Off to a good start

Day one
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Home-smoked salmon with saffron and dill risotto

Griddled chicken breast served with paysanne vegetables, roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic and basil oil

Dark chocolate pots
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A breakfast feast of porridge, croissant, ham and cheese, and some PB&J on brown was a smart move. This morning we hit the ground running, after an introductory briefing from Darrin – our chef tutor for the next couple of days – which covered the format of each day, some H&S basics (aka how not to poison people through poor hygiene) and the quick intros to some of the topics we’d be covering through the course of today, accompanied by factsheets: stocks, meat temperatures, the importance of planning (illustrated by a prep sheet of all of today’s tasks leading to lunch and dinner services), and poultry butchery (with photos for future reference). After that it was straight to the kitchen to crack on with the first job of the day – preparing our stocks.

Chicken stock is something I make a lot of at home for soups, stews, gravies, everything that could do with a bit of meaty goodness added, but mine are usually made from roasted carcasses, rarely from fresh, but I can now see the sense in doing so. We didn’t taste the stock we started this morning being that it bubbled away to itself for most of the day and won’t be finished until tomorrow, but we used other chicken stock in our last dish of the day, and it tasted superb. Being that most butchers give chicken carcasses away, or sell them very cheaply, I’ll probably make the effort from now on to make stock this way.

Vegetable stock is something I’ve never made, and I don’t know why. It’s simple and delicious. The risotto we made for lunch placed it centre stage, and it shone. That’s one recipe added to my repertoire already. Risotto is another dish I make fairly often, and having been shown the proper technique, I don’t think my previous efforts would have made an Italian throw their hands up in horror, but today’s was definitely the best I’ve made. Or I should say, co-created, as a lot of today’s work was done in pairs, and K and I did a good job. Finished with saffron and home-made hot-smoked salmon, it was delicious.

Hot-smoked salmon – that’s another winning recipe to take away, and a whole lot easier than I’d have imagined. Even without the special smoking tray-and-lid combo, I think it’d be easy enough at home.

The morning also started us on some knife skills, with fine onion and garlic chopping. I was pretty pleased with my efforts, and I think I owe that to the extra attention I’ve given my veg prep since my ace Christmas present of a fabulous Japanese chef’s knife. Three month’s of using that beauty has also made me more confident handling very sharp knives. We prepped paysanne (meaning “peasant” or “farm style”) vegetables for the afternoon’s main dish, which involved a lot of fine, consistent slicing and dicing. Results were okay, but practice will make perfect. Soups and stews at home won’t know what knife perfection has hit them.

After a brief lunch break to enjoy our risotto (and a run to the pharmacy for me to grab allergy tablets, having left mine back in London; after all that talk of hygiene and handwashing I figured I couldn’t make it through the week without driving myself or my classmates mad with my nose-blowing and subsequent handwashing) we moved into chocolate work: chocolate pots (simple and ridiculously tasty) and run outs. Having never heard that phrase before I wasn’t quite sure what we’d be doing, but it turned out it’s kitchen speak for piping chocolate latticework. After an amusing interlude of 10 hapless amateurs try make a piping bag from a triangle of greaseproof, we got to play around practicing our piping skills.

Demonstrations of basil and garlic oil and deep-frying soft herbs followed, then the main event: chicken butchery. Again, I feel practice will make perfect, but a full-on massacre was averted, and the splatter of chicken bone marrow on my arm came from bench buddy S’s exuberant end to French trimming the wing bone, rather than the gorefest I’d expected when let loose on a defenceless chicken. I did hear myself apologising to the poor poulet as I almost mangled one breast removal, and failed to find its “elbow” when first attempting to remove its wings. The career in surgery can definitely wait.

What did impress me today is the tiny amount of waste in this kitchen. Everything that can be reused is, from outer onion layers and carrot ends for the stock pile, to the results of our exercise in chicken butchery all bagged up for future use (we only needed one breast apiece today). The chicken’s they use are ARK organic, and as we were reminded throughout the day, when you buy such good meat (and you should buy good meat), it’s crazy to waste any of it.

The breast of chicken was griddled and baked, and served up with our beautifully sliced vegetables sauted with bacon and garlic, and finished in chicken stock, and served with neat looking cherry tomatoes (can’t quite describe them, but another presentation trick stored away for future reference) and deep fried basil leaves. Served with buttered new potatoes, it made for a light yet filling meal. The basil and garlic oil really lifted the chicken, and the paysanne vegetable bed was an excellent accompaniment.

Everything we made today was delicious, and while some new skills were introduced, I didn’t feel out of my depth, nor like I knew this stuff already, so this was definitely the right level of course to come on. Glad I took very comfortable shoes with me too – it’s been a while since I spent 7 hours on my feet.

I didn’t take my camera to the kitchen today, not knowing whether it’d be intrusive or not. I will tomorrow, and will try the iPhone too so I can at least put some holding pictures up for you to see.

And the “n” key has taken another step closer to death, so I may be forced to make this blog a lipogram a la Gadsby. I’ll see how the ancient iBook holds up as the week goes by. Anyone got alternative words for “lunch” and “dinner” that don’t have “n” in them to get me started?!

New skill of the day: breaking down a chicken. Satisfying to do myself and a pleasingly efficient use of a whole bird, especially if that near-naked carcass then goes to the stockpot with a few flavourful friends.

One thought on “Off to a good start

  1. Midday meal and later meal?I am SO coming round when you’re back to sample all these delights – they sound wonderful!(And am SO excited I can have gluten (seemingly, fingers crossed) – rye bread a-go-go!)

    Like

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