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.