Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 16

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.

Steamed Aromatic Crab and Scallop Parcel with Sauce Vierge

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!

Lemon and Raspberry Tarts, Pear and Almond Tarts, Baby Rum Babas, Honey and Orange Madeleines, Passionfruit Pate De Fruits, Marshmallows and Milk Chocolate Gelee

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.)

Roasted Poussin stuffed with Sweetcorn, Truffle and Ham, served with Baby Leeks and Wild Mushrooms

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!

Chocolate Cremeaux with Pistachio Tuille and Raspberry Fluid Gel

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!

John Dory

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!

John Dory with Linguini, Pancetta and Shrimp Beurre Blanc

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!

Slow Cooked Short Ribs with Olive Oil Mash, Baby Vegetables and Madeira Jus

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.

Salmon Poached in Spiced Olive Oil with Sweet Potato, Pancetta, Mussel and Clam Chowder

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.

Macaron Shells

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!

Macarons filled with chocolate ganache, lemon curd, and yoghurt and mascarpone

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!

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 15

Week 15 has been a varied week, both in skills we’ve been taught and in everyone’s mood. We’re all working hard on our assignments as they are due in next week, meaning we’re working most of the evening as well as learning all day at school. Consequentially everyone is pretty stressed and there have been days where there has been tension in the kitchen and also days where we all laugh to stop ourselves from crying hysterically! My body has reacted in the classic way to stress and I’ve caught a cold which hasn’t made me massively popular as I’ve drugged up and gone into school anyway because I don’t want to miss a day which I would never get back, especially as the remaining days are dwindling rapidly.

Hake with Parmesan Curry Crust, Cauliflower and Coconut Purée, Roasted Onions, Lime Emulsion and Coconut Foam

The theme of this week and next is fine dining and we’ve been led by Chef Alan this week who is quite meticulous which suits the theme! He also gives very clear instructions and demos which has been great in such a technical week. Fine dining has meant trying to perfect the simple things and also playing around with some more complex ingredients (mostly through the power of powders!).

Our experimentation into modernist techniques started on Monday with isomalt – a sugar substitute often found in sugar free sweets as it has no affect on blood sugar levels. It comes in a coarse powder which you melt in water (as you would with sugar) to create an indirect caramel. Isomalt is less sweet than sugar and you can reach a brittle stage while it is still clear. We used it to create glass shards with pistachio, pine nuts and black sesame seeds, and also to create some olive oil spheres. To create the spheres we dropped olive oil through a thin skin of isomalt caramel into a jug of corn oil. The caramel solidifies on touching the cold oil and encases the olive oil inside it. The shards were a bit more simple as the nuts and seeds were combined into the caramel, poured onto a surface and rolled between two sheets of baking paper to a fine glass.

Ricotta and Pickled Watermelon garnished with Olive Oil Spheres, Balsamic Pearls and Isomalt Shards

My partner and I found out that the success of these really hinged on taking the caramel to a high enough temperature – we had to redo our shard as it was more of a tacky clump than a sheet of glass and despite our spheres looking great they stuck together and leaked out most of the oil. Luckily I was working with a good friend this week so we had a giggle while attempting to rectify the problem!

One of our morning tasks was to compress watermelon in a vacuum bag with a sweet pickle – this forces the pickle into the watermelon firming it up and making it really take on the flavour. We also made ricotta which was surprisingly easy, it just required heating milk and cream until it reached 90° then curdling it with lemon juice and leaving it to hang. The ricotta formed the focus of the dish with the isomalt and watermelon elements as a starter. It was good fun to make but the isomalt didn’t do much for me (especially as ours was still tacky enough to stick to your teeth), the more simple elements of the ricotta and watermelon were the star of the dish for me.

We also did a lamb dish with ratatouille stuffed in patty pan (tiny squash) and a prune souffle that day, which leaned more towards letting basic ingredients shine than the technical ricotta dish. All in all it was a great day to kick off the fine dining week – balancing simple and technical to create an interesting menu.

Venison Loin with Black Treacle, Salt Baked Carrots, Shallot Purée, Roasted Salsify, Carrot Purée and Venison Jus

We did more vaccum packing on Tuesday, this time to steam and sous vide some elements. Sous vide means ‘under vacuum’ but is more associated with slow cooking the vacuum packed items in a low temperature bath. I’m lucky enough to have the same sous vide machine as the school (a very generous 30th birthday present from my family) so it’s a technique I already enjoy at home. The venison loin was sous vide with black treacle at 54° for half an hour. We then seared it and served it with a silky smooth carrot puree (the carrots had been steamed in a vac bag with lots of butter!), salt baked carrots, salsify, an onion puree and a jus.

Perfectly Cooked Duck Egg, Wild Mushroom Ragout, Sourdough Croute, Truffle and Frisee Lettuce

For the afternoon dish we sous vide a duck egg at 64.5° for 45 minutes which was served with a delicious wild mushroom ragout including some beautiful crimson waxcaps, which we were assured were safe to eat! That dish was probably my favourite of the whole week, it was rich but delicate and a real pleasure to eat. The pudding of the day was cheats panna cotta using iota carrageenan which is a seaweed based gelling agent, the mix just needed to be heated to above 85° to activate and cooled to below 40° to set – quick and fairly easy, I could get used to all this magic!

The highlight of Wednesday was the goats cheese pithivier made with rough puff pastry, the lowlight was when I started feeling rather ill. We’d made our rough puff the day before, it took about 30 minutes of effort and had us all wondering why anyone ever makes proper puff pastry! Our white powder of the day was transglutaminase, a meat glue which we used to stick together the breasts of a squab pigeon (a tiny bit Frankenstein?). The rest of our rough puff pastry was used for an apple tart fine served with toffee ice cream and Calvados caramel (which we very nearly forgot to put the Calvados in!).

Goats Cheese Pithivier, Courgette and Walnut Salad

Thursday was coconut day as it featured in three elements across our two dishes. The solo white powder of the day was soy lecithin (unless you count bicarbonate of soda!) which we used as a thickening agent to create the coconut foam for our hake lunch dish. It made a much more stable foam than our last attempt of just frothing up an infused milk and cream mix, but still didn’t do much for me – I’d always vote purees above foams! Happily the foam didn’t detract from the delicious hake dish which had a wonderful umami Parmesan crust and a lime emulsion (similar to a mayonnaise) which was a sharp complimentary flavour and texture (photo at the top of the post).

Coconut Parfait, Apple Jelly, Pandan Curd, Yogurt and Puffed Rice

The only other magic looking item of the day was the potion-green coloured jelly that my partner and I made to accompany our coconut parfait and pandan curd! Unfortunately it was properly traffic light green due to the amount of food colouring powder we used (you honestly need about three grains and we tipped the scales at six!). Pandan is a leaf used in East Asian cooking to infuse things rather than be eaten (who wants to be gnawing on a leaf!) and the best way to describe its aroma is that of jasmine rice. My curd didn’t seem to take on much of an infusion so was more a straight lime curd but was still delicious!

Spicy Quinoa and Chickpea Burgers with Beetroot and Blue Cheese, Milk Burger Bun, Triple Cooked Chips, Fennel Coleslaw and Mayonnaise

Friday’s lunch was more traditional comfort pub fair and had no modernist elements: Veggie burger, chips, coleslaw and mayonnaise! As we’re at culinary school we’d obviously made every element including the enriched dough for the buns and triple cooked the chips, which were especially delicious! After lunch we made some choux pastry and picked through some crab meat then combined the two to make a light dish of crab beignets served with some pickled carrots and a yoghurt dressing with the remains of the yoghurt made earlier in the week.

Our modernist techniques were being saved for the final dish of the week, ‘fried egg and toast’ using reverse spherification. Spherification is the process of setting a liquid into ‘caviar’, reverse spherification sets a gel around the liquid rather than setting the liquid itself, meaning that when the set membrane is burst the liquid oozes out. The two essential ingredients are calcium lactate and sodium alginate – simplistically if you reverse what part of the process you use them in, you reverse the effect. In our case we were setting the alginate as a membrane around our mango puree, to create the effect of an egg yolk when they are burst. I really enjoyed this, and even drove home with some mango spheres to show Hubs! To complete the magic we used iota carrageenan (previously used to set the panna cotta), to set a coconut ‘jelly’ as our egg white and toasted thin slices of gingerbread loaf made the day before. The whole effect was wonderful and fun, although I was a little unhappy with the messy plating of mine and the fact that I burnt my ‘toast’! I’m not sure how I’m still so prone to burning toast 15 weeks into culinary school!!

Coconut and Mango ‘Egg’ with Toasted Gingerbread

I’ve really loved the techniques we’ve learned this week, some I feel are a lot more effective than others (spherification yes, isomalt not so much!). I’m sad to say battling my cold took away some of the pleasure of the week, and my triumph of smashing my phone by dropping it screen down just after filming the last demo of the week wasn’t exactly the finale I was looking for! I’m looking forward to continuing the fine dining theme next week – our final week of proper school! We’ve got a dining club event the following week where we cook for paying customers (eek!) and our final assessments in week 18. Focusing on all the work I’ve got to do is distracting me from the terror of how my diploma is nearing an end and in just over a month’s time I’m going to be back in the real world trying to find a job. Has anyone got a time machine I could borrow?

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 14

Week 14 kicked off the term with two styles of food very different to what we’ve learned so far – Thai and Indian. Unfortunately it’s also been a tough week outside of school, full of things going slightly wrong which cascaded when mixed with the pressure of work. To complete the intense week I also did a day of work experience in a pub kitchen on a rather busy Saturday!

Tom Kah Hed – Galangal Soup with Seafood and Coconut Cream

The week was lead by Chef Rob again, which is always a pleasure as he has very high standards and pushes us to stick to them. He also has a very infectious level of enthusiasm which brings every recipe and task to life. Finally Rob happens to know quite a lot about Thai and Indian food, which helped!

Thai and Indian ingredients

We started the week with a demo day which was a relaxing way to start term with Rob cooking us all sorts of delights while we jotted down a few notes. We walked into the dining room to be met by an incredible aroma coming from the wonderful array of authentic ingredients laid out on on the table – half of which we had to guess (Google) in order to work out what they were. Me and Hubs did a cookery course while we were in Thailand just before I started Ashburton (how is it possible that was only four months ago?!) so they weren’t all as unfamiliar as they could have been. It was a pleasurable day spent munching on Eastern delights until it came to the durian challenge. I have been aware of durian for quite a while but have managed to avoid trying it. For anyone who hasn’t sampled the delight, the reason it’s a challenge is because although they are fabled to taste like mango-y custard they smell like rotting flesh. It’s a smell which immediately transported me to the far East, but I definitely wouldn’t call it pleasant. I did manage to eat my bit without spitting it out (unlike some!) but given we eat with our noses it wasn’t the nicest thing I’d eaten all day.

The first two days in the kitchen were on Thai food – starting with a lunch comprised of hot and sour soup with some Thai snacks. The hot and sour soup was delicious but due to my average spice tolerance I preferred the galangal soup we made on Wednesday, which is more mellow and creamy. Over the two days we also covered two of the most well known curries – green curry and massaman, both using pastes we’d made in class (of course!). All of the Thai food depended on balancing the four Thai flavour profiles in the dish: hot, sour, sweet and spicy.

Poh Pia Tod, Tod Mun Pla and Tom Yum Kung – Thai Spring Rolls, Fish Cakes and Hot and Sour Soup

Incredibly with the exception of risotto and sushi this was our first time cooking rice in class. Chef Rob commented with slight bemusement that some people struggle to cook rice (ahem, me before I discovered the microwave rice cooker!) when it’s very simple to do. Never one to make life easy I went on to prove that cooking rice is hard, especially if you turn the hob off every few minutes! Incredibly our sticky rice did end up cooked just in time and we used half of it to make a rather yummy dessert topped with fried pineapple. Not as yummy as the coconut sorbet Chef made on Tuesday – coconut milk infused with Thai aromats and spices and then frozen, served with chopped chilli and lime stirred through it. It was just missing a large dash of rum and then I could have been back on a beach in Koh Samui!

Krathak, Peek Gai Yat Sai Goo and Tom Ka Hed – Tiger Prawn Firecrackers, Spicy Chicken Wings and Galangal Soup

During the first two days my out-of-school mishaps started with me getting a really bad twinge in my back which led to some pretty painful tightening up of my whole neck and shoulders in class. That’ll teach me for getting back into HIIT exercise and then mixing it up with some yoga when I have no idea what I’m doing! I dosed myself up on Ibuprofen and did my best to chop while not looking down.

Charred Aubergine for the Vangyache Bhareet – Roasted Aubergine with Yoghurt

We moved onto Indian food on Thursday and Friday which meant a lot less peeling galangal and garlic and a lot more slicing onions! Every curry (with the exception of one) started with a curry paste which was then blended and fried off to make the base of the curry. Although they all have similar spices it’s amazing how different they all tasted and how unrecognisable they were from what you receive at your average Indian take away! I felt like I could relax a little more on the second day as most of what I thought I was going to plan for my assignment (and final assessment) was covered on the first day. However we ended up doing an incredible charred aubergine side dish on Friday which won me over totally, it had so few ingredients (tomatoes, red onion, yoghurt and chilli) but packed so much flavour. I’m hoping to use it to convert my slime-vegetable-fearing husband to loving aubergine!

Vangyache Bhareet – Charred Aubergine with Yoghurt, Tandoori Chicken and Naan Bread

Thursday was also the day of out-of-school mishaps two and three. My SIM card decided to totally die on Wednesday night, apparently they have a life span – who knew?! I then made it all a little worse by factory resetting my phone causing me to also lose access to WhatsApp as it sends a text for authorisation at setup. This meant I was now cut-off from pretty much every method of chatting to my family and friends! This chain of events then lead me to miss my first 20 minutes of class while on hold with Vodafone at the front desk at school. I did my best to ask fellow students to stall class which must have worked a bit as luckily I didn’t miss anything – hurrah! That night my friend very kindly took me to Newton Abbot just in time to pop into the shop and grab a new SIM card. Just before getting in her car the handles broke off the top of my paper bag of curry delight dropping the whole bag to the floor (it really has been my week!). What I hadn’t realised was the fall split the bottom of one of the boxes, so I unknowingly left her car with tumeric curry stain all over the mat. That’s the last time she ever offers me a lift anywhere!

Aloo Mutter Masala, Nargisi Kofte and Roti – Potato & Pea Curry, North Indian Scotch Egg and Everyday Bread

Friday ended with an Indian banquet; two curries, one side dish and a rice, which they intended us to plate individually. Having already polished off an entire plate of food around an hour and a half before, me and my partner decided to plate it between us and try a spoon of each. We then tubbed them up to enjoy at home over the weekend (in a more sturdy, less paper-based bag). Luckily I have a separate pudding stomach so I was able to scoff the final dish of the week – kulfi. I’ve never heard of kulfi before, it turns out that it’s an Indian ice cream (which explains why Chef thought I was odd when I asked if it went in the fridge!).  It was served with several garnishes to add the hot, sour, sweet and spicy elements (and yes I asked if that was more Thai than Indian and was thrown a ‘stop being pedantic Rachel’ look.. I got quite a few of those this week!)

Goan Prawn Curry, Palak Murgh, Masoor Masala and Goli Bhaat – Spiced Chicken and Spinach Curry, Brown Lentils with Red Onion and Spiced Rice with Baby Meatballs

My phone saga continued into the weekend and half way into my split shift at the pub in North Devon. Those of you who read my blog regularly (no-one?!) may remember me talking about our smoking and curing demo with Angus last term. It was Angus who kindly let me have a day of work experience in the kitchen of his pub restaurant – The Holt. It was an incredible and intense day, one which I’m still trying to take in. I helped out and was looked after by a lovely lady Steph who is in charge of all starters and garnishes for mains (despite her only being 20!). In the morning my first task was to massacre some parsley (I was actually asked to chiffonade it, I just struggled with that simple task!). I also burnt some onions and lemons (I had been handed a blowtorch and asked to burn them, that wasn’t mishap number four of the week!) and chopped roughly 60 onions!

During evening service I was ‘in charge’ of plating two of the starters and did anything else Steph directed me to do to give her a hand. I was told at the end that it had been a particularly busy Saturday and it certainly felt it. The adrenaline rush lasting for so many hours started feeling uncomfortable by the end of service especially as it was all so new. Later in the evening Hubs came and sat in the restaurant and I waved at him from the pass occasionally (like I was in a school play!). I made it through to the end without any particular disasters and Angus was very kind in telling me I’d done well. I’m extremely grateful that Angus and his team let me get under their feet for the day, it was invaluable experience to help me understand a little of what it could be like to be a Chef.

Experiencing my first full service put me on a steep learning curve at the end of a tough week. Week 14 certainly seemed to have it in for me at times and I’m left feeling a bit all over the place. I had hoped that writing my blog would ground me and let me pick apart the week. I think I just have to accept that intense learning isn’t meant to be easy and that small steps are important and take me further ahead than I think.

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 13

So term two is over and I’ve survived another round of assessments, these much tougher than the last term’s. It reminds me of a typical quote from MasterChef announced before almost every task – “this is their hardest challenge yet!”, as though you’d expect things to get easier! Unfortunately the pressure doesn’t drop, it ramps up and I feel acutely aware of that this week.

Grilled Lemon Sole with Peas, Tomato Concasse and Green Beans with a Dill Cream Sauce

The exams followed the same process as last term’s; I cook for three hours each morning for four days and have the afternoon off to prepare for the next day (while the second half of my class cook). We’d planned all of our dishes to fulfil the brief and ordered our food from a limited list. I’ve pasted in my menus which contain the brief I was given followed by the dish, and at the end are any tasks which also had to be completed within the time (as preparation for dishes the following days).

DAy 1 Menu

A completed gnocchi disH

Gnocchi in a tomato sauce

Flat Fish Main Course, 2 vegetables and a sauce

Grilled Lemon Sole with Peas, Tomato Concasse and Green beans, with a Dill Cream Sauce

Day 1 Tasks

Start Terrine – cook ham hock
Start Puff Pastry
Leave Starter out overnight

Day 1 felt like a bit of a whirlwind. I somehow got about twenty minutes behind quite quickly but just as unknowingly caught that time back up, probably due to over and under estimation of tasks! Luckily though once I caught up I was able to plate the dishes on time and I was happy enough with what I presented. I also had the time to pick the ham hock meat giving me a little more time the following day, which just like last term, was Terror Tuesday.

Pan Fried Pigeon Breast with Celeriac Purée, Caramelised Applies, Hazelnuts and a Mixed Salad

Day 2 Menu

Sour dough

Sourdough baguette

Pigeon Starter

Pan Fried Pigeon Breast with Celeriac Puree, Caramelised Apples, Hazelnuts and a Mixed Salad

Bream Main Course with Pasta

Pan Fried Bream Fillet on Pesto Linguine

Meringue Based Dessert

Individual raspberry Pavlova

Day 2 Tasks

Build Ham Hock Terrine
Cook Crab

Hopefully by pasting in the menu and tasks I don’t have to spend too long explaining why this was such a difficult day! There was a heck of a lot to fit in in what felt like minutes on the day! I got a little behind schedule, but somehow I once again got back on track and served my dishes at my planned time. Being near enough on time doesn’t have any bearing on my marks this term but will matter in term three so it’s good practice at least. I was really happy with how my sourdough baguette turned out and was glad I’d practised sourdough three days in a row the previous weekend! To upset mood though my bream was delivered back to me by Chef Rob complete with a funny look on his face. Unfortunately this was not a repeat of him complimenting my fish dish (as he had in term one) this was him letting me know it was under cooked. Damn it!

Pan Fried Bream Fillet on Pesto Linguine

At the end of that day I felt like something wasn’t fully right (or fully cooked!) on every dish, although I did come away less emotionally bruised than I had done Tuesday of last term’s assessments!

Sourdough Baguette

I should also mention that I managed to get the giggles that day! I was working opposite one of my closest friends on the course and at one point I noticed her flinching, at which point I realised I’d been repeatedly spraying her in the face with the sanitiser as I was trying to put it down! It’s great to know how inappropriately giggly I can get in the face of extreme pressure!

Day 3 Menu

Terrine with Toasted Sour Dough

Ham Hock Terrine with Toasted Sour Dough

Complete Venison Dish with Vegetables, Potatoes and a Sauce

Parma Ham Wrapped Venison Loin with Potato Rosti, Vichy Baby Carrots, Roasted Baby Beetroot, Sautéed Spinach and a Chocolate Jus

 Day 3 Tasks

Pick Crab
Puff Pastry – Folds 5&6

Day three felt like the day we had the most time available to us and unlike last term I was pleased with my terrine, although it did look a little sad on the plate sat on top of a dry bit of toast! Overall I was really pleased with my venison dish, even though I sent it out before it was rested enough. The task ‘pick crab’ looks like a small item in that list, but consumed a third of my morning. It took about half an hour to get all of the meat out of the shell and another half an hour to pick meticulously through it three times to ensure there were no bits of shell or cartilage.

Parma Ham Wrapped Venison Loin with Potato Rosti, Vichy Baby Carrots, Roasted Baby Beetroot, Sautéed Spinach and a Chocolate Jus

Day 4 Menu

Crab Starter

Crab Cakes with Mango Salsa and Cucumber Salad

Stuffed Quail Dish with Vegetables and a Sauce

Quail Stuffed with Herb Mousseline, Sautéed wild mushrooms, Glazed Baby Veg and Quail Sauce

Dessert using Puff Pastry

Raspberry Mille Feuille

The final day of assessments and finally no dreaded extra tasks for the following day. However,  the schedule for the day was a nightmare anyway! It was only when I was finalising my prep list that I realised just how tight the morning was going to be. My fears were slightly confirmed when I once again got about twenty minutes behind fairly quickly but this time I didn’t manage to catch up at all. I served my dessert minutes before the end of the assessment and I feared my puff pastry I’d been lovingly making all week was under-baked. All made more annoying because I had it rolled out and ready with the oven to temperature, I just didn’t put it in early enough!

Raspberry Mille-Feuille

We went out that night to celebrate and all in all the mood was pretty different to that of last term. I remember feeling this sense of accomplishment and joy at the end of last term – we’d achieved so much and had a full 14 weeks of the course in front of us. This time around we all felt like we’d taken a bit of a battering and that without any other work to distract us our final assessment and assignment was looming over.

Once again we didn’t have to wonder how we did for too long – I went into school for my feedback session the next day just as nervous as I had been for exams every day that week! I felt like given the week I’d had it was likely I had dropped down to a lower bracket in a few modules. I was extremely surprised to hear that wasn’t the case. I had actually mostly managed to improve on last term with the exception of my desserts which, thanks to my raw puff pastry, went down to a credit. I am over the moon with my results and felt absolutely elated the whole drive back home.

That feeling of elation didn’t last long as my week off has been almost entirely spent working on or worrying about my assignment and final assessment (thus how late and short this blog post is!). The Chefs have told us this process is meant to be difficult and test us and it is sure testing me! I’m back to school in a matter of days to start term three and I’m hoping that being back in the classroom again will help restore my confidence and remind me that I love cooking and learning about food!