Week 10 dawned bright and cold, and brought with it our last full week of Intermediate Term, along with our theory exam and the promise of a practical assessment next week. We get two weeks off for Easter and I am booked up for every single day of the break, but a change is as good as a rest (I mean, it’s not, that’s clearly nonsense, but I’m trying to kid myself), and it will be a pleasure to have a pause on the 5.15am starts and constantly being freezing cold. I intend to spend as much of my time off as possible curled like a lizard in front of the wood-burning stove on our narrowboat, as an antidote to the school’s consistently Arctic air-conditioning and Spring refusing to get its act together.
But first, the last couple of hurdles. Monday morning started inauspiciously when my train from Oxford to London was completely cancelled. This of course happened on the morning of my theory exam, one of two or three days of term when I absolutely had to be in school on time. I had a little panic and then worked out an alternative route which involved a local stopping service and a terrifying mad dash in an anxious crowd of fellow commuters to make a tight connection, followed by the dubious pleasure of being rammed in a standing-room only carriage for a while. I had hoped for a serene hour in my usual seat on the quiet coach of the train to get some revision done, but it was not to be, and though I got to school on time in the end I was already frazzled. Consequently, the theory exam could definitely have gone better.
Luckily, Tuesday began with a skills session. These are always very relaxed as they involve no service times, and we all gently pottered about trying to perfect various techniques. I made bread and flaky pastry, and while my wholemeal beer loaf had a bit of ovenspring, my flaky pastry finally rose up proudly and dispelled last week’s failure from my mind (almost). Also, I now have loads of flaky pastry to make palmiers with. I should probably do something with the leftover flaky pastry I always have other than making palmiers, but unfortunately I find them irresistibly delicious.
On Tuesday afternoon we were treated to a visit from Phil Harrison, the chef from local pub The Anglesea Arms. I have never visited the pub before but now intend to get there at the earliest opportunity, because all the food Phil made us was fresh, seasonal, expertly cooked, and so delicious I was very sad to only be allowed to try a taste of each dish. Phil was a lively and entertaining presenter, who claimed to be very nervous, although I have to say the nerves didn’t translate to the food at all. We had poached duck eggs with Jerusalem artichokes cooked several ways, a glorious turbot dish with wild garlic and morels, saddle of lamb with kidneys and anchovies, and crème brulee with rhubarb and pistachio. Yes, they’re spoiling us. I never eat turbot because it’s frighteningly expensive; Phil told us the fish he was prepping for us to taste cost around £100.
On Wednesday we returned to butchery, a process I usually really enjoy, and luckily this time was no different. We had been given the task of boning out a chicken. I remember when this concept was first broached thinking it sounded mad and completely impossible, but that which can be spoken can be achieved and so on, and sure enough, I was eventually left with an entirely boneless chicken, which I then reformed around a ricotta and herb stuffing, ready for roasting the following day. It’s a bit of a hassle and not something I’m going to be cracking out every weekend, but nonetheless, it was oddly satisfying.
Annie and David then took us for a canapé dem, giving us a whistlestop tour of the twelve incredible canapés they dreamed up for the end of term canapé party on Friday. They managed to pack a huge amount into the afternoon, and we jumped from beetroot meringues with almond and goats’ cheese to bavette steak with onion and thyme to passionfruit brulée on pate sucrée, with several other stops along the way. Canapés, though miniscule, are a huge amount of work, and it’s a real skill to turn out hundreds of little mouthfuls of food that are all delicious, identical, and beautiful, so the whole thing was very impressive.
Thursday morning’s cooking session was basically an exercise in preparing lots of intricate and tasty food which we then got to eat for our lunch. My spaghetti vongole, pictured above, features pasta made, rolled, and cut by my very own hands (well, with a pasta machine, but the pasta was fed through the machine with my very own hands). Below you can see the results of Wednesday’s foray into chicken boning, sliced atop a bed of an Ottolenghi salad containing quinoa, red rice, pistachios, and apricots, amongst other delights.
Our guest dem in the afternoon was given by Jeremy Pang from the School of Wok. I do not know nearly enough about Chinese cuisine, or Asian food in general, so it was a treat to be guided through by an expert. Jeremy’s dim sum demonstration made shaping the intricate little dumplings look easy, but this was entirely down to his professional skill and years of practice, as we realised when we came up to have a go at shaping ourselves and realised just how difficult it is.
Finally, on our last proper day of term (I am not counting the practical exam next week as a proper day) we helped prep the canapés for the evening’s party – I got to pipe out hundreds of little beetroot meringues – and finally were told what we will be cooking for our end of term assessment. In case you’re curious, we’ve been tasked with cheese soufflés, sea bream (scaled, gutted, and filleted) with sauce vierge and skordalia, vanilla bavarois with raspberry coulis, and a loaf of beer bread. Sounds like quite a big ask for a four hour exam, right? I’m off to go and panic quietly in a corner. I hope you all have weekends far more relaxing than mine is about to be. See you on the other side.