Last night I was invited to Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar in Fairfield, CT, where Executive Chef Helton DaSilva taught techniques behind some signature dishes from The Barcelona Cookbook. His warmth and infectious personality intertwined with his sincere desire to teach, made for a lighthearted, yet inspiring and informative experience. At only 26 years old, he radiates a quiet confidence that makes me understand why he has reached such an esteemed position so early on in his career.
It is apparent how passionate Chef DaSilva is about sharing his culinary expertise. “I like teaching cooking classes because I feel the best way to learn is to pass your knowledge on to someone, and they trust me to show them not necessarily the right way, but maybe a different way of doing things,” he said. “Food just brings people together in a way that nothing else does, where everyone has something in common, something to talk about.”
This particular class was focused on cooking with fish, and in true tapas form, we made an array of small meals that included the star ingredient. We began the evening with a delicious savory blend of roasted olives and a chickpea puree with smokey cumin-toasted pita chips, which was just enough fuel to start our cooking engines.
The first dish Chef DaSilva demoed was tuna tartare, which is one of my favorite things to order, yet something I’ve never prepared before. This dish can be created in many ways, so I was intrigued to learn how Barcelona put their own twist on it. We started with a fresh piece of yellowfin tuna (also known as ahi tuna).
and added dijon mustard, capers, chives and meyer lemon, which is currently in season.
Chef DaSilva serves this tapas with a side of homemade crunchy, salty yuca chips (yum!), but suggests using a potato chip as an an alternative when preparing this at home. The balance of citrus and capers perfectly complimented the tuna.
Next up, we made seviche, which is raw fresh fish marinated in a citrus juice with vegetables and herbs. For this recipe, we used fluke, which is a flat fish in the same family as flounder. There are four sides to a flat fish; two on the front and two on the back, creating four filets.
Chef DaSilva taught us the proper technique to fillet a fish and let us test out our knowledge.
After cutting the fillets into smaller pieces, Chef DaSilva made a marinade of lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice and grapefruit juice, and added crisp red and green peppers, onion, orange segments and cilantro.
I love a good seviche, and look forward to preparing this recipe for guests, especially because it should be made ahead of time. Chef DaSilva said to marinate it for a minimum of 2 hours to allow the flavors to soak in. The dish was light and refreshing.
Lastly, we made gambas al ajillo, which is a classic garlic shrimp tapas that is packed with flavor, yet quick and simple to prepare. We started with peeled and deveined medium shrimp with the tails left on.
We seasoned the shrimp with salt and then put olive oil and garlic into a pan to infuse the flavor.
Then, we flipped the shrimp and added a small amount of thyme, dried Spanish peppers (you can also use chili flakes) and golden sherry wine for a bit of sweetness. Chef DaSilva encouraged us to be experimental with our flavors and said, “A recipe is simply a guideline. A dish won’t be as good unless you make it your own and add that special ingredient you feel it needs.”
We plated the shrimp into small skillets and added a bit of butter to finish the sauce in the pan before pouring it on top. The shrimp had a sweet caramelization from the wine, and the sauce was full of garlic with just a touch of heat.
We ended the night on a sweet note with decadent dulce de leche and whipped cream crepes drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A perfect reward for all our hard work.
When we concluded, Chef DaSilva told us he felt like he had us over in his home. “I think the greatest thing about being a chef is that at the end of the night, you feel fulfilled,” he said. “Knowing you had an impact on someone’s life, and they will remember those good memories at that dinner, is very important to me.”
The hands-on experience was a wonderful night out with my husband, which put a little twist on our traditional dinner date. It allowed us to learn something new and cook together without either of us getting stuck doing the dishes!
Check out the calendar on barcelonawinebar.com for cooking classes at their CT locations in Fairfield, Greenwich, South Norwalk, New Haven, Stamford, West Hartford, and their new spot in Atlanta, Georgia.
Chef DaSilva’s Top Five Tips for Cooking Fish at Home:
1. Always use fresh fish.
2. Know where it comes from, and be sure it is a reputable source.
3. Fish is always best served in its simplest form. The less seasoning the better. Make it the star of the dish, not the side of super gooey mac and cheese.
4. Overcooking the fish is one of the easiest and most common mistakes people make at home. You can always cook more, but never less.
5. Don’t be scared to try fish at home. Learning how to cook with fish is a little harder than cooking a steak, but it feels great to know you have done it.