Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 20

Week 20 and my final Ashburton Chefs Academy blog. I’ve been pretty good at procrastinating rather than writing this final post! Once this is posted it dots the i’s, crosses the t’s and reaffirms that the experience really is finished. 100 days of the course done, 44 hours of assessment done – all with 14 strangers who turned into my closest friends.

Graduation celebration – Class of July 2017

The week started with results day, something I had been waiting for and dreading in equal measures. Mostly I wanted to know, but only if it was good news! As all of you who are friends with me on Facebook have seen, I passed my diploma. I’m happy to say I did better than just passed it. I was over the moon by what I saw when I was handed my results and I burst into tears the moment I left the room! Along with the wonderful surprise of my results Darrin also gave me some advice about where I could take them in my future, encouraging me to try out for a stage (internship) at some higher end kitchens. I was overwhelmed to have someone so experienced recommend that I pursue an avenue which is so challenging as the standards are so high and the conversation left me with lots to think about.

Monday afternoon and evening was spent celebrating results with friends, comparing our detailed feedback and basking in the glory of the fact that every single one of us passed. That in itself was a huge achievement and speaks volumes for our class – of how much we accomplished and pushed each other to achieve the best we could.

Tuesday and Wednesday we were back in whites for our long awaited Chocolate Masterclass. Colin is the chef who leads the patisserie students for their diploma, so until now we haven’t been taught by him and we were in for a treat! He started out with an introduction to chocolate; its origins, how it is manufactured, a bit of a taste test, and finally (and most importantly) the science of tempering chocolate. Then we moved into the kitchen to watch Colin demo the process, which he made look much easier than it is!

Pouring tempered chocolate all over the mould!

The first key part to tempering is to reach the set temperatures. For plain chocolate, heat it up to 45°, cool it down to 27° then heat it up to 32° (C). Sounds simple. It’s not. The other key point is to work the chocolate. The cooling process creates stable beta crystals, which then multiply on heating. Next key point, those crystals will be destroyed if the chocolate is heated above 33.4° and the chocolate becomes too hard to work with below 27°, therefore 32° is your magic number for workable chocolate!

For those of you not interested in the technicalities, just take the previous paragraph as proof that tempering chocolate is hard! It is also messy! The cooling down is done by pouring the chocolate onto the granite worktop, spreading it out, then scraping it back up and repeating the process until the chocolate thickens. The result is chocolate everywhere, some melted, some solidifying on all of your equipment – good thing that I was working with my one of my closest friends who is far more patient than I am! That afternoon it was our turn to have a go. Our first attempt didn’t work, probably because we didn’t cool the chocolate enough. You take a sample of the 32° chocolate on some acetate and place it in the fridge to set. If the chocolate goes shiny and brittle you’ve tempered it correctly. If it doesn’t it’s time to go back to a previous stage of tempering, which stage seemed to vary depending on the problem. I was very reliant on Colin to interpret as it was all beyond my experience!

Mess!

Our second attempt did work, and we set about pouring our tempered chocolate into moulds to line them. This whole process was messier than I could have imagined – tipping a mould upside down to pour out the excess being the messiest part. I realise I’m emphasising the mess quite a lot, but we’ve been trained to work neat and tidy for 19 weeks and this was going against that grain! Despite fighting a battle against chocolate temperatures, keeping chocolate and water separate and generally fighting losing my patience we had a laugh and produced some beautiful and very successful chocolates, ready to be served at our graduation ceremony on Thursday.

Finished chocolates

We tackled something a little more challenging on Wednesday – creating a chocolate centrepiece. Colin had demonstrated creating something slightly abstract the previous day. He used balloons and bubble wrap amongst other bits to create a vase containing flowers, the whole thing being constructed using tempered chocolate as glue. We’d had the evening to plan our designs and a bit of time with Colin to help us work out how to construct them. Ideas have never been my strong suit and as Hubs had jokingly sent me a video of a cockatoo drinking from a chocolate fountain the day before (it is worth Googling!) that image had stuck in my head.

Colin’s chocolate centrepiece

My plan was to create a four tier chocolate fountain and then model a little chocolate cockatoo at the base, drinking from it. It took me four attempts to temper my chocolate so my patience was being tested from the start! While I was busy raising and reducing the temperature of my chocolate, my friend opposite had piped almost every element of his. Seeing his semi-circle pattern piped onto a cocoa-butter transfer sheet I asked if he was doing a peacock. He said he wasn’t and that was my light bulb moment – screw my idea I was going to pretty much nick his techniques (ideas) and make them into a peacock! Colin decided this was more fitting as apparently I laugh like a peacock! Once my chocolate was finally tempered I piped as many tail designs onto different transfer sheets as I could, then I piped a load of body and head sections, and finally made a base to place it all on.

We all had to re-temper our chocolate after lunch in order to construct our centrepieces. I still didn’t really feel like I could tell if my swatch had worked or not – the mystifying tell-tale signs eluded me! Luckily Colin was on hand still and gave me the go ahead. Making up my construction on the fly (still copying my friend!) I used as many of the tails as I could to create a fan and stuck the best of the head pieces on the front. In the process I managed to drop one of the ‘tails’ despite Colin’s repeated helpful warnings of ‘steady… steady’! I was actually really pleased with the outcome even though not all of the pieces made it!

Pandora Peacock

Everyone transferred their finished centrepieces into the dining room and we each voted for our favourite. The second to youngest chap in the class won with a lovely design of a yacht with chocolate curls as the sea. The centrepieces stayed out to be displayed to our friends and family at graduation the next day (if they didn’t get accidentally knocked over / eaten before then!).

Thursday came too quickly, the final morning in our kitchen. I call it our kitchen because when you’ve worked to keep it clean and organised for six months you do start to feel an ownership of it, fictional as that ownership is! Our last morning was spent creating the canapés for the evening graduation. Each pod of four were assigned a few canapés from our recipe list. Ours were Chicken Liver Parfait with Smoked Apple Purée, and a Beetroot and Goats Cheese Samosa. I started with the chicken livers while my partner started on the smoked apple purée. The whole morning flew by, it was amazing to see how happily we all went to task, following the recipes and helping each other out. It felt like we were a well functioning team fully in our comfort zone. We completed the prep for the canapés ready for the Chefs to assemble them that afternoon so that we could go home and get dressed for the evening.

Celebration time!

My Mum came down from Surrey to join me for my graduation which was wonderful. We had a lovely afternoon catching up while drinking some Champagne she bought me to say congratulations. We joined my Land People (Lord and Lady!) who had invited us around for drinks before the four of us went to school for the ceremony. We enjoyed our canapés and more bubbles on arrival, showing off our chocolate centrepieces and all revelling in how glamorous (and very different) we looked out of our whites! The ceremony itself was lovely. Darrin and Dave introduced the school, the diploma and what we’ve covered in our time there. Then each of us were called up to receive our certificates, medals, and named chef jackets. I had been forewarned that my name was incorrectly spelt so a replacement was on its way for the following day (the joys of having a thirteen letter double-barrelled surname!). Following the ceremony it was our turn to take part. All week my closest friends had been writing a skit for us all to perform that evening – a homage to the school, the chefs and our time there over the last six months. Everyone played themselves ‘in class’ and a few people played the Chefs (with big name badges around our necks!). We were delighted by how much everyone threw themselves into it and how well it was received. There was a lot of laughter so we knew our jokes (and imitations) were taken as intended! The Chefs told us that no other class had done anything like that, and we were certainly leaving them with something to remember us by!

We finished the evening keeping the professional photographer busy asking for every combination of student and chef to be photographed multiple times! Posing with each other and the Chefs reminded me what a bond we’ve formed in such a short intense period. That evening we all headed into town for more celebratory drinks, some sensible with Mum in tow, some a little later and a little less sensible!

The stunning Lympstone Manor

Our final morning was our real treat, we were taken to Michael Caines’ country house hotel Lympstone Manor for lunch. It opened earlier this year and has already been awarded its first Michelin Star. The setting was absolutely stunning and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to show it off. We were greeted with glasses of bubbly and some stunning canapés. We were then shown around the kitchen, hotel rooms and the wine tasting room! The whole thing has been exquisitely designed and realised. Every last detail has been carefully considered down to each room having bespoke artwork to match its name, each after different birds of the estuary. We sat down for lunch, split into three large round tables in a private room overlooking the gardens and the sunset. Needless to say the food was amazing as were the matching wines. After the meal Michael Caines himself very kindly popped in to wish us all congratulations.

Given it was such a wonderful special occasion it was only fitting that on seeing Michael I immediately embarrassed myself! He appeared behind Chef Stuart who I was sat next to, and as I wasn’t expecting to look up and see Michael Caines I exclaimed ‘Oh hello!’ like I knew him…! In my defence I did recognise him, however my greeting made it sound a tad like I expected him to recognise me… needless to say he didn’t! Excuse me while I hang my head in shame on remembering this moment. Lets move on! Michael told us how creating Lympstone Manor was realising his dream and that he hoped we would be able to realise ours. He was excited to show us where they would be planting grape vines so that they can create their own wine in a few years. It was wonderful to have met him and hear how passionately he talks about the future and how much drive he has to carry on achieving more, even when he’s already accomplished so much.

Ravioli of Wild Mushrooms, Pumpkin and Cumin Purée and Mushroom Velouté

We made our way back to our mini bus for our final trip back to school. It didn’t really hit me that I’d be saying goodbye to so many people the moment we got back. A few people were moving out of Ashburton the next morning so until we arrange a big reunion it really was goodbye. It won’t surprise you to hear that on that realisation I started crying and pretty much didn’t stop until I went to bed that night! A few of us hid out in the café in town for one last afternoon, clinging together to distract from the fact that it was all over.

I was especially sad to say goodbye to my closest friends as without them the last six months would have been a very different story, one with a lot less laughter and joy. Saying goodbye to the Chefs was sad as well, they’ve been such a massive influence on me, sharing their knowledge and passion. They truly make the whole experience special, with unique and inspirational training.

The crew at Lympstone Manor

I moved out of my loft and back home that weekend. It’s incredible how much stuff you can accumulate over six months. I remember moving in feeling proud of how uncluttered my new living space was, it didn’t stay that way for long! It was equally tough moving all of that stuff back into a home which is already rather full! But it was lovely to finally be home, with Hubs and the cats, not facing a three and a half hour drive anywhere any time soon.

Since being at home I’ve been trying to find a balance between relaxing, being productive and planning ahead. I spent one day blitzing the lounge as the accumulation of stuff tipped me over the edge! More importantly I’ve been applying for stages at restaurants to gain more experience. I’ve had an odd feeling of being in limbo – the experience I’ve been dreaming of doing for five years is over and that chapter of my life is complete. The world is now my oyster, which seems appropriate because I didn’t touch an oyster at school so they are equally unknown to me! Jokes aside I’m in a very lucky position – looking for the next challenge which sets my heart on fire like Ashburton did, and hopefully finding my new career while I’m at it.

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 19

I’ve been picturing this week for at least a month – the feeling that all of the weight has been lifted and there is no work to be done in the evening. The joy of being at school and learning with no pressure of assessment. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case! We had a leadership program over the first three days which involved putting together a project for a presentation on the last day, a theory exam on Friday which definitely required revising for, and I of course had two weeks of my blog to catch up on editing. So much for the free evenings!

Autumn morning sun – the river on my walk to school

My evenings were partially spent catching up with classmates down at the pub, but even that was marred by us all speculating about how we’ve done in assessments. That’s probably been the most tough part of this week, the waiting. We’re used to getting our results the day after assessments are done, but this term there is a lot more to mark. Not only are there more hours of assessments and more dishes produced, there are also our assignments and the theory exam from Friday. Speculation aside we all got a letter inviting us to the graduation ceremony next Thursday, which we did our best to take as a good sign… and then went to the pub and speculated about that fact!

Monday to Wednesday was the leadership course. We walked into the dining room to find our photos marking out where we would sit and therefore what ‘team’ we would be in for the week. We also found sweets, chocolates, and toys on the tables – they were clearly aiming to keep us entertained! Darrin had kept the content of this week fairly secret and simply asked us to come in with an open mind. The week was taken by Darrin, Phil, and Rob Coulston who is a Learning and Development Consultant (title stolen from LinkedIn!). Rob met Darrin seven years ago when the school was going through quite a big change, as the Chefs Academy was being built and Darrin was having to take on more staff. Darrin started the day by talking about the importance of leadership skills in a kitchen or any work place, how he is always assessing his own skills as a leader and how Rob has been a part of helping him to make positive changes.

Strength cards

Over the three mornings Rob took us through a workshop on leadership, what we think it means, the importance of finding your ‘Why?’, and thinking about the ‘shadow I cast’. A lot of it was focused on self awareness, being happy and motivated in your role and then being able to pass on that motivation to anyone you lead. Anyone who has done a similar course before has probably heard of the four stages teams go through when they come together (form), argue (storm), start working together (norm) and start working well (perform). The way Rob illustrated this was by showing us a video using Jamie’s restaurant Fifteen as the example.

Fifteen was an ambitious project where Jamie hired fifteen untrained but enthusiastic teenagers to train up, work in and run a new restaurant in London. During my favourite part Jamie sprung a full service day on the freshly trained students with paying customers. Just as Jamie is calling out the late cheques over the pass, one kid has cut himself, another is explaining she’s only cooked half the table’s fish. He stops them all and gets them to come out into the dining room. There they find all of the sent dishes lined up on the table in a dining room devoid of any diners! As storming is an essential part of coming together as a team, Jamie forced it to happen in a safe environment where they could learn from their mistakes and not be too disappointed by them. I thought that was a powerful message and a pretty good leadership technique!

On the Monday afternoon Darrin introduced the project part of the program. We had to come up with an idea for a convenience food and on the Wednesday afternoon present the concept, marketing, packaging, recipes and costing to Rob, Darrin and the class. Our team came up with a sauce spice kit – hard to source ingredients packaged up in an attractive tiffin tin, where the customer only has to buy the fresh ingredients. Artfully named – Sauce Yo’Self (that was the boys’ idea, not mine!). The project was done over three days and during that time we sprinted through the forming to performing stages, starting with working out what we were doing, who was doing what, how we would work (or not work!) together as a team. After a bit of storming we then finally got our heads down and got it ready in time to be presented! Our team mostly worked well together and I thought our product was almost viable, if a little confused. Sadly we didn’t win the prize! These three days were food for thought, especially if I do ever open my own business. They also made me think about my old job and what leadership had meant to me while I was at Vicon.

Naomi and Chef Phil

Thursday was gluten-free day and I was thoroughly looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and making bread and pastry again! The day was taken by Naomi Devlin, who has been coeliac (allergic to gluten) since she was pregnant 16 years ago. This change in Naomi’s life caused her to research alternative flours to wheat flour, and also to learn what makes a healthy gut. It was fantastic to hear from someone so intelligent and knowledgeable who started out developing recipes for herself and her son, and moved onto sharing them and eventually making a career out of it. Naomi talked to us about how gluten intolerance has become quite trendy, sometimes without people being diagnosed as coeliac themselves. Naomi herself gets flu-like symptoms for over a week if she has gluten, something she isn’t really willing to risk as she’s busy with her extremely successful career including working for River Cottage and teaching in her own home.

Gluten-free Baguette

The first thing we had to get our heads around was all of the different types of flour used in the recipes. When we use plain or strong flour we are relying on the gluten to form the structure of the pastry, biscuit, bread etc. With gluten-free flours you have to balance the properties of different flours to achieve the desired result. In the chocolate cookies for example – ground linseed stabilises the mix as it forms a gel, rice flour adds the sticky quality, chestnut flour gives the fudgy quality and cocoa powder has protein giving it structure. This does result in recipes which have lots more ingredients than gluten recipes, but as we found out later, are well worth the effort. Another interesting point Naomi taught us is that gluten-free does not mean healthier. Often in cheaper ‘free-from’ products they replace the gluten with starch, which is of course sugar!

Gluten-free Chocolate Cookies

We started out by making the autolyse for the French bread – mixing all of the flours with water and leaving them for an hour to hydrate. This stage leaves the enzymes to react with the flours which softens the bread. We then made a gluten-free shortcrust and choux. The choux was the most strange as you have to mix it with an electric mixer because it goes so sticky! We’ve made choux quite a few times over this course and this process felt quite alien, however once the egg was added it looked like the usual gluten based choux paste. The French bread mix was another alien texture. It ends up more like a thick cake batter than a dough, meaning you spread it onto the baguette tray rather than shaping and placing it on! At this point having not eaten anything and seen some fairly strange ingredients being added (psyllium husk and xanthan gum into bread) I admit I was feeling a little sceptical, I’m pleased to say I was wrong!

We made a prune and frangipane tart with the shortcrust pastry and also made focaccia, and chocolate chip cookies. I was partnered with one of my best friends on the course for the day and once we’d made the cookie dough I suggested she take the rest of the mix home. That was until I ate some raw and then I suggest she leave it there for me to snack on for the rest of the morning! By the afternoon I’d snacked on a fair bit of raw pastry, cookie and frangipane dough and was feeling a little bit sick! It’s a very good thing I’m not doing the patisserie course, I wouldn’t be able to climb the stairs by now!

Just a little snack…

I’m lucky enough to not be allergic to anything (unless preservatives in eye drops count!) and therefore have never had to eat gluten-free food. I have tried some over the years I’m sure and been put off by the same things as everyone else. Gluten-free bread is often more similar to cardboard in taste and texture than bread! These recipes were delicious and if I hadn’t known they were gluten-free I never would have guessed, they were often more delicious than the gluten version we’ve made. Naomi was such an inspiring person too. My friend and I chatted to her at the end of class and it’s wonderful to hear the story of someone who has worked so hard and is so successful as a result. I also enjoyed watching the Chefs being rather flustered by her charm and beauty, we’ve never seen them so dashing and helpful! Just to make her even more inspiring Naomi holds her own in the kitchen. She got the measure of our innuendo based humour and very quickly joined in and then won with her comments – most of which won’t be funny out of context in this blog unfortunately! All in all it’s been one of my favourite days in the kitchen and has made me see gluten-free food in a very different light.

Death or Dinner?!

On Friday we had another guest tutor – David Beazley‏ a forager and Chef Tutor at the Michael Cains Academy, Exeter College. David came in to tell us about foraging in the UK, something he started doing at the beginning of his career to help bring in some more money alongside working as a chef. Unfortunately it took him years before he even found a single mushroom to bring in any money at all! David kicked off the day by giving us a load of mushrooms (some just photos as he couldn’t get hold of all of them) and asking us as a group to put them into three categories – dinner, diarrhoea, or death! We actually did fairly well, and mostly wouldn’t have killed or poisoned ourselves. Unfortunately the exceptions would have been enough to kill us, so getting them almost all right doesn’t help much! We also had the youngest of the group (Dan, aka, Feet Boy) try one mushroom which was inedible but not poisonous – apparently it tastes like sulphur which I can believe after seeing the look on his face!

Mussels and Sea Vegetables

In our three tables we were then asked to guess what each of the 12 foraged ingredients were as they were passed around. I was very pleased to correctly recognise sea buckthorn (small orange berries with a sour and bitter taste) and the rest of my team recognised a lot of the others. Our team tied with another table, both getting 12/14 correct (to our surprise!) and we won the tie-break by guessing the closest to how many varieties of wild mushrooms there are in the UK. Our guess was 900, the correct answer was 1900 (the other team guessed 15,000!). David gave us a little jar of foraged cherry brandy (I think the cherries were the foraged part, not the brandy!), which we happily sipped away at! David then demoed a few dishes including a mussel and sea vegetable dish with homemade cider where every ingredient was foraged with the exception of the cream.

David left us with a Latin phrase which when translated meant – “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once!” which felt like a very fitting end to the talk! David, like every other tutor we’ve had at Ashburton had a great sense of humour and he wished us luck for our theory exam saying “Think failure, then you won’t be disappointed”!

Smiles before our last exam!

We all did a desperate last ditch of cramming in the final minutes before our theory exam – trying to remember the dates for the grouse season, the setting temperate of gellan f, and the name of sheep when they are between one and two years old (hogget for those interested!). The exam was one word to one line answers, so not too tricky, but the range of topics meant there was a lot to learn. On sitting down to the exam it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. The mark doesn’t affect our diploma, but will go on our certificate from the school so would look better if it wasn’t a low mark! With the end of the exam came an early end to the school week and a slightly celebratory air. Finally the pressure really should be off! One more week left and then ‘school’s out for summer!’… or Winter as the case may be!

Dartmoor Pony

Me and Hubs have been enjoying our second to last weekend in Devon, particularly Saturday evening by breaking down in the middle of Dartmoor! We got a puncture and ended up stranded for hours in the dark and the rain before finally being rescued five hours later by a very nice chap with his specialist flat bed made for quattro cars. That wasn’t how we’d imagined our Saturday night going! Thank goodness for heated seats and unexpected internet in the middle of nowhere.

Next week is my last week and my feelings are mixed as always. I’m sad to leave my friends but I’m looking forward to moving back home, and I’ve started getting excited and scared by the prospect of where I could end up working when I leave! Do any of you want to hire me?!

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 18

Week 18 – the week of my final assessments of my culinary diploma, is finally over. I’ve been preoccupied by (dreading) it for about six weeks and am most definitely celebrating the fact that it’s behind me. Before I get too into the celebrations and trying to forget about it forever, I’ll do my best to take myself back to that horrible Monday morning to recollect it for you!

Fillet of Beef with Parsnip Purée, Roasted Baby Beetroot, Buttered Cabbage, Potato Rosti and Mustard Cram Sauce

This week’s assessments were longer than our previous two terms’. Each assessment was four hours long and we had five days (as opposed to the previous term’s three hours over four days). The brief we cooked to was the menu we designed for our assignment, thankfully just cooking one portion of each (rather than say 100 for the wedding!). We also had set service times for each dish, which we could serve two minutes either side of, or it would affect our marks. I’ll include the menu, with the name of the business, theme of the day and brief for each dish on each day.

The Pigeon & Puddle

Menu 1 – Modern British Gastro Pub

Pigeon Starter

Wood Pigeon Salad with Honey Roasted Fig, Pomegranate Seeds and a Pomegranate Molasses Dressing

Beef fillet main course, with 2 vegetables, 1 potato or starch dish and a sauce

Fillet of Beef with Parsnip Purée, Roasted Baby Beetroot, Buttered Cabbage, Mustard Cream Sauce and Potato Rosti

Fruit soufflé dessert

Apple Soufflé

Monday was probably the day I was most comfortable with, both in terms of cooking the elements and also timings for the day. I’d practised the starter on my week off, as it was a slightly invented dish after Nay had the idea of pigeon and pomegranate going together! I’d also practised the soufflé twice because the timing of it was quite tricky. It was due 15 minutes after the main and took up to 12 minutes to cook and cannot be made in advance!

I had a slight blip in the morning when I peeled my potato to see a small black spot… after trying to peel and chop it away I eventually chopped the whole potato in half to see that it was rotting from the inside out! I showed Chef (to his joy!) and asked for another, less evil, potato for my rosti! Thankfully that only cost me a few minutes and as I’d hoped my timings went well. I actually had a little too much time to kill before I could start cooking and serving dishes. I started wondering if they can penalise you for cleaning your bench and washing your hands too much?!

Wood Pigeon Salad with Honey Roasted Fig, Pomegranate Seeds and a Pomegranate Molasses Dressing

After I’d stalled for 50 minutes it was time to cook and serve my pigeon dish. While making the pomegranate dressing I realised the school’s pomegranate molasses was more red than mine at home, and the dressing came out blood coloured… suddenly giving a dark meaning to name The Pigeon & Puddle! Despite this gory idea I was happy with the dish, served it on time and moved onto the main. I was actually very happy with my main as well, even with the plating which isn’t exactly my forté. While frying off my beef I was whisking up my egg whites to mix with my creme pat and apple purée for my soufflé. I got it in the oven just before I delivered my main and then longingly stared through the oven door begging it to rise! Very happily it did rise, though perhaps it wasn’t quite as neat as others. I’m never sure if my soufflés are cooked to the right degree – the Chefs look for them to be a little under but not too under! At least it was one day down with no disasters.

Baked Apple Soufflé

 

Café Rochelle

Menu 2 – French Bistro

Mussel starter with French style bread

Moules Marinière with French Baguette

Round fish main course with 2 vegetables and a sauce

Fillet of Bream with Roasted Fennel, Beans À La Bordelaise, And Tarragon Sauce

Custard based tart dessert

Tarte au Citron with Fresh Raspberries

Tuesday was another of the lighter workloads of the week as French Bistro food is meant to be bold, rustic and simple. The bread and tart were the two most technical elements of the day, and the two I tackled first so I could relax a little once the dough and pastry were made. Oven management was important as well, as the bread had to be baked at 230°, the pastry blind baked at 180° and the tart baked at 120°.

French Baguette

I was happy with my dishes again, although my fish looked a little messy and may or may not have been overcooked (to make up for under cooking my bream fillet in previous assessments!). I also caught the pastry when I was blow-torching the glaze on my tart, but I walked away pleased that those were pretty small concerns. Once again it was good to have had a disaster free day heading into the more full on days of the week.

Tarte au Citron with Fresh Raspberries

 

Actually Love Catering

Menu 3 – Wedding Reception

Cold plated vegetarian starter

Goats’ Cheesecake with Caramelised Onion Jam And Roasted Figs with Rocket

Soup

Celeriac and hazelnut soup

Chicken Main course, with 2 vegetables, 1 potato dish and a sauce

Roasted Chicken Breast, fondant potato, Wild Mushrooms, Sautéed Spinach With a Mushroom Sauce

Cold fruit based mousse dessert with a garnish

Blackberry Mousse with Pink Lemon Jelly and shortbread

Wednesday was the first busy day with four dishes and therefore four service times. Each day I had split my plan into my mes en place preparation time (broken into 30 minute slots of tasks) and my service time (15 or 30 minute slots with my tasks broken down into 5 minute slots). This may sound like overkill but I know that it’s the way I work best under pressure – being as prepared as possible.

Goats’ Cheesecake with Caramelised Onion Jam and Roasted Figs with Rocket

As I was really nervous I was so pleased to be working opposite one of my closest friends from the course again this assessment. She gave me the giggles on Wednesday as she decided to forewarn the class of the noise her potatoes were about to make when she put them into the hot duck fat – “Sorry about the noise guys…” followed by an almost inaudible “szzz”, what an anti-climax! It’s the little things which cheer you up in high pressure environments!

Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup

My starter and dessert were both made in advance, with minimal effort required to get them on the plate during service – good planning on my part! I was happy with the taste of my goats’ cheesecake, however looking back I realised I should not have filled the mould to the top as the portion was somewhat large for a four course wedding menu! I was pleased with my soup, but not so happy with my main. The chicken looked a bit messy and I fear I may have under-seasoned the dish. I was happy with the texture of my mousse and grateful my lemon jelly went pink as it had in practice (something to do with the acid of the lemon when it comes in contact with the blackberry). However once again I realised I should not have filled it to the top of the glass. Large portions would soon become a theme for me this week!

Blackberry Mousse with Pink Lemon Jelly and Shortbread

I did also have my first wobble that day, as I had a really clumsy moment in the fridge. I accidentally put my fingers into the top of one of my classmates mousse. I told her immediately and she was very kind about it, which I was grateful for and she managed to smooth it over. I felt terrible, it’s bad enough to mess up your own stuff, but to mess up someone else’s is horrendous. I made a strong mental note to be more careful in the walk in fridge in future!

The Orchard

Menu 4 – Fine Dining Restaurant

3 canapés: 1 meat, 1 fish, 1 vegetarian

Crispy chicken, Salmon and Crème fraiche, Blue cheese filo bites

Hot scallop starter

Pan-fried scallops with Black Pudding and textures of Apple

Poussin main course, 1 pastry item, 2 vegetables

Roasted Poussin with a Leek Mousse Vol-Au-vent, Glazed Baby Vegetables and Sauternes Sauce

Cold Chocolate dessert

Chocolate Cremeaux with Raspberry Fluid Gel and Salted Pistachio Crumb

Thursday was the day everyone was dreading – four service times including three canapés. On my walk into school I was cheered up no end by meeting the world’s friendliest cat (he was really part cat, part monkey) who clambered all over my shoulders and tried to follow me to school! I was so pleased to have something to smile about as Thursday was a really horrid, busy, tough day for everyone. In the first hour of the day I was slightly unhappy to find out that about five of the ingredients I ordered hadn’t actually been put out so that wasted a very precious ten minutes searching for them!

Me and the friendliest Kitten!

I was as happy as I could be with my canapés, they were very simple and perhaps didn’t fit the ‘fine dining’ brief very well, but that was my coping mechanism for the day! I’d planned the menu to be as simple as I could get away with, using expensive, rich ingredients to hopefully elevate the dishes beyond the simple techniques. I believe my scallop dish was ok. My apple textures were a caramelised purée, pickle and salad. They tasted nice but the dish looked messy, although that mistake was overshadowed by the poussin dish!

Crispy Chicken with Mustard Mayonnaise, Salmon and Crème Fraiche, Blue Cheese Filo Bites

I was around five minutes behind on getting my poussin in the pan browning, which had a knock on effect as I didn’t have the spare time to really make sure it was cooked in time. I let it rest, plated the rest of my dish and then carved the breast (it was cooked on the crown to keep it moist) to find that it was most definitely under cooked. With around three minutes to spare before the dish was late I had to put the breasts back in the oven for as long as I could. By the time I plated the dish I was right on the edge of being late, the poussin was still under cooked and every other element on the dish was stone cold. Everyone likes under cooked chicken with cold veg right?!

Moving onto dessert I was pleased with the texture of my cremeaux, however once again I’d filled the mould to the top and therefore the portion was far too large. It didn’t occur to me to just chop the end off at the time! I was also unhappy with my plating again, not great on a day where plating is an important aspect of the theme. Thursday was definitely my worst day yet!

Thaili

Menu 5 – Pop-up Thai and Indian Restaurant

3 Thai snacks

Thai fish cakes, Chicken Satay, Prawn Rice Paper Rolls

Thai soup

Galangal soup with Mussels & Coconut Cream

Indian curry with rice, bread and a side dish

Salmon Kerala Moilee, served with Aubergine Yoghurt, Jeera Pulao, Roti

I very incorrectly thought I should have time on my side on Friday, however I also felt the least prepared for this day (correctly it turns out)! I didn’t manage to complete the practice I’d intended to the previous weekend because I ran out of time and energy and my paperwork had been the most neglected. I worked to schedule for the whole morning, so not ahead of time as I would have hoped, but no disaster. That was until it came to service time. I started cooking my chicken, cutting my wraps etc all as per my plan. Then I realised no-one else was plating up, and that I’d written the timings on my plan wrong: fifteen minutes ahead of where I was meant to be.

For me this was a bit devastating, I pride myself on being organised and prepared and I realised at that moment I wasn’t, and it knocked me. At least I was ahead, not behind. Unfortunately it resulted in me presenting very overcooked chicken with a slightly split satay sauce. Thankfully I hadn’t cooked all of my fish cakes, so was able to cook them fresh and the rice paper rolls hopefully didn’t suffer.

Chicken Satay, Thai Fish Cakes, Prawn Rice Paper Rolls

The soup had to be made from scratch in service, as there are no elements that can be prepared ahead of time. I was flustered by this point and accidentally knocked my wok, spilling some of my soup into my curry – at least they were both coconut milk based! I then burnt my cumin seeds for my rice so had to dash out to get more rice just as I was meant to be serving my soup. My morale wasn’t good, but I hoped the flavours in my soup were balanced and moved onto getting the last course of my assessments finished. My salmon may have suffered from my being distracted as I didn’t turn it down to a low simmer early enough. I got my curry, bread, rice and side out, on time, but far from perfect.

Galangal Soup with Mussels and Coconut Cream

I was gutted to end the week on a day like Friday and went for a beer feeling disappointed in myself rather than in the mood to celebrate. I know I work best when I’m prepared and Friday just confirmed that fact. I have been trying to remind myself that the week was tough and overall I had a good one. It could have been a lot worse. I think I served all of my dishes just about on time and I was mostly proud of what I plated (massive portions and over / under cooked chicken aside!).

It just leaves me wondering how I did. Usually we get our results the same week, this time we have to wait until the final Monday of the course. Nine days of speculation and worrying. I’ll have to do my best to not let that overshadow my second to last week here at Ashburton.

Ashburton Chefs Academy – Week 17

Week 17 has been the most unusual week of school yet – Dining Club Week. During dining club we cook an eight course tasting menu for paying customers over four nights with all of the money from the tickets going to charity. Each of the students cook for two nights and are front of house for one night, giving us one day off. The menu was designed by Chef Alan who also oversaw the whole week. It was a week of long days for all of us, but nobody put in as many hours as Alan, who even pulled nearly a 17 hour day on his birthday on Tuesday!

Venison Loin with Jerusalem Artichoke, Kale, Parsnip Purée, Fondant Potato, Beetroot Crisp and Venison Sauce

Monday and Tuesday were my days in the kitchen, I got Wednesday off and then was front of house on Thursday. Beyond seeing the menu we came in on Monday morning with no information and no prep done – Monday was set to be one hell of an education!

 

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!

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!