great to try to reenergize our healthy eating and cooking habits on this “new year,” since according to my wise friend, it was such a powerful day to do so. Primland offers its cooking school on the third Saturday of every month.
Chef Gunnar Thompson has prepared many impressive multi-course meals for us in the three years he has lead the culinary team at Primland. I would describe his cooking style as classic French as France is where he trained, but with a nod to local recipes and ingredients. Interesting note about him personally, Gunnar is a vegetarian. As a former vegan (for a short time), I can really appreciate his cooking style. His dishes tend to have a vibrancy and texture that only comes from someone who can make vegetables stand on their own. With that said, he is also working at a world-class hunting lodge, and he has the ability to beautifully prep and prepare wild game from the resort such as venison, pheasant, turkey, and chukkar. Wild game cooking classes have also been offered in the past, but today’s class is on seafood preparation. Seafood can be a fairly tricky thing for many cooks to prepare. Gunnar told us in class that cooking fish perfectly is actually harder than cooking a steak properly. I believe it! I grew up in Florida and I love seafood, but I still have much to learn. I was also excited to learn how he sources some of the very best seafood in the world for such a remote inland property.
The class started promptly at 10am. First up, our game plan. We review our menu and recipes. Gunnar took us thru the menu that we would prepare with him, and then have the pleasure of eating at the end of class around 1pm. We will be making: Shrimp and Grits with low country sauce, Pan Seared Carolina Pink Snapper with Citrus and Sweet Pepper Relish, Boiled Lobster with Lemon-Herb Butter and Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Spinach and Horseradish Crust. Gunnar then shows us the proper technique and tricks to source, clean, and cook shrimp. Next on the list, we discuss and handle two types of fish, red snapper and wild caught salmon. Gunnar shows us how to clean the two fish, but also tells us how to clean different types of fish in general, side swimmers and flat fish. We each take turns handling the fish and making cuts. His tip for buying fish is to always buy whole fish with the head still on. Ask to press the fish and look to see if the scales stay on and the flesh is firm to the touch and that the flesh springs back. That would be a keeper. He said not to worry about the smell. It should smell like, well, a fish!
While some of us are filleting and boning the fish, and others are cleaning shrimp, we move on the some of the toppings, sauces and side dishes. We used the shells from the shrimp to make a stock that we will also use for our shrimp and grits. We rough cut some vegetables and added a few tomatoes. According to Gunnar, “Seafood stock should always look like shrimp colored stock and the tomatoes help give it that color.” He says he almost never makes fish stock and prefers a shrimp stock for seafood dishes. By using fresh, or at least whole frozen, shrimp at our homes with the shells still on, we will get a better tasting shrimp and be able to get a great stock from the shells. He cautioned us not to overcook the stock! Twenty to 25 minutes should extract the flavor, and any more than that would make it taste bitter. We will strain off the shells and veggies, that is why peeling the veggies in not important. His pro tip is to give the stock a whirl in a blender or food processor before straining to get even more flavor. This stock could also be frozen and used later as needed. Nice coarse-ground grits like he uses take about forty minutes to cook, and this stock can be added at the end for flavor so it will not add any more time in the kitchen.
No gourmet seafood class would be complete without a tutorial on lobsters. While we continue to chop veggies and section the oranges for our salmon, Gunnar takes us through the ins and outs of sourcing, cooking, cleaning and even sexing a lobster. Yeah, that’s right. If you get to pick one from the tank, one wants to pick the female lobster as they are sweeter (of course!). He showed us how to tell by way of the more delicate legs. We learned how to steam, boil or grill lobsters.
We begin to prep the herbed butter for our lobsters. Gunnar shows us how to pick the herbs, zest the limes, and blend with the butter, giving us tips along the way. We will use this butter in a couple of the dishes. It was easy and made a huge difference in the taste of the dish. Ok, you might be thinking BUTTER? I thought you said this was wellness cooking? Well, his take on wellness is pretty simple. Take the very best locally sourced organic ingredients available, and combine them with proteins that are high in omega fatty acids like salmon and other sustainable fish. He also only uses grass-fed beef. Use portion control, and a variety of cooking techniques to add flavor without adding tons of fat like making your own shrimp stock. What we ended up with was a very colorful, delicious lunch that was beautiful to look at, smelled incredible, and was delicious to taste. It left me thinking it was not diet food at all. I really enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with my husband. We had a lot of laughs. We got inspired, learned some cool tips and short cuts, but most of all it didn’t feel like a damn diet. This is living!