This week I was pleasantly surprised with the most thoughtful birthday treat by two very close friends. They told me to set aside my Tuesday night with no details of the plans.
After work we drive east on the 401 get off at Joyceville and continue on Highway 2. I have absolutely no clue where we are headed until I see the “Welcome to Gananoque” sign. Then I think, “Riva?” Riva is one of Gananoque’s greatest foodie attractions – I’ve heard amazing things!
My suspicions are right, “Amazing! We’re eating at Riva!” I squeal as we park. But as we approach the restaurant I peak into the prep kitchen from the sidewalk and see little books and pens on top of the stainless steel prep table. “A class?!”
When we reach the front door a sign reads, “Riva is closed for a private cooking class. We will be open tomorrow for regular hours. Thank you!!”
“A PRIVATE COOKING CLASS?!” This is beyond amazing!
When we enter, a lovely hostess takes our coats and ushers us to the dimly-lit bar where five chatty women are sipping their glasses of merlot and chardonnay and a bartender is pouring three glasses of Prosecco – for us! To top it off there is a nice looking charcuterie board with housemade crostini and a comfy table by the caged fireplace.
After about 20 minutes, chef Milton appears from the kitchen and asks us to follow him. The prep table is lined with chairs and co-ordinating recipe books with pens. The book reads “recipes: bread 101” and is filled with recipes not only for foccacia, ciabatta and sour dough bread but also caesar salad (and its special dressing), pizza dough and tiramisu!
We take a seat with our drinks and chef starts schooling us with bread tips galore. My favourite tip: put a bucket of ice cubes in the oven under your bread while you bake it if you desire a crispy crust (it slowly melts creating a steam that helps harden the bread!). Good one, right? I thought so. He also shared his favourite olive oil spot in Kingston – The Kingston Olive Company (downtown on Brock street) and advises that wooden cutting boards are the best to use at home because the tannins in the wood are also antibacterial. Only wooden cutting boards for this girl from now on.
Check out these rolling skills!
Milton and his sous chef Chris go through the steps of three types of bread explaining all of the key components to the baking process. They bake ciabatta, sour dough, herb-crusted foccacia and pizza dough – pulling out one mouth-watering loaf at a time. It’s basically food foreplay.
After our lesson, it’s time for dinner! We walk through the empty restaurant (remember it’s closed for the class!) and are seated at a table next to a big burning fireplace. The cream-coloured walls and decor make the space feel warm and homey.
DINNER: The first two courses are served on one plate, the most delicious caesar salad I’ve ever eaten (glad I have the recipe!) and a parmesan-crusted piece of foccacia with sauteed mushrooms and a balsamic glaze. I honestly would be happy with just that but the next course is a massive steak smothered in a hunter-gatherer sauce (Milton’s mother’s secret recipe! Not in the book) and topped with crispy onions. And did I mention the spread of fresh bread being passed around the table? When I think that I can’t possibly fit anything else in my stomach, the tiramisu arrives – the perfect amount of sweet and creamy, I manage to eat half before convincing myself to put the spoon down.
Keep up with Riva: There are variations of classes: soups and sauces, pasta 101, butchery 101, bread 101 and braising 101 – to keep updated on schedules check out their Facebook.
The classes are limited to 10 people and fill up very quickly – I believe we got the last three spots so once you see an opening, hop on it!