And now, the end is near….

Day four
Worthy Farm Cheddar and ham hock tart with dressed mixed leaves
Goat’s cheese and red pepper tortelli with fresh pesto

Pan-fried fillet steak with béarnaise sauce
Fat chips
Balsamic roasted tomato
Stuffed mushroom

Crème brulee with praline biscuit

Each morning we convene in a cosy annex to our kitchen, which is where we go over the menu we cooked the previous day, ask Darrin any questions we have about why we did something a particular way, and what if we did this, or added that. He then takes us through some related theory, accompanied by additional sheets for our ever-growing course folder, and also a clean set of the recipes we’ll be working on that day. Waiting for us in the kitchen is a working set, on which twists and deviations from the recipe are scribbled, plus top tips and useful hints that are liberally sprinkled throughout the day. At the very front of our kitchen notes is our mise en place list for that day (which I hear in my head in Anthony Bourdain’s drawl of “meeeeez”). Today’s mise en place was a monster 18 tasks long, as befits a lunch followed by a three course dinner.

Our meeting room/dining room and kitchen one from the garden

So after we’ve marvelled at how many vegetable groups we’ve ever heard of (and be honest, can you name the aqueous vegetables, or the vegetable-fruits, or stems? Thought not!) it’s time to hit that mise list head on with crème brulee.

Now, the inter-kitchen rivalry is hotting up, and we reckon that today we’ll pull ahead. Not only will we be making béarnaise to accompany our fillets (Chef’s suggestion in response to our plea to do hot emulsion sauces) but Darrin’s been struck with a possible solution to the enemy of all crème brulee making – the Curse Of The Sinking Vanilla Seeds. He has a cunning plan, and do you know, it just might work.

Brulees baking, it’s on to one of the skills I’d been looking forward to learning: making, rolling and shaping pasta dough. I loved it, and will definitely do this in the future when I have the time and space to do it properly. And possibly an extra pair of hands to help with the rolling machine. Kneading the pasta dough is one of those kitchen tasks I like, when you chat with a friend, or just let your mind wander as you turn a mottled lump of flour, oil, eggs, salt and water into a smooth, even, yellow ball. I took a photo, but to be honest, you’d mistake it for a potato – the important thing is that I know it was smooth and lovely! More interesting to the eye are the next stages of rolling, cutting, filling and shaping, and I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

Cutting the rounds
The rolled tortelli

The final dish: red pepper, courgette and goats cheese tortelli served on a bed of pesto

And to be honest, the pasta made up for the slightly rubbish ham tart I made for lunch. The filling was delicious, but the pastry C and I made the day before wasn’t quite right. Maybe we added a little too much butter, or I rolled mine too thin, but even having been patched up after blind baking, it took Darrin’s patience to get the flipping thing out of it case. Hey ho, it tasted delicious, and the suggested plating hid all manner of pastry inadequacies!

Ham hock and cheddar tart: crummy pastry artfully disguised by dressed salad leaves

The assembly of dinner was all about timing, and it came together beautifully: my steak was gorgeously rare, the chips crispy and fluffy (cooked first in water, then fried in very hot corn oil) and hell, who doesn’t love steak and chips?

Bernaise in action

Portioning up a gorgeous fillet

Seared on all sides before a 6 minute stint in the oven

And the final dish. A chef stack of 19 layers of chips has been witnessed by one chef...3 was enough for me

And the crème brulee. Oh, the crème brulee. The photos just can’t do it justice (it is my iPhone, remember – see K’s blog for more professional photos!) but if you look closely you’ll see the vanilla seeds were perfectly distributed throughout the custard. And to see the grin spread across Darrin’s face when he cracked through his sugar shell to see that his thinking had been spot on was brilliant! I think every other chef as the School heard about it within 5 minutes ☺

iPhone doesn’t do close-up, which is probably just as well. This is close enough to food porn as it is

New skill of the day: Kneading pasta and shaping tortelli. A soothing, repetitive task, perfect for a week where work has driven me nuts and I can escape to the comfort of the kitchen.

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