When I sat down with executive chef Drew Grosse a few weeks ago to talk about upcoming events at Little Donkey, it was apparent that Drew eagerly anticipated his “Celebrity Chef Class” at the Boston Center for Adult Education. In the kitchen, there are really great cooks and really great chefs. The differences are both clear and somewhat debatable, but in my decade-long study, I have observed that the really good chefs are essentially really good teachers. If a chef can translate the passion they have for a simple or complex combination of ingredients into a lesson for their cooks to learn, or a story for their service staff to sell, that’s going to lead to success. This past Monday evening, on the edge of Chinatown, chef Drew Grosse called his class to order and gave teaching a shot, here is the story.
Drew's joy for working as the executive chef at Little Donkey shines as he explains a little about the restaurant. “It’s very eclectic, and e do things that are locally inspired. Some people love it and some people hate it and it’s just the way we do things,” he says with a laugh and just like that the class is engaged.
Drew is a first generation American on his paternal side, his father is from France and none other than a baker. On spending extremely early mornings in the bakery Drew comments, “I remember thinking, I don’t know why he does this, but I really like croissants.” The room fills with laughter and like a family to a warm hearth the students are soon out of their chairs and gathered around the classroom kitchens large island to see up-close what is on the lesson plan.
First, it’s the BBQ Oyster, a summer classic. Into the KitchenAid mixer goes a pound of unsalted butter and a bottle of Tapatío hot sauce. As the class continues one-by-one to practice the technique Drew laid out for how to shuck an oyster, the BBQ oysters go for a swim in their hot sauce butter directly on the grill. He pulls them off the grill and it’s not long before the fingers are upon them. “It’s not that hot,” the first class member smiles, “but it is amazing.”
Next is the Sugar Snap Pea Tonnato Salad with Watercress and Ricotta and lesson number one is blanching - making something really hot and then really cold. The picked through snap peas fall into boiling water for 20 seconds before being transferred carefully into an ice bath with a slotted spoon and then strained. “This salad was slightly inspired by the Coppa celery salad, but instead of anchovy forward this is tuna forward,” Drew says as he blends the tuna, anchovies, capers, lemon juice and aioli. Drew’s pro-tip for dressings: once everything else is blended, then whisk in the olive oil at a slow drip.
After the snap peas have been dressed and the salad is topped with shaved ricotta salata, fresh watercress is added. This little pop of green looks like a fresh herb, and packs a peppery punch. “Watercress grows where small streams or rivers meet the shore,” explains Drew, ”and they get this naturally spicy flavor so we use them here instead of cracking black pepper.” Pro tip: order this salad at Little Donkey with grilled shrimp on top!
The last course is Kalbi Short Rib with Korean BBQ sauce, Kimchi and Pickles. “You want to marinate at least 12 hours, so that when you go to char them they’ll be really good,” advises the chef while the class mixes up an unbelievably simple marinade - Coca Cola, soy sauce, and chopped garlic. He pulls the pre-marinated ribs out of the fridge and begins to mix up the “Hot & Messy Glaze” which is the Little Donkey Hot & Messy Sauce with a little added honey - this note draws a collective “ooooooh” from the class. The conversation turns to pickling, and honestly it’s the quietest the room has been yet. (1:1:1 water, vinegar, sugar to a boil poured over vegetables) The kimchi conversation starts, a funk spreads across the kitchen, and instagram stories go to live video. The teacher has reached maximum attentiveness.
The ribs sizzle as they hit the grill and the questions begin about pans for home use. Drew answers knowingly and intelligently on varying temperatures and surfaces, pro-tip: cast iron - wicked hot. Class is close to finishing and impressed but not surprised, I settle in to eat some damn good short ribs cooked with a lot of heart and seasoned with some higher learning.