Week 16 has probably been one of my favourite weeks of the course. The atmosphere in the kitchen has been much merrier than last week as we’ve all remembered to enjoy every minute of the last week of our typical kitchen routine. I also had a weight lifted as I handed in my assignment on Friday – although Chef Dave practically had to pry it out my hands as I’ve gotten attached to it! I’ve spent so long pouring over ever line and number that it feels a bit odd to hand it over never to be seen again.
Chef Dave led us in the kitchen this week and I realised he has seen us across the most significant stages of the course, week 5, 10 and 15 – each time getting to see how much we’ve progressed in a month. We covered more fine dining this week, although there was a little less emphasis on magic powders and a little more on the ingredients and cooking methods than last week.
On Monday we spent a very enjoyable day making a variety of petit fours, which are little sweet treats traditionally served at the end of a meal, sort of like reverse canapés! We made marshmallows, tarts, Madeleines, rum babas, pate de fruits, and a rather odd chocolate gelee. By the end of the day we had produced a large slate with a sampling of delicacies each with plenty left over to take home (or feed the kitchen porter with as I did!). The marshmallow was particularly fun, made with Italian meringue which is coloured (orange in my case) and set using gelatine. Pate de fruit was an interesting one as well – basically a fruit pastel but less chewy. These were made from passionfruit puree which was boiled to 109˚ and set using pectin. The ingredients included four different types of sugar: caster, glucose, trimoline (an inverted sugar) and granulated sugar to roll them in once they were set – a dentist’s dream! I was least keen on the chocolate gelee which was like a loosely set chocolate custard, or jelly – a bit odd!
Tuesday’s dishes were a wonderful crab parcel for lunch and a roasted poussin dish to plate up in the afternoon followed by a chocolate creameux. The food this week was all pretty stunning but this day was probably a highlight for me which is why every course ended up on Instagram! We made a scallop mousse which was mixed with crab meat and wrapped in a lettuce leaf for the crab parcel. The parcel was then steamed over some lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to impart a little aromatic flavour. This was served with a sauce vierge with some cherry tomatoes which had been drying out in our ovens overnight and were intense, sharp and sweet and really added something to the light dish (photo at the top of the post.)
The afternoon dishes were the final two dishes we’d be covering in our final assessment starting with the poussin. Poussin are baby chickens, usually between 6 and 7 weeks old which means they are rather small, although larger than quail which we’ve dealt with previously. The one really elaborate part of the dish was the leg, which was half deboned then stuffed with a chicken mousseline and sewn back together. I thought it was a little mean to stuff a baby chicken with a pureed adult chicken, but maybe that’s just me! We’ve made quite a few chicken mousselines so far and this is the first one I have managed to split. It was right on the cusp of splitting as I added the reduced Madeira, but by the time it had cooked it was quite obviously split which did have a detrimental effect on texture and taste unfortunately. The mousse did stay in the leg though, clearly my sewing skills are better than my mousseline making skills! I also threaded about six needles for other people! I’d already decided I wasn’t doing the stuffed leg element for my assessment and going through the process confirmed it! Lots of people were left asking if they could bring in pre-threaded needles for the assessment!
The other assessment dish was a dark chocolate creameux made using a special Inaya single estate dark chocolate. We made a crème anglaise, melted the chocolate and emulsified the two using a stick blender and left it to set up in the fridge. It was a simple and delicious dessert (if you know how to make a crème anglaise!) and is one I would happily make again. I found myself eating it for ‘dinner’ several times this week! That may sound like a joke but I am honestly finding the more I’m all focused on cooking food or thinking about cooking food the less I actually cook food outside of school. Typical dinners are now baked beans on toast, pudding or an omelette if I’m feeling particularly energetic!
Wednesday had an odd atmosphere as we were missing three people in class, one due to sickness and another two due to last minute panic to finish their assignments before Friday! That bought us down to a class of 12 and left quite a few people without partners, or re-pairing themselves. Our pod celebrated as we were the only complete pod! I was working with three other ladies this week and we had a great week working together, having a laugh and helping each other out. Unfortunately having patted ourselves on the back for all turning up, all four of us had to repeat the first task of the day as we each messed it up in exactly the same way! We were heating up a sugar syrup to 115˚ create a pâte à bombe base for a parfait. The sugar syrup was poured in a steady stream onto egg yolks and whisked in to create a light fluffy mix, that was the theory anyway. Due to the very small amount of sugar syrup getting an accurate probe reading was quite difficult, and we were reducing rum, pineapple juice, pineapple puree and making a pineapple fluid gel all at the same time! My sugar syrup went to soft ball on contact with my egg yolks, confirming that I’d taken it way above 115˚! I was happy to have made the mistake as you often learn more from a mistake, and it’s best to make them when our tutors are around to help you understand how to rectify it. In the case of my pâte à bombe the fix was to start from scratch which I did quickly followed by the rest of my pod!
My second attempt was a little better, but went slightly the other way, my sugar wasn’t quite hot enough which meant my mix was a little too loose and split on freezing – this was clearly my week for splitting things! The rest of the day was a little more in my comfort zone including filleting fish and making pasta. The fish was a John Dory, pictured above which was a first for us. As well as being an interesting (ugly) looking fish, it has a slightly odd structure where the fillet is almost in three pieces, and it has spiky barbs all over as well as big long spines! As we were so many people down I got to fillet and cook an extra fish, I took it all home and ate the lot for dinner!
Thursday and our last day of school came along too quick. We were still down three students and there was a bit of an end of term feeling in the air. Our lunch dish had been cooking in the sous vide bath since Monday – short rib of beef. Once out of the bags it was rubbed with a leek ash which is much tastier than it sounds! We made a silky olive oil mash to accompany it along with glazed baby vegetables and a quick jus. For extra flair the beef and mash were plated then covered with a clouche which was filled with smoke! We all had fun filming the reveal as the cloche is removed and the smoke billows above the dish. The dish had style and substance as it was packed with flavour. I did attempt to leave a piece for Hubs but unfortunately taking it home on the train just wasn’t practical!
The second to last dish was salmon poached in a vanilla oil at 56˚ so that it comes out looking almost unchanged despite being cooked. This was served with a mussel and clam chowder, a rich but still delicate dish.
The final fun of the day was to make macarons – the beautiful brightly coloured shells complete with tasty fillings. We made the shells with an Italian meringue which gives them more stability and makes them a little more foolproof. As there was a much larger quantity of sugar syrup in this mix we were able to correctly measure the temperature and make a great meringue which was then mixed into the almond, flour, and egg white mix. Once you’ve got your meringue correct the next knack is to stir the mix exactly the right amount – too little and the mix will be stiff and won’t form smooth shells, too much and it will be loose and flat. My partner and I piped beautifully smooth shells (fluke?) which Chef Dave hinted might have been the best in the room – whoop! We coloured ours with the purple colouring, so were surprised by the deep pink colour we ended up with! I initially named the colour ‘unicorn vomit’ but I ended up quite liking it once the shells were piped and baked.
The afternoon felt alarmingly relaxed as we went and had tea while waiting for the remainder of our shells to bake off. Usually with the exception of our 20-30 minute lunch break we work non-stop from morning until the end of clean-up so this was a first. After our tea break we filled our macarons with yogurt-mascarpone mix, chocolate ganache and lemon curd. I swapped some of my shells for a few from the other groups so that I could get the colourful array in my photo. It was nice to see all of our work on one plate as by this point I was feeling a little sentimental!
Friday was a short day. A recruiter came to talk to us in the morning about how getting a job as a chef differs from other jobs and what to expect from interviews and employers. We then handed in our assignments (or had them wrestled from us!) and left for a longer weekend.
I’m really sad to have ended the usual teaching phase of our course but really happy to have a whole month left (with the exception of the dreaded assessment week!). It has been a fantastic week to end on and Chef Dave encouraged and praised us as a class which meant I left all aglow!
Hubs was asking me how it felt to have come so far since week one – the answer is hard to put into words. I’ve learnt a lot and somehow feel I know less now than I felt I knew at the start! The one thing I do know for sure is that I picked the right school for me. The Chef tutors have taught us with such energy and passion and they’re selfless with their time inside and outside of class, something which I’m extremely grateful for. At this point I just wish there were more than four weeks before my Ashburton bubble is burst!