So Week 1 is down, which means there are nine weeks left of term… which means that in nine weeks I have to go and get a proper job again. I don’t know why this has only really hit me today, but there you have it. I’ve always known that this term ending would mark my re-entry into the real world, but for some reason I didn’t really feel that until Week 1 raced passed without so much as waving farewell, and I actually began to understand how quickly this term will go and how little time I have left. And I still have no idea what I am going to be when I grow up. For now, I am going to leave my little existential crisis at the door of this blog post, but please do assume it’s bubbling away in the background until further notice.
Talking of crises, we cooked calves’ liver on Monday morning. Not a crisis for me, because I like offal and was raised on much weirder food (thanks, Mum), but for some I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t how they would have chosen for the week to begin. We served it with caramelised shallots, a coriander crumb, and a Japanese tare sauce which was sweet and sour and sticky and unctuous and lovely: if it didn’t contain about ten different expensive ingredients I would be making it every day. It would be completely wonderful as a dipping sauce for some blue sirloin.
In the afternoon we had our weekly wine lecture and tasting. This time, the focus was on Syrah, Grenache, and Riesling. I’m afraid I have now taken against Grenache completely after sampling an example that tasted like metal to me, but a surprisingly crisp and mouthwatering German Riesling somewhat made up for it. That and the cheese and salami and bread.
Not much to report from Tuesday’s cooking session; it was a prep day with no services. The afternoon dem, on the other hand, was a delight. Michael and David presented ‘vegetable garnishes’ for us, which doesn’t sound very thrilling, but gets much more exciting when you start including potatoes as vegetables and bring in things like a Bloody Mary sorbet and deep fried artichokes dipped in aioli. That on top of gnocchi (one of my favourite things), fondant potatoes, and pomme puree (think mashed potato at its most excellent and heart-stopping) made for a very happy afternoon.
I was excited about Wednesday’s cooking session because we were making gnocchi from scratch, which is something I have always wanted to do but never have because for some reason I had the impression that it’s really difficult. But it’s not! It’s so easy! And of course the advantage to making them from scratch (apart from them being tastier than the shop-bought versions and the happy smugness that comes from achieving such things) is that you can flavour them with whatever cheese or herbs or spices you fancy. The ones in the dish above are a simple Parmesan, but they’d be lovely with ricotta or cheddar, or with finely chopped dill or parsley running through them, or a dash or paprika. We served them with spring vegetables, and braised artichokes. I have never prepared an artichoke before in my life because I have always been a bit scared of them, and actually they are a bit of a hassle and a pain. Good to know how to do it, but I think I will continue to cheat and buy the pre-prepared versions.
We finished the morning by serving the lemon jellies we had spent the last two days lovingly preparing, each completed with a strawberry suspended delicately in the middle. The idea is that the jellies are translucent and sparkling because we had to make them through a process called ‘clearing’, which involves creating a raft of egg white foam and crushed egg shells to filter the liquid through. Yeah. It’s actually a lot more tricky and convoluted than I’ve made it sound and it takes ages. I am impatient by nature and so this sort of thing is not my friend.
In the afternoon, we had a pasta dem. Pasta is one of my favourite things, and the dem was led by Sue and Annie, who were a great double act and kept us all both fed and entertained. We’ve made simple pasta at school before, but now we’re looking at ravioli, tortellini, garganelli, scialatelli, and lots of other things I can’t spell or pronounce.
Thursday was our first all day cooking session of the term, and probably my favourite so far. We prepared everything on the board above from scratch: beetroot and herb cured salmon; jasmine smoked mackerel; rye bread; dill pickled cucumber; and a horseradish crème fraiche. We then served the dish below, which is an artichoke and green olive pithivier – for which we made the puff pastry from scratch – and a heritage tomato salad with baby basil leaves. I barely stopped for about seven hours straight and was shattered by the end of the day, but it’s gratifying to make things that you really can enjoy, and even though the plating on my board was a mess, I did get some praise for the simple neatness of my salad, which is definitely progress.
Finally, we got a cheeky half day on Friday to allow us some time in the afternoon to work on our portfolios, a massive project which is due in worryingly soon. The morning dem was on butchery and jus, and Phil began it, completely without introduction or context, by declaiming the lyrics to Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy with complete earnestness and solemnity, as it was the morning after his death. He got a spontaneous round of applause afterwards. It was even more impressive than the beautiful assiette of rabbit, pictured below, that he served up at the end of the session.
We are now fully in the swing of the final term, and there’s definitely been a noticeable step-up in the level and quality of food expected from us these days. My biggest struggle at the moment is my inability to plate anything properly: I can usually get stuff done on time and tasting reasonable enough, but I can’t present it well, and that’s really hindering my ability to make professional looking dishes. Next week, look out for tarte tatin, rabbit ravioli, and our first forays into sous vide cooking. I’m off to do one of the many, many loads of laundry that you have to do when you’re at culinary school, because my life really is all glamour.