Oil & Vinegar 101 Class: Chef Pierre Gignac Mastering the Art of Salads & Vinaigrettes

“People drink vinegar in shot glasses to toast to their health,” my Italian Signora said to me.  I couldn’t believe it and it turned my stomach a little.  I grew up in a home where “Oil and Vinegar” were relegated to frying and cleaning respectively.  The pair sat in a square cruet on the tables at pizza joints, reserved for those illusive few who sprinkled it as dressing on their iceberg lettuce salads.

I winced as I lifted the small glass of rich, red liquid to my lips.

“This is aged Balsamic vinegar,” she said and smiled, knowingly.

I was immediately surprised by the flavor: deep, meaty and tangy. It was a food revelation. My Signora seemed to know I needed to change my opinion of this overlooked condiment, even before I did.


I shared this story at the TABLE Class: “Behind the Kitchen Door: Oil & Vinegar 101” with Chef Pierre Gignac. Most of our guests were in agreement with my account, finding that they, too had grown up with the lack of awareness about this ubiquitous food pairing.

We agreed that times and opinions have changed for the better.

Quality oil and vinegar has the potential to elevate even the simplest dish. Both are readily available at grocery stores and specialty shops – Don’t pass them by because the look strange or have labels  that look too fancy. Scoop them up and start experimenting with their flavors.

In the O&V 101 class, Chef Pierre Gignac walked guests through a tasting of oils like walnut, pistachio, pumpkin seed and authentic extra virgin olive oil. He added on aged balsamic, champagne and sherry vinegars and crafted three salads with different vinaigrettes that showcased the flavors of each combination.

One of our guests Donna Buttarazzi remarked, “As students in the Table culinary class milled around sipping a complimentary glass of champagne last Saturday, the panoramic views of the ocean from the dining room at Cape Arundel Inn went all but unnoticed. All eyes were on Chef Pierre Gignac, head chef of Ocean at The Cape Arundel Inn, as he filled a worktable with a culinary explosion for the senses; beautiful bright salad greens and fresh spring vegetables, bottles of fragrant vinegars and a variety of flavorful oils and herbs.

It was a perfect revelation and reawakening.

Oil & Vinegar 101 will be offered seasonally as part of the TABLE: Behind the Kitchen Door series.

Frisee salad with bacon, poached egg and grain mustard vinaigrette
Frisee salad with bacon, poached egg and grain mustard vinaigrette
  1. For the salad; remove the dark green outer leaves and cut off the dark tips as well. Cut off the roots and wash in very cold water. Spin-dry, place in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. For the vinaigrette, first you need to cook the bacon in a large non-stick pan. Place the pan over high heat until the bacon sizzles, then turn the heat down to medium, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is golden brown about 10 min. Drain the lardons reserving the fat, and return them to the pan until ready to use.
  3. Whisk together the vinegar, the mustards with salt and pepper. Measure the bacon fat and drizzle it into the vinegar mixture whisking constantly. Keep aside at room temperature.
  4. For the poached; bring at least 4 inches of water to a boil in a large deep saucepan. Add vinegar and reduce heat to a simmer. Crack eggs into small cups, stir the water twice in circular motion and drop eggs gently one by one in the middle. Simmer gently for about 2 min. or until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the eggs and place on a plate lined with paper towel.
  5. Warm the lardons over low heat. Toss the frisee with the shallots, fine herbs, lardons, a pinch of salt-pepper and the vinaigrette. Mound the salad in the center of a plate, gently place the egg over and serve with the toasted brioche.