I met MJ Hong several years ago and have been anxious to visit her business The Wine Artist ever since. I finally got the opportunity and it was more than worth the wait. She hosted a group of journalists from the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association and together we created a New Orleans feast.
MJ hosts cooking classes for corporate events and private parties, weddings, birthday parties and more. New Orleans, she told us, is her most popular class. Our assignment was to prepare beignets, jambalaya, shrimp étouffée and Bananas Foster. She explained the difference between Cajun and Creole food to us. Cajun is country food with a French influence. Creole is city food with Italian and Spanish roots. Creole food has tomatoes, Cajun doesn’t.
She broke us into two groups and gave us assignments. Our group was tasked first with making a seafood stock. The difference between broth and stock, I learned, is that stock has bones. I began chopping celery, onions and carrots for the stock we used for the shrimp étouffée. Quite simply, you take the unused parts like carrot tops, onion skins, celery tops, etc., add water salt and pepper, boil and strain it. As this was a seafood stock, we also peeled the shrimp and tossed in the peels and tails.
The room was smelling heavenly as bacon and sausage was sautéing in the pan and the stock was merrily bubbling. The other group was making the dough for the beignets and prepping the veggies for the étouffée. Finally we started preparations for the bananas Foster. Combining butter, cinnamon and brown sugar in a saucepan, we sliced bananas and chopped walnuts, and added them with some dark rum to the bubbling sauce.
I spooned jambalaya into small cups and added a scoop of rice and topped it with some chopped green onions. We nibbled on the hot from the pan beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar. We added the étouffée to our plates and started feasting. Every bite was delicious and savory. We finished with bananas Foster, with a warm ooey gooey caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. To a person we were amazed how easy it was to create such a tasty meal and how quickly it all came together.
MJ is a delight in the kitchen. Self-taught at cooking, she has an effortless confidence and made certain each of us was carrying out our tasks. It’s no wonder to me why her classes are such a hit for corporations doing team-building. She also offers birthday parties, bridal events and after-meeting “happy hours.” You name it and MJ will put it together. Her Orange County location is a good central meeting spot between Los Angeles and San Diego. Future events include a Meritage blending and cheese making.
The Wine Artist is located at 21064 Bake Parkway Suite 100 in Lake Forest. You can call MJ at 949 297-3656.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. WINEormous is the recipient of the Luxury Travel Guide’s Wine Tour Operator of the Year award for Temecula 2015-2017. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.