I'm a big fan of Bravo's Chef Academy, one of the latest cooking reality shows. On the show Chef Jean Christophe Novelli, world renowned Michelin chef has started a new Chef Academy in Santa Monica. In the show, he trains and 'transforms' 9 students who aspire to cook like professionals. He interviewed many possible students before coming up with an interesting assortment of types perfect for reality TV. There's a former male porn star now a graphic designer, an Orange County woman of 45 (remember Bravo has the Wives of Orange County reality show), a Navy submarine cook and a several others. Bravo's websites calls the participants Chefs; I call them students, and you can MEET THEM HERE.
Although I think Chef Novelli seems to be a very creative and excellent chef, I don't care for his interpersonal teaching skills. Perhaps he's great at showing how to cook and bake, and I must say I've learned a bit from even the abbreviated technique segments we see on the show. As a former teacher; however, I take offense at his mocking and often mean-spirited interactions with his students. They're all there to learn, they're all adults. Perhaps the fact that he hasn't reduced every student to tears (there have been a few) is positively miraculous. If someone passes, why spend 1-2 minutes teasing him and intimating that he didn't pass? Glad he's not my teacher. But I must remember this is theatre, and what makes for good theatre? Tension. So there's tension between the chef and the students, and among the students themselves. It makes for great TV, so as a television show, it's highly entertaining.
Since Chef Academy is listed as Season I on the Bravo website, I can only assume that Bravo plans another Season. I'll watch it. I'm sure there will be an equal amount of drama between the new students and Chef Novelli, and maybe I'll learn a little more about culinary techniques. To watch videos and clips of Chef Academy, go to the Bravo website, HERE.
This week the students tackled meat. I really loved the Chicken with Chocolate recipe. I didn't remember it being called a Fricassee, but of course that's what it is and what it says on the Bravo recipe website. When Chef Novelli first mentioned chicken and chocolate, I thought he'd be making a mole. Wrong culture--this is nothing like a mole.
Bravo's recipe website mavens give this recipe a moderate rating, and having watched the demo with Chef Novelli (although this isn't a cooking show a la Julia Child), I think it's fairly easy to reproduce. The fact that you never taste the foods on any of these cooking shows is especially hard for me in this one since he's teaching technique. Chef Novelli is always critiquing the student dishes, and I'm sure they're following directions, but with differing success. I watch most of the cooking shows on PBS, the Food Network, and it really depends on the slant of the writers/producers. I think Chef Academy is all about the personalities, but since I like reality shows, I'm o.k. with this.
Chef Novelli spends time critiquing the students sauces and dishes, so I'm not sure I'll reproduce this Chicken with Chocolate recipe to Chef's taste. The recipe on the Bravo Website is for 2 portions, so if you're entertaining, you'll have to adjust. That's not a matter of just doubling the recipe. That's where a bit of knowledge will help.
Being a chocolate maven, I can tell you to use the highest quality cocoa. Sweetened or unsweetened isn't mentioned, so I think it's a matter of taste. I would use sweetened, but that's me. I'll bet Chef Novelli is using unsweetened since there's sugar in the wine. For a list of some good quality cocoas, go here.
Fricassee of Chicken with Chocolate
4 Chicken legs - corn fed, organic or free range
2 Med sliced onions
1 tablespoon Cumin seeds
1 tablespoon Cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Smoked paprika
4 Garlic cloves
1 Sprig thyme
2 Bay leaves
1 Chicken stock cube
1 x 75cl Red wine- Merlot is preferred
Sea salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1. Divide the chicken legs in half through the natural joint. Do this without splintering the bones.
2. Season with salt and pepper and dust with paprika. Add enough olive oil to coat and leave to infuse for at least 1 hr.
3. Heat a heavy based pan up and then carefully place in the pieces of chicken add the bay leaf and thyme and garlic.
4. Fry on both sides until golden and evenly colored. Remove from the pan with the herbs and garlic.
5. Add the sliced onions to the pan and sweat down until soft, add the cocoa powder and mix in.
6. Return the chicken pieces and herbs etc. and combine.
7. Sprinkle enough flour to absorb any fat residue and form a basic roux.
8. Stir in the wine and ensure there are no lumps and the sauce is just thickened.
9. Adjust the acidity of the wine with a little sugar.
10. Crumble in the chicken stock cube.
11. Bring to the simmer and remove any impurities that rise to the surface.
12. Place the lid on and cook in the oven for approximately 45-60 minutes.
Recipe from Food by Bravo site HERE.