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Learning to cook with one of Newport's best

Posted by Paul Kandarian  November 3, 2012 02:00 PM

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By Paul E. Kandarian, Globe Correspondent 

How come this looks so easy on TV? Making something like a crispy salmon atop a toasted orzo base with sauteed onion, mushrooms and asparagus? In all honesty it is, at least with someone like Danish-born Chef John Bach-Sorensen guiding you, a man who back in the Food Network's infancy was on TV, has cooked for kings and queens when Copenhagen hosted the EEC, and now has run Asterisk in Newport for the past 17 years, a restaurant that has won much culinary acclaim.

Chef John Bach-Sorensen.jpg"You can cook like this at home, you just have to keep it simple," says Bach-Sorensen, 50, leading a group of food writers through the steps of making the above dish, which I'm proud to say, came out pretty good.

You can do it, too: Asterisk hosts regular chef series events, where for a scant $35 you don chef whites and work one-on-one with Bach-Sorensen all day (the usual chef series features just one guest at a time), planning what to make, preparing food and then making meals for friends you invite, usually about eight to 12, he says. Then you cook their food and sit down to eat it with them, along with Bach-Sorensen, who will happily talk about cooking, his history in the trade, anything related to the fine art of cooking.

Growing up as a boy outside Copenhagen, he learned the business with his family, which owned restaurants there. Part of his job was going to markets with them and picking out the best food for that night's menu, including choosing what he thought were the best cuts of meat. He later cooked in France, taught the skill to others, and eventually came to Newport decades ago, falling in love with the city and sailing and never left.

Asterisk is in a renovated historic garage, with 12-foot glass doors in front that open to patio dining in summer. The open kitchen allows you to look inside at chefs scurrying about preparing food. Best view: The chef's table near the opening to the kitchen, where you can practically feel the heat from the work going on inside.

The restaurant seats about 100 and is packed in summer, but this time of year you've got a good shot at just coming in and finding a table, even on weekends. It has an open design, with a giant black beam above and exposed ductwork and a sizable black-mirrored bar area that serves all manner of unique beverages, including Mikkeller Porter from Denmark and Saison DuPont beer from Belgium. Bach-Sorensen said Asterisk was the first place in the United States to serve Stella Artois. And you can't leave until you try a signature espresso martini.

Future chef series events include an Italian night, a game night and a special meal for Christmas. The series runs for the rest of this month, and picks up again for March and April; they don't do it in high season, the kitchen would be too crowded. But even if you don't want to learn to cook and just partake of the fresh ingredients and locally sourced fish, this is a great place to do it. Cool stuff includes a grilled seafood pizza with shrimp, mussels, roasted pepper, olives, capers and anchovies for $22, char-crusted sirloin with grilled potatoes, market veggies and a mustard green onion-caper vinaigrette for $32 and that exquisite crispy salmon dish for $23.

For information on the restaurant and the chef series, visit www.asterisknewport.com The restaurant is also part of Newport Restaurant Week, which runs through Nov. 12, with more than 50 Newport restaurants serving up a three-course prix fixe lunch for $16 and dinner for $30 per person. For information, visit www.gonewportrestaurantweek.com

"We started the chef series for friends last year, but it really took off," Bach-Sorensen says. "It's a great way to learn what life is really like in the kitchen."

Plus you get to wear chef whites. To amateur foodies like me, that's worth the price of admission alone.

Paul Kandarian, Jay Ryder.jpg

Top photo, Chef John Bach-Sorensen with different types of paprika; bottom photo, class participants Paul E. Kandarian (left) and Jay Ryder


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