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Challenging Element: Cinnamon


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Each month, we take a trip to an esteemed restaurant and challenge the chef to make a special dish using an ingredient supplied just 24 hours earlier. Given that this is the Gift Guide, we opted to add a holiday twist to our Cuisine Scene Challenge, making it just as special as this issue. We challenged Personal Chef Robert Corey, hoping he’d make us one dish and pass along the recipe for our readers. Let’s just say he upped the ante. Twenty-four hours after presenting him with cinnamon, Chef Corey and a team of student chefs from the Colorado Art Institute prepared a decadent six-course, small-plate holiday meal for four. Lucky us. Check out the recipes…

We picked Corey, owner of French Manner, because we were intrigued by the prospect of watching a personal chef showcase his skills. We chose cinnamon because the spice fits the holidays as well as a decade-old hoodie. For most, cinnamon conjures images of baked goods, spiced apple cider, and cozy holiday nights by the fire. Or, in Chef Corey’s world, chips and dip, Mexican-inspired quail, sorbet, scallops and polenta.

Now for those of you who’ve never hired a personal chef to work the kitchen of a dinner party, you’re missing out on a truly amazing experience. Our party of four arrived to a home filled with aromas of pineapple roasting in the oven, risotto simmering with sea-fresh scallops and tender duck, and a butter-rich polenta crostata baking away. Printed menus for the evening accompanied the place settings, and Corey’s team saw to it that we were attended to like celebrities. Between courses, we were treated to Chef Corey’s descriptions of the interplay of flavors.

Typically, Corey takes two weeks to build a menu. For our challenge, 24 hours was just time enough to concoct “A Season for Cinnamon,” which took us through the Orient, Mexico and Italy.
His feast started with a simple appetizer, a twist on chips and dip. Using freshly fried cinnamon-garlic naan as the canvas, we indulged in three unique accompaniments: a spice-roasted pumpkin purée, raspberry and Brie cheese fondue, and roasted pepper and chimmi-churri pesto.
Moving on to the first course, we were offered a cinnamon, cardamom, and basmati rice smoked duck breast. It was served with tamarind glaze, spicy soy, garlic and galangal duck broth, braised bok choy, and cinnamon-infused roasted sticky pineapple. This dish was a testament to Corey’s goal to present cinnamon in a variety of ways. The sticky pineapple chunks offered a forward blast of the spice, while the broth added subtle hints of cinnamon.

Next up, a cinnamon-smoked grilled quail with zucchini, corn and poblano succotash. Served with a smoked cinnamon, apple cider, tomato, and chocolate mole, this was one of our favorites. The mole was not overbearing as is so often the case, and while most of the dish was soft and subtle, a pumpkin seed topping brought it to life.

At this juncture, we needed a palate cleanser, so Corey offered us a wonderful Intermezzo—cinnamon and carrot sorbet with citrus supremes and cantaloupe balls. Corey explained that sorbet, at its root, is supposed to be a liquid—a beverage, in fact. In this rendition, he spiced a carrot sorbet with cinnamon, and poured it into plastic test tubes. As a powerful accent at its center, he immersed a bourbon-soaked skewer of cantaloupe balls. The combination of the sorbet and cantaloupe was complex—spicy and sweet with a contrast of smooth and crunchy.
Hefty sighs of satisfaction later, we entered into the last savory course: a cinnamon, apple, pear, scallop and lobster risotto. The risotto was allowed to absorb its broth slowly, while a nearly raw scallop and lobster meat were buried inside, absorbing the gentle heat from the rice.

Our meal reached a fitting dénouement with dessert. Corey’s offering was a red banana, butternut squash, Turkish apricots, and date crostata topped with toasted anise and polenta alongside a lemon and cinnamon yoghurt sorbet with cinnamon tuile “sticks.” It was a tender yet lively cobbler spiked with cinnamon.

As conversation waned and the cooks shuffled out the back door, we mused over the improbable success of Corey’s meal. Not only was his 24-hour turnaround astounding, but the level of sophistication in the meal proved that fine dining need not be relegated to restaurants. In fact, it might be better off in your home.

[challenging elements] Check out the recipes created for “A Season for Cinnamon.” The French Manner can master it for you, too. Call Chef Robert Corey at 303.667.3768 for information on this meal or any custom chef service requests.

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