Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 12

Something momentous happened this week – I finally injured myself in class. Those of you who know me will agree that the really momentous bit is that is has taken me eleven and a half weeks to injure myself! Given the speed we often work at and the many wonderful options available for injury (gas, sharp knives, speed peelers, the lack of existence of oven gloves) it really is surprising I’ve not done something before now. I think I went with the best option, the old classic – the oven shelf burn. Love that one. More on how on day two!

Foie gras terrine, smoked apple purée and Sauternes Jelly

Other than week 12 being my (and my partner’s incidentally) injury prone week, it was also the last proper week in the kitchen for Term 2. That’s a very unreal thing to be writing. I’m pretty sure it was only a week or so ago I was writing about the start of this term. But disbelief won’t get me anywhere unfortunately, our second assessments are next week no matter how little I like it!

We were led by Chef Phil this week, something I’ve been looking forward to as seven years ago I came to Ashburton for the first time ever for a Gastro Plus weekend course and was taught by Phil. He strikes a great balance between being an encouraging and supportive teacher, and keeping us in line and pushing us to achieve the best as quickly as we can. It was Phil’s enthusiasm that made me catch the cooking bug all those years ago, and it’s because of him that I’m here trying to realise the potential of that passion.

One of the first dishes I ever made at Ashburton in September 2010 – White Chocolate Parfait with Hazelnut Shortbread

Monday followed the usual routine for this term as we had a skills session in the morning and theory in the afternoon. The skills session was on sauces, which I was very grateful for – it’s something I really needed to practice ahead of next week as it’s one of the areas I’m hoping to improve my marks. We made a total of five sauces most of which were based on reducing stock to build flavour. I was happy to get some good feedback, although I think I still have a tendency to over reduce them a little. The other kitchen activity of the morning was our first real foray into the theme for the week – offal. We prepared, quickly poached and wrapped a foie gras ballantine. Foie gras is a controversial ingredient as it is the fattened liver of a duck or goose, traditionally done by force feeding the birds through tubes. We were told this isn’t generally the case these days as duck and geese are migratory birds and will gorge themselves, so foie gras is often produced by the birds feeding naturally. Putting the ethics to one side, it is an interesting ingredient to work with as it does feel like butter due to the high fat content which it is prized for. Our ballantines were hung in the fridge to be eaten later in the week.

The afternoon theory lesson was offal (the lesson itself wasn’t offal, but I had to get that joke in somewhere!). I am not a particularly fussy person when it comes to food, but I have to admit a few things on this week’s menu had me feeling a little nervous. Theory at least felt safe as I wasn’t being asked to eat any of it… just yet.

Fillet Steak with Peppercorn sauce, Celeriac Purée, Wild Mushrooms, Broad and Green Beans

Tuesday’s lunch dish lured us into a false sense of security for the food this week as it starred fillet steak. The steaks came in as a full fillet and were wrapped in cling film to make them a more uniform shape which would produce a tall thin steak rather than a wide flat one. This is partially aesthetic but also means you can achieve a lovely gradient on the cook from the caramelised outside (thanks to the wonderful maillard reaction of the sugars as they brown) and the medium rare centre. That was a fairly long description of the steak, as you can tell – I liked this steak! We served it with some really earthy accompaniments; wild mushrooms, celeriac purée and a peppercorn sauce (sixth sauce in two days). Needless to say it was delicious and I ate every last bite, which was good because the afternoon dish was even less tasty than the snails from last week – kidneys.

Lamb’s Kidneys

I don’t know how many of you have eaten kidneys before? I think I’ve only ever had them in a pie – steak and kidney presumably and as we’ve covered already, I like steak, so that disguises the kidneys! For this dish we prepared them two ways, one diced and put through the meaux mustard sauce (seventh sauce!), the other was prepared, butterflied and pan fried. The preparation involves removing some of the less edible bits of the kidney (I wasn’t sure where to stop!). The dish was also quite representative of the colour of our dishes this week; brown kidney, brown sauce and brown mushroom – much as I want to cook with love I struggled to make this dish look loved and lovely! Baking the mushroom was also how I managed my burn on the oven shelf – a nice cosy 220° oven at that. I am totally dramatising every inch of this for effect, It wasn’t bad as you can see! I made it slightly worse by scraping it twice later in the week, but it barely hurt and was nothing compared to other burns I’ve witnessed in kitchen!

The over-exaggerated burn!

Wednesday sounded a little more appealing with calves liver (which we were told was in a different league to the kidney) and oxtail, which is at least meat not organs! We also prepared our faggots which would form one of Friday’s four delights. For those of you who don’t know, faggots are a mix of the heart, liver, and kidney of lamb, with a little rump steak to soften the blow. These are mixed with breadcrumbs and herbs and then wrapped in caul fat. Caul fat (or crépinette) is the stomach lining of an animal (pig in our case) and is like a strange webbing of fat and a very thin membrane. It is the traditional casing for sausages and has no real flavour of its own despite it sounding slightly unpleasant! Before ours were wrapped I was encouraged by my partner to try the mix… raw. I should have mentioned it also had raw egg in it! I am proud to say I did try it (twice as we had to reseason it) but it isn’t something I’m going to rush to repeat!

The calves liver was served with a really tasty shallot tart tatin, parsnip purée, parsnip crisps and our eighth sauce of the week – red wine jus. I am surprised to say that I did enjoy the liver a little more than I’d imagined, but probably I wouldn’t choose it in a restaurant above, for example, steak!

Pan Fried Calves Liver, with Shallot Tart Tatin, Parsnip Purée and Crisps, and a Red Wine Jus

Thursday was the final day in the kitchen and the menu of the four dishes looked about as appetising as the previous Friday’s menu – sweetbreads, pig’s cheek, faggots and foie gras. We started with the foie gras and it was easily my second favourite dish of the week. It tastes very similar to a smooth chicken liver parfait with a slightly less strong flavour. We served it with a Sauternes jelly (a sweet French wine), smoked apple purée and spelt bread made earlier in the week. It was an elegant dish, rich in flavour and wonderfully contrasting textures (photo at the top of the post).

The sweetbreads were coated in seasoned flour and pan fried. To recap from last week – sweetbreads are veal glands (thyroid or pancreas) so I fried them until they resembled chicken nuggets! They were served with a range of spiced accompaniments; cauliflower florets, curry foam and a raisin purée. I was particularly invested in the fate of the raisin purée as I was given the task of blending it for the class. This was a fairly small task until I asked Chef if I should pass the purée through a sieve as it was still quite grainy. I then spent about 25 minutes getting RSI while my partner did all of the work for our dishes! This dish featured our first foam of the course, and it didn’t do much to convert me to foams. It was created by making a curry flavoured cream and finally adding milk which is then blended with a hand blender to produce bubbles. It wasn’t the most stable of foams and turned back into a curry cream fairly quickly. The dish had some nice flavours but I’m still not a fan of sweetbreads (and it was another all brown dish and therefore not worthy of a photo in the blog!).

Twice cooked pig’s cheeks with Aubergine Caviar, Sauce Vierge and Crackling

Next was pig’s cheeks which we prepared earlier in the week, wrapping the cheek back in the surrounding meat and fat and braising it. It was later panéd (coated in egg, flour, and breadcrumbs) and fried then served with aubergine and sauce vierge (sauce number nine!). The aubergine was artistically called aubergine caviar and I’ve not really worked out why. It was roasted with herbs and garlic, scraped out of the skin and roughly chopped – producing more of a loose mash than a caviar! The dish was tasty, but I prefer pigs cheeks slowly cooked so they fall apart rather than keeping them wrapped in the fat and then frying them.

The final dish was our faggots, served with a polenta cake and our second foam of the week – horseradish. I tried the faggots and think I preferred them raw – at least then I was expected to only taste a small amount! Again it was a fairly brown dish with soft textures so it was a hard one to plate.

Faggots

Although this hasn’t been my favourite week for food (there were no puddings!) it has been really enjoyable. On a few occasions Chef Phil challenged us with service times to (try to) hit and has really pushed us to remember the basics of professional kitchen skills: work neat, tidy and focus. Repeating sauces so many times has really helped improve my understanding of such a vital skill in the kitchen – I just hope I don’t forget it all next week! I’ve been slightly accident prone this week, I’ve actually got a second small burn that I don’t know the origin of, and far more impressively I fell up the escalator at the train station half way through writing this blog post! It was a very strange sensation to fall up something which itself was still moving up as I was falling down! My almost immediate reaction was to find the whole thing quite amusing (after I’d picked myself up that is!).

The nerves are building for next week’s assessments of course. I’ve spent the weekend doing lots of practice in my kitchen back home, which is why I skipped out on the opportunity to do paperwork at school on Friday with the rest of my classmates, and instead got a train home Thursday night to maximise my time (and while dashing for a train improve my chances of making a fool of myself of course!). I just have to hope that even though the last six weeks have flown by in a complete blur that I have learned a lot, improved a lot, and can put it all into practice.

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 11

Week 11 has been an odd week, week 13’s assessments are looming which has shifted the focus off of assignment work and with only six weeks to go until the assignment is due in the pressure is building! All of which is not great timing as I spent Monday evening cooking for, and Tuesday evening feeding ten of my classmates to continue our tradition (and finally holding up to my previous promise to make dinner!). Happily the two massive lasagnas got demolished and there was a little left to feed Hubby at the weekend! But I’m jumping ahead – back to Monday…

Overlooking the rainbow

We had Chef Ross teaching us again this week and the theme was a tour of European food including some French delights and some good old Welsh favourites. Monday was a little different though as we started with another field trip – this time to The Husbandry School a few miles down the road. The school is owned by husband and wife team; Jonty and Carole, and is an education centre for the ancient practice of husbandry. Carole summarised husbandry as taking care of the boundaries of what you are responsible for, everything in it and everything it affects. In order to prove that this traditional art goes beyond theory Jonty and Carole bought a 47 acre plot of land and turned it from no more than mud and grass into the beautiful self sustainable farm and school that it is today. It is a continuous work in progress, helped along by students and volunteers. Among the gers (yurts), fields, pigs, potting sheds and poly tunnels it’s an amazing place to feel inspired and see how much can be created from nothing with a bit of planning and some hard graft. We were met with wind, rain, and glorious sunshine during our visit making the landscape all the more beautiful, as you can see from the photos above and below.

The Husbandry School

Monday afternoon was back to school for a skills session revisiting things we’d been taught previously: gnocchi, galantine of quail, and a chicken mousseline. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to reproduce any of those elements as well I had the first time, so I’m apparently disproving the theory that practice makes perfect!

Sea Salt and Paprika Biscuits

Tuesday was mostly cheese and fish, happily not on the same plate. We made biscuits to have with a cheese platter first, which was quite good fun. I added paprika to half of my dough so I had a variety of flavours. Given this involved rolling out small quantities of dough, cutting and decorating them, I was in playdough heaven! We also made a walnut and raisin bread which was delicious if slightly dangerous while kneading – there were walnuts (and shards of sugar in my case) flying everywhere. In future I will ensure I don’t accidentally create a caramel with the sugar prior to adding it to my bread! Our lunch was the salmon gravadlax which had been prepared the week before, served with the walnut and raisin bread. The remaining fishy work for the day was to fillet seabass and mackerel which would both be featured in dishes the following day. We also did our first savoury soufflé of the course – a twice baked blue cheese soufflé. I gave this a try, but unfortunately blue cheese is still a taste I haven’t quite acquired yet!

Seabass Carpaccio with Capers, Cornichons, Baby Leeks and a Citrus Dressing

Wednesday started with a really busy morning of prep, and some pretty lousy cooking on my part. Eleven weeks into my culinary diploma Chef Rob had to stand with me to poach an egg as I had messed up my first two! Next I thought I’d burned the base for the curry oil but I just about got away with it, still it wasn’t a great start to the morning! The first dish of the day was the seabass, made into a small tasting plate as a carpaccio. I loved the dish as it was light and fresh – the perfect way to wet your appetite. I was also quite pleased with my plating (which always seems to help me enjoy a dish!). For the next dish the mackerel had been marinading overnight in a light pickle with veg which was slightly less to my taste. I’ve actually made that style of mackerel on a recreational course at the school previously and it isn’t my favourite way to prepare mackerel. The pickle only lightly cooks the fish so it all ends up a bit too fishy for me! The third meal of the day (which is where not enjoying a plate and therefore not eating much of it comes in handy!) was welsh rarebit, made with a beer based cheese sauce, which was new to me. The sauce was fairly bitter when tasted on its own but accompanied with the toasted walnut bread and the (third and correctly) poached egg it came together as a balanced hearty pub meal. The take home dish was falafels and pitta bread, both of which I will be making again in future. They were so superior to the supermarket versions, which is all I’ve tasted previously. I especially recommend adding some chilli jam from the South Devon Chilli Farm, yum yum!

Mackerel Escabeche with Cucumber Salad and Chive Greek Yoghurt, served with Walnut and Raisin Bread

Thursday was tapas day, the morning was spent putting together a selection of five tapas dishes – patatas bravas, albondigas meatballs, risotto balls filled with mozerella, mackerel potato salad on ciabatta and a watermelon granita. As there were so many small dishes to be put together we ended up eating lunch around half two, which I think is a record late lunch! The albondigas meatballs and suppli risotto balls were particularly worth the effort in my mind. One element of the tapas selection which definitely took the most effort however was ciabatta. We’d made the bigga (the starter) the day before for it to develop overnight. This is the wettest bread we have made so far, which is what gives it the distinctive air pockets. The dough is so wet it has to be beaten with a spoon rather than kneaded – which is time consuming and tiring! Happily I was working opposite my friend who turned the exercise into a ciabatta HIIT work out (high intensity interval training)! We beat the dough for 30 seconds and had a ten second rest on repeat for about fifteen minutes which at the very least made up for the fact that I’ve not managed an actual HIIT session all week!

Little and Large Ciabatta

The main event of the afternoon was to tackle the pigs trotters! Chef Rob had raved about them all week and even felt the need to bring out a trotter the day before and show it around. It was all fun and games until one of the students high fived it and splattered pig juice on my face – cheffing is such a glamorous life!! The idea was to debone almost all of the trotter so that you end up with just skin and toes – an unfathomable idea to all of us bar one, the youngest person in the group who happily announced – “I like feet!” which had us laughing for some time! I was fairly pleased with my effort at deboning my trotter but could have done with practising on at least one more – it’s one of those processes which you can’t understand until you’ve done it yourself. However I suspect that might be the last trotter I debone… ever.

Trotter!

The final day of the week was the most challenging on our pallets as our European tour took us to France to enjoy snails, frogs legs and the aforementioned pigs trotter. I quite enjoyed prepping the little frogs legs (I’m odd I know) and they actually made a really tasty dish! They do in fact taste like chicken, just as everyone always says. The honey and mustard glaze made them sticky and sweet and is something I would happily do in the future, although admittedly it would probably be with chicken! The snails were unpopular with everyone in the class (with Feet Boy being the one exception); they were unpleasant to prepare and even more unpleasant to eat. Perhaps coating the snails in layers of garlic butter would have made them more palatable – but the texture is chewy and slimy and given that they don’t taste of anything themselves I don’t quite see the point. Amazingly they were fairly expensive at £1 per snail but they didn’t all go to waste as Feet Boy had a few of our portions!

Honey and Mustard Glazed Frogs legs with Confit Potatoes, Panéd quails eggs, Leek Purée, Honey and Soy Dressing. Snail salad featured in the background!

The pigs trotter was unfortunately not made much more pleasant sounding as it was stuffed with a chicken mousseline, which is chicken pureed then mixed with sweetbreads. Sweetbreads are the pancreas or thyroid glands of lamb or calves, not bits of brioche unfortunately! I actually didn’t mind the taste of the dish, if you cook the trotter right it is similar to braised pork belly (the fat though, not the meat!). I definitely ate more of the veg and mash than the rest of the dish, but I was just pleased that it wasn’t as bad as the snails. I also went away a little less hungry that day than the former vegan of the group!

Stuffed Braised Pig Trotters with Creamed Potatoes, Baby Vegetables and Braising Jus

It’s been a varied week to say the least with some delicious dishes and some not so much, but it’s all good preparation for next week which is offal week. This wasn’t my favourite week of the course, but I know it’s good to learn the techniques for such classic dishes – especially as you’re not going to be cooking for yourself in a professional kitchen! Although I would say if this week has taught me anything it’s that not everything that’s edible should be eaten!

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 10

The end of week 10 means one thing – I am half way through this incredible journey. My morning walk to school is once again joined by children in school uniform walking to their school. Their absence for the last two and a half months is not something I’d actually noticed until they were back! The fact that a whole summer holiday has passed in the time I’ve been at Ashburton is a strange thought. Summer holidays used to feel like they stretched on forever, and yet the last 10 weeks have whizzed by at great speed.

Chocolate Teardrop, Raspberry Mousse, and Raspberry Coulis

Chef Dave was back teaching us this week, I’m not sure if we’ve matured much (at all) as a group (I did get a slight ticking off for being childish first thing Monday morning!), however it seemed like we worked as a more well-oiled team than back in week 5 when Dave last taught us. Monday was a sugar skills day; making meringues, truffle mix, caramel, and frosted nuts. Frosting is not something I’ve heard of, but having seen it demoed the first thing which came to mind was Frosties – the nutritious breakfast cereal! The idea is to do what you would never do when making a caramel – agitate the hell out of it while the sugar is melting to force it to crystallise. This means that rather than forming a caramel you end up with clumps of crystallised sugar covering the hazelnuts (or you end up with a much tastier praline as two of my fellow students did!). It was valuable following that process first as when we next made a proper caramel to do some sugar work with it was easier to understand what we were trying to avoid. Once we had all made a caramel we played around pulling sugar, making springs and hazelnut spears. This was actually a bit of a theme this week; we were taught a technique and then left to play around with it for 45 minutes to see what we could produce (mostly a mess in my case!).

Sugar springs, pulled sugar, and hazelnut spears

Monday afternoon was meant to be a theory lesson on sugar, fruit, and venison. Dave started by handing out the food orders for this term’s assessments in week 13, and then taught some theory on weighing. It sounds ridiculous that you would have to do a theory lesson on weighing but you’d be amazed how helpful it was to know how much an average portion of a particular herb or vegetable actually weighs. For our final assignment we need to order all of our food, but we’re also costing up for the fictional events each day, one day being a wedding for 100 people. Our costs would be badly affected if we were to miscalculate how much an ingredient weighs, and equally if we miscalculate how much of that ingredient we would actually need. Weights, costing and sundries all seemed straightforward to Chef Dave but somehow sent most of us into a spin. Our confusion probably wasn’t helped by a sense of feeling a little overwhelmed by all the work we have left to do for the final term without then being handed the work for this term’s assessments! Dave was probably quite happy to see the back of us that afternoon, but we all left feeling a bit muddled and behind on work – something I spent most of my evenings trying to rectify!

Pan Fried Loin of Venison wrapped in Parma Ham, Honey Baked Figs, Wild Mushrooms, Broccoli and Truffle Purée, Pommes Anna, and Chocolate Jus

Luckily for everyone we were back in the kitchen on Tuesday where everything was weighed out for us in advance! Most of the morning was working towards our lunch dish of venison. Dave started by butchering another venison saddle for us, this one was quite a bit larger than the Roe we saw last week as it was a Red deer. It was good to see the process repeated again and is honestly something I would quite like to try at home (does that sound as mad as I think it does?). Breaking the deer down into the loins and fillets left us with lots of off-cuts which we used for our sauces, but could also be made into burgers or sausages. That became an on-going lesson this week – how you would use off-cuts and wastage to produce dishes and make money, after all a restaurant is a business. Our lunch dish was venison loin with Anna potatoes, veg and a rich jus. The jus was made as a second stock which is where you follow a similar process to making stock, but rather than adding water you add a base stock. We browned off the bones and off-cuts, reduced some Madeira, sweated onion and garlic, and then added the stock and simmered it. After half an hour the sauce was sieved and then reduced down to a jus consistency. This second stock process gives you a really rich sauce which was finished with a pinch of dark chocolate. That isn’t as odd as it sounds – it didn’t taste of chocolate, we only added enough to add some bitter notes to the taste. Making the sauce was great, unfortunately my Pommes Anna (Anna potatoes) were a tad on the ‘caramelised’ (burnt) side. The rest of the dish was lovely though and I found my appetite for eating full meals had returned with it!

Chocolate Truffles

We made toffee souffles that afternoon (mine was a tad under-cooked so mostly tasted like egg) and an Eton mess with the meringue made the day before. The fun bit was finishing our chocolate truffles. We cut them into portions, coated them in melted dark chocolate and then decorated them how ever we liked, although Dave did ask us to keep it simple so they didn’t come out looking like the work of a child! I was really happy with a few of mine until I looked up and saw the exquisite creations of the lady opposite me and then I felt a tad down trodden! Although they weren’t the prettiest chocolates Chef said they were neat and mostly a good consistent size, and I can vouch for them being rather tasty!

Wednesday started with more chocolate work, this time making teardrops which would later contain a raspberry mousse. Chef Dave showed us the technique which involved spreading the melted chocolate on acetate to make them plain, striped or patterned (using acetate already coated in a cocoa butter design). Once they have cooled down a little you then turn them on their side and form them into a teardrop shape and secure them with a paperclip. So off we went to spend an enjoyable 40 minutes playing around trying to get them neat and structurally sound enough to hold the mousse!

Alternative chocolate teardrops

Our lunch dish that day was lamb rump with nicoise vegetables, smoked garlic puree, and anchovy beignets (anchovy fillets coated in a light batter and deep fried). I don’t know if that sounds like a lot in a sentence but it sure was a lot on the plate. I was really happy with how my plate looked at the start, then I realised I had another five elements to plate, so it ended up looking like a mess! That lack of balance also affected the taste of the dish, they were all quite strong flavours of salt, smoke, and fat. I learned that having less of each element on the plate would have made it a more cohesive dish. All lessons for future plating! It really shows you how you can get the cooking of everything spot on, but actually ruin the taste of the dish just in the plating – which I found quite interesting!

Rump of Lamb, Nicoise Vegetables, Rosti Potato, Anchovy Beignet, Smoked Garlic Purée, Tarragon Jus

Happily that was not the case with plating the chocolate teardrop and raspberry mousse. The raspberry mousse was set with gelatin and piped into the teardrop. Once they were set they were plated with some pink meringues made on Monday and raspberry coulis thickened with Ultratex. Ultratex is a starch thickener which doesn’t require heating or cooling, you just whisk it in bit by bit until you reach the consistency you want, which in our case was enough to hold on the plate rather than run. It’s interesting stuff and probably the first ‘modernist’ ingredient we’ve used. I was really happy with how my dessert looked and the mousse was delicious, especially when topped with some more raspberry coulis – photo at the top of the post.

Tuna Carpaccio with a Japanese Dressing

Thursday morning was something we were all looking forward to – sushi morning. I have actually made sushi in three separate cookery classes before, the first of which was on my honeymoon in the Maldives. I’ve also made it at home a handful of times so I was looking forward to learning some new rolls and techniques. Before we got on to the sushi we made a tuna sashimi dish with a Japanese dressing. The dish was beautiful with really bright clean flavours – and got scoffed pretty quickly! I actually do something very similar at home, but because I never manage to slice my tuna that thin I tend to leave it in the dressing for an hour so the tuna starts to soften and marinade. It was great to learn a different spin on the same ingredients.

Maki, Dragon Rolls, Mosaic Square, Japanese Omelette and Nigiri

We did three different rolls for the sushi; maki, a dragon roll, and a mosaic square. As the names probably suggest these increased in difficulty significantly with each roll. I didn’t have too much trouble with the first two, but the mosaic was a different story! If we had seen the final product cut before we constructed ours it would have helped a lot; it was a bit like doing a puzzle without having see the front of the box first! You construct the mosaic in two stages, first making a small maki with just 4 pieces of cucumber in the centre which is then cut into 4 sections – a slice of cucumber in each. Next you dye some sushi rice pink with some raspberry coulis (yes it is weird, and yes your brain tells you it tastes of raspberry even though there is barely enough to affect the taste!) and you construct another roll, with the first roll inside – but backwards to make corners. As I’m typing this I’m realising it’s not easy to write assembly instructions! Hopefully you can see what I’m trying to describe in the photo. We also made a Japanese omelette (Tomago Yaki), but in a normal frying pan rather than the square type traditionally used. The egg mix is flavoured with soy, mirin and sugar and then you make a thin omelette, roll it over, pour in more mix, and fold it back. You do this as many times as your mix will allow and the end result is an omelette roll. We finished off with some cubes using a sushi gadget and some nigiri. As always with sushi the end result was pretty and very tasty – if surprisingly filling!

The last plated dish of the week was a veal dish with an onion glaze over the top which was popped under the grill. Chef had us taste this and write our own notes on what we thought of our execution (rather than their design of the dish!). My conclusion was that my vegetables were under, and the glaze a little over grilled (black would be another word for it!) but the veal and jus were good. We passed our little comment post-its to Chef for some weekend reading! The final job of the day was to bake pork pies which would be our lunch on Friday and mark them with a little flag so they could be filled with jelly the following morning.

Pork Pie made with Hot Water Crust Pastry

Friday was a day which had been built up by the chefs as one of the most enjoyable demos of the course. Looking at my current word count I know I can never explain just how much it lived up to the praise. The demo was a day with Angus McCaig who is the Head Chef at The Holt at Honiton. The main theme of the demo was on smoking and curing but Angus touched on so many other interesting topics as well. The demo was setup in the dining room with the smoker on the terrace and Angus using the pop-up demo kitchen at the front. He started by cold smoking a vast array of ingredients including chillies, nuts, mozzarella, and milk. The smoker was later used to hot smoke some chicken breasts which had been brined on Monday and were drying out in the fridge for the last few days. This drying out process is one of the key stages of smoking in which a ‘pellicle’ is formed on the skin of the meat or fish allowing the aromatics to penetrate rather than the acrid smoke taste. During the demo we tasted some weird and wonderful things – sansho pepper for example are similar to Szechuan and basically broke my tongue! The salivation and tingling numbness was not something I fancy repeating! The smoked ice cream (made using the smoked milk) was a much more pleasant experience. Other than learning about smoking and curing, which I knew next to nothing about, Angus also taught us about restaurant management, sharpening knives using a wet stone, and other general professional / life tips (“don’t kill anyone, it’s bad for business” was one of my favourites!). He is a really inspiring chef and it was the perfect day to mark our half way point in the course.

Chef Dave concluded the day by thanking us for our enthusiasm, saying he had enjoyed teaching us this week. That means a lot to me as it feels like an enjoyable working environment is a really important part of working in a professional kitchen. I’ve ended the week on such a high, which makes me all the more sad to be halfway through. I did ask if we can start the whole course again and Chef Dave joked I might have to (!) but jokes aside I would love to go back to the start and experience the last three months again. Of course the thought of moving back home with Hubs and the Kitties makes me happy, but the thought of leaving behind Ashburton Cookery School, my little Loft, the Chefs and my friends doesn’t bring me any joy. I’ll just have to remind myself how great the last ten weeks have been, and that the next ten weeks promise to be even better.

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 9

Week 9 has seen a few of us experience a bit of an energy drop, not because it was a particularly intensive week, but I think because being back at school is a bit of a surprise for those of us who left school quite some time ago. There is a lot of work to be done outside of school and a lot of distractions to keep us tired even when we aren’t working! Luckily the week was full of excitement to pick us up including wine tasting, a day trip and most enjoyably – peeling walnuts and polishing grapes!

Wood Pigeon Salad, Apple Puree, Caramel Walnuts, Macerated Raisins, and Micro Cress

We had an admittedly hard start to the week as I had a glass of wine in hand by half 10 Monday morning – that’s just how we chefs roll! I jest of course, it’s because Monday was the day we completed our WSET foundation certificate in wines. It’s a fairly basic course covering different grape varieties and styles of wine and concluded in a 30 question multiple choice exam. The polishing (and peeling!) of the grapes was in order to demonstrate how each part of a grape affects the wine. The sweetness and juice is from the flesh, the skin is where all the tannin comes from and there is a haze on the outside of a grape that includes natural yeast, which can be used in the fermentation of wine (thus the polishing!). All in all the day basically consisted of supping our way through nine wines while (in my case) totally ignoring the presence of the spittoon! I shall find out if my polishing off most of my wines will have an impact on my mark at a later date!

Smoked Eel with New Potatoes, Smoked Mackerel Bon Bons with Lemon Puree, Beetroot and Goats Curd ‘Samosa’, Salsify with Smoked Salmon Crumb, Maple Glazed Pork Belly with Apple Puree

Tuesday looked a little ominous on our curriculum as it was just labelled ‘Canapé challenge’ with no detail of what dishes we’d be cooking. Our chef tutor this week was Stuart and he set about demystifying it for us! The aim of the day was to produce ten different canapés and the challenge aspect was mainly working at a fast pace and completing recipes without a demo. Looking through our booklet for the day was a bit overwhelming as there were 18 pages of recipes. On closer inspection a fair few of the recipes had been completed by Stuart the day before as prep, while we were busy gluggling wine! I was happy to have been paired with one of the quickest chaps in the group this week and we worked well together – having a laugh while getting through the tasks quite quickly. The canapés which we served for lunch were elegant and tasty, particularly the maple glazed pork belly – so naughty and so nice! The afternoon canapés were a little heavier as all three of them were deep fat fried, including a pigs ear goujon, as modelled by my partner for the week! This was my first taste of pigs ears and although the first bite was surprisingly okay I wasn’t that keen on them after a few. Deep fat frying something can cover a lot of strange tastes, but nothing quite masked the chewy cartilage down the middle!

Rory as the BFG (with his pigs ear!)

Wednesday was our first chance to work with game, mainly rabbit and pigeon. Before all the messy butchery though our first task was to start on the puff pastry. This is actually a very similar process to croissants, the main difference being croissants include yeast and are therefore a dough rather than a pastry. The other difference is that there are more turns in puff pastry – a total of six rather than three. Once the pastry and laminated butter were resting in the fridge we moved onto butchering our pigeon. The pigeon was a little larger than the quail we did previously so butchering it was fairly simple. Next we moved onto the rabbit (one of my classmates promptly left at this moment as she has a pet rabbit and had no interest in cutting one to bits!). The rabbit is actually the first four legged animal we butchered completely which made it a bit more of a challenge, well that and the fact that rabbits have next to no meat on them! The rabbits were braised and would eventually be used in two dishes (bulked out by some other game).

Rabbit

The pigeon was made into a ‘salad’ for our lunch that day. According to wikipedia a salad is “a dish consisting of a mixture of small pieces of food, usually featuring vegetables”. Our salad was pigeon, apple puree, caramelised (and carefully peeled) walnuts, raisins macerated in port, and some micro cress. My plate contained around five sprigs of cress, which in my mind doesn’t quite push it into salad territory! Aside from my quibbling on the name it was a tasty dish (if a little on the sweet side) and it gave me the chance to do some more crescent plating – photo at the top of the post.

The rest of the day was finishing off braising our rabbit while getting the turns done on our puff, which are two activities I wouldn’t recommend doing simultaneously! Puff pastry needs to remain cold while you’re turning it or the butter starts to melt and seep out, meaning doing it next to a steaming pot isn’t ideal! Luckily Stu saw we were all having a bit of a tricky time and we left the final two turns for the following day. That evening I took myself off to the local salon and had my hair cut shorter again to suit my chef training lifestyle, then we all enjoyed a delicious meal together cooked by one of my classmates and eaten at one of the local pubs. This was reviving a tradition we had started the term before, but stopped when it was my go because I wimped out as we had too much work to do for assessments!

Rabbit Cobbler

On Thursday we finished off our two rabbit dishes; a cobbler topped with savoury Parmesan scones and a game pie using the mix and pastry made the day before. The cobbler was homely and tasty, although I didn’t manage to eat much of it. This was mostly because I was so hungry before lunch that the moment the scones came out of the oven my partner and I scoffed a few! So despite using a bowl half the size of everyone else’s I still had a fair amount left. I’m also starting to wonder if being around rich food all day does something odd to your appetite as I’ve started to pick at food rather than sit down to eat a full plate. Or maybe that’s my body telling me to slow down on the butter!

Raspberry Mille-Feuille

The afternoon was time to assemble our three desserts using the puff pastry – Gateau Pithivier, Apple Tart Tatin with Calvados Cream and a Raspberry Mille-Feuille (now there is a sentence that causes a few red spelling squiggles!). We plated our Mille-Feuille (meaning ‘thousand leaf’) for assessment and the others were just for eating! I was pleased to get good feedback on my dish, despite my plating falling short of quite a few of the beautiful plates in the room. I did try a crescent but couldn’t get it to work on the rectangular slate… probably for the best! I was impressed by how well everyone’s pastry turned out, hopefully that’s a sign of how well it will go for us in this term’s assessments!

Tom and the Roe deer

Friday was time for another school trip, this time a visit to Clinton Devon Estates with Tom on the subject of venison. Tom’s story is quite inspiring as the deer are a by-product of managing the forest on the estate. Deer eat trees and when timber is an important part of your business, managing the number of deer becomes equally important. The culled deer were previously going to waste, so Tom (an ex-marine) took some butchery training and started processing the meat to be sold at a local farmers market a few miles down the road. The whole process is done as humanely as possible; as they are wild animals they can’t be rounded up and culled, they are shot in situ using a high powered (massive!) rifle. After being shown the forest to see a small part of the 17,000 acre estate (one of three estates which total to over 25,000 acres) and being introduced to Tom’s very excitable German wire-haired pointer, Gilly, we went to the larder where the deer carcasses are processed. All of the deer at the estate are Roe deer and they are actually much smaller than you may imagine. While continuing to answer our many questions (and join in with our Bambi jokes) Tom skinned one to be butchered back at the school. He also showed us some of the many heads (deer only!) that he keeps in the freezer waiting for his next head boiling day! That isn’t some odd ritual but rather how he removes all of the meat from the skull so that he can hang some of the more striking or interesting antlers in the study.

Game pie

We went back to the school and enjoyed our game pies for lunch (mine complete with appropriate cute rabbit decoration!). Next Tom butchered the venison into the loin, shoulder, and haunch steaks. Stuart pan fried the haunch and loin fillet for us and I can honestly say they were the most delicious venison steaks I have ever eaten. Tom had a great sense of humour and made the day really interesting. He took the time to talk us through the butchery which was great, I suspect this was because he has a real appreciation for the skill as it was something he learned especially to make the best of such a quality by-product.

Having fun at sea!

Despite this week being a short one in the kitchen (and therefore a slightly lighter one on the washing!) it’s felt like a jam packed week. Luckily we’ve had a relaxing weekend in Devon to balance it out. Me, Hubby and three of my classmates had a wonderful day paddling along the Dawlish coast yesterday (me and Hubby donned a nice stable kayak and enjoyed laughing at the other three falling off their paddle boards while doing yoga!). Today’s mission is to buy a desk… you know for all that assignment work I’m desperate to do and apparently quite good at putting off! Next week marks the half way point in our course and that’s something I can’t bear to think about just yet.