This has been the first week where there have been some harder moments, as well as all the usual incredible ones. The whole process really is like going back to school but as an adult with responsibilities! You come together as a group of complete strangers and start a really intensive learning process. At the beginning you get fully swept up in it all, then at some point the magnitude of how much your life has changed hits you. I think that was what partially happened to me this week.
Week 4 started in much the same way as week 3, but this time our demo day was mainly on pork. Our chef for this week was Ross, who I didn’t know at the start of the week – but I feel like he knew me well enough by the end of the week! The pork in the demo was made into lots of tasty bits which we would be using later in the week including sweet cured bacon and braised belly. Ross also showed us a few puddings, including crème brûlée and custard. Also a slight contrast; chicken liver parfait, which we ate for lunch on Tuesday. I am a huge fan of chicken liver parfait and found it really interesting to be told the difference between a parfait and a paté – the livers are pan fried with the aromats etc then blended in a paté. In a parfait you blend the livers raw and then the infused butter is added slowly, like an emulsion. This did look a little like something out of a horror show, and you’d probably want to thoroughly clean your blender before making your next banana smoothie! But the results were, in my opinion, beautiful and delicious (photo below). I was amazed by how many of my classmates were not a fan of livers, so I happily ate someone else’s portion too, then felt rather content – if a little ill!
Tuesday was pudding day! Really. We made three lemon desserts, one apple tart, and a custard which was churned into an ice cream to accompany the apple tart (pictured at the top of the post). Oh and shortbread as a side to another! I went home that night laden with things that would finally last until Hubby turned up at the weekend. The shortbread then did a disappearing act soon after he arrived!
Tuesday was also the first chance I got to wear my newly created short sleeved chef’s jacket. We are given long sleeved jackets, so obviously we all roll them up every day or they aren’t practical – but that isn’t the most comfortable thing in a hot kitchen. A few weeks ago I asked if I was allowed to make one short sleeved and was given the go ahead. When I came in wearing it I got lots of comments from the chefs – a few asking if they were lop sided – but mostly compliments on my sewing! I think they look really neat, even if I do look a bit special as the only one with them (that was a comment from one of the Chefs!)
On Wednesday we made another two puddings. A crème brûlée which we had after lunch and a lemon posset intended to be enjoyed as lunch pudding later in the week. Unfortunately none of the possets set due to the wrong fat content in the cream, which was a shame because I was getting used to this lunch pudding concept!
For lunch we got back to some savoury cooking. We filleted plaice to make goujons (that’s posh fish fingers) with some tartar sauce, which meant making our first mayonnaise. That’s another dreaded emulsion which can split easily if you add the fat too fast. Luckily mine did not – what a relief!
Wednesday was also the day we did our roast style meal, with lots of components which we prep throughout the day and plate together at the end. I should point out at this stage that this was the day where I really just didn’t feel like myself and unfortunately my final dish echoed that! My partner for the week was a really calm lovely chap who I was lucky to be with because I was in a flap that day. I kept forgetting to do little steps which annoyingly were always on dishes we were working on as a pair; not stabbing the chicken legs for the marinade and forgetting to put sugar in the posset to name two. Despite my partner being nothing but kind I got frustrated at myself and it slightly got on top of me. So my dish of pan fried pork fillet, with pork medallions, apple cider sauce, mustard mash, kale and baby carrots included the feedback “dirty rim of plate”. In an effort to demonstrate honesty I’ve included the picture below – I am not proud of it! Most of the rest of the feedback was fine, and it could have been a lot worse. I think it just stuck out in my mind as being the first time I didn’t feel like I was on top of things. Hey ho, Thursday would bring a brand new day.
I do remember having one fun moment that day though, when I couldn’t hide my true colours from Chef. I was trying to peer into a tupperware tub at the chef station before a demo, because I wanted to see how his pork tenderloin looked (some of you may see where this is going). He used his apron to shield it from my prying eyes, so I made some joke about covering up his meat and two veg! I appreciate that was probably much more amusing at the time – but what really made me laugh was his reaction; he shook his head and called me ‘smutty’. At that point I went as red as my clipboard and hid behind it. It did feel good to go back to laughing as well as working hard, and that moment helped ground me a little for the rest of the week!
Thursday was our last day in the kitchen that week, as Friday was a session on our assessments. The morning started with making lots of salads for our lunch the following day. Next came the fun bit; making pasta. We made the dough the day before to allow it to rest overnight so now was time for rolling it and turning it into tagliatelle. I really enjoyed this bit, it seems I’m at my happiest when I’m playing around with some sort of dough. I’m sure that goes back to Mum making me playdough all the time as a child! Our rather more normal coloured dough was for a carbonara for our lunch that day, made with the bacon Chef cured on Monday. While I did enjoy both cooking and eating this dish, a few of us agreed that the cream and butter intake was starting to take its toll on our wellbeing!
The final dish of the day was a red mullet dish, so it was onto filleting our second fish of the week. It really is great that we regularly get the chance to practise these basic skills now, so we don’t just feel we’ve learned them once then put them to bed. Our red mullet (who had a very nice ‘hair style’… ok I stole that joke from my classmate, but it did make us giggle!) was served with crispy belly pork, crushed potatoes and a caper dressing.
The fun part of this dish was it was the first time we’ve been encouraged to come up with our own design for plating rather than copy Chef. I commented on the use of negative space in modern plating, which Ross said he thought was a bit naff. So off I went to do a negative space plated dish! I honestly didn’t start the week trying to be cheeky, it just seemed to pan out that way. Luckily for me I had not one but three of the chefs say they did like my plating, although the skin of my mullet was a little too dark, and rimless plates are better for negative spaces. I was proud of it anyway, I hope you can see where I was trying to go with it in the photo below!
Friday was spent with Darrin telling us all about our assessments in week 6 and our assignment due in week 16, which is tied into our assessments in week 18. I won’t go into too much detail on this as it was honestly a full days worth of information. The main thing I’m focusing on is getting myself ready for week 6 assessments first. This involves planning exactly what our menu will consist of given the brief and our food orders. Then getting our mise en place list (prep list) together and combining all of that with our recipes with added notes into one pack, ready to print off and take with us into the exams. I initially greeted this with excitement, having now done a few days work on it I’m rather more nervous and concerned about timings. Oh and for anyone really curious, I don’t find out if I passed my hygiene exam or not until the end of week 6, but they did say if we hadn’t passed they probably would have pulled us to one side by now!
Needless to say Darrin’s talk focused my mind and reminded me what they told us on day one: never forget why you walked through that door and what it is you want to achieve. That was something we found ourselves discussing that evening – the future and where we hope this course might lead us.