Friday, November 15, 2013

I'll make you Roux the day that ...

Every year for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries my lady wife and I go through a complex and often confusing (to outsiders) process. 

Mrs Stuffy buys me something that I would love to have but could never justify buying for myself whilst I buy her something that she hides in a wardrobe until she thinks I've forgotten about it (I never, ever, do).

As a result we now try and identify things like breaks, holidays, trips, weekends away, transient experiences that show we care but don't hang around if we get it wrong. Our recent Maldivian excursion was my attempt to please my birthday girl.

Last April, as yet another birthday dawned to the sound of church bells and urchins taunting me in the street, I discovered that I was enrolled in a cookery school session with that chap off Masterchef, not the plump, pugnacious one, the skinny, skillful one, Michel Roux Jr. 

I was delighted, I love to cook, I love to learn, he's obviously no slouch in the kitchen and he comes across well on his many TV appearances.

His signature restaurant is Le Gavroche, still one of the top UK restaurants, in that there, shabby London ghetto of Mayfair* and I'd not eaten there for some 20 years so it was fortuitous timing that chums Scot and Rosie shared a sumptuous (and very reasonably priced**) supper with us there a couple of weeks ago. I'd sort of hoped that Monsieur Le Chef would be there but it seems that "going to the rugby" justifies a night off from the pass. 

So to my birthday present, an intimate day cooking fine food with certainly one of the most respected (and to be honest, intimidating) chefs in the UK. The venue is the top floor cookery school at Cactus Kitchens in Clapham, it's part of a complex that also houses the studios for a number of cookery programmes including Saturday Kitchen, not a show I often see but I think I look at home on the set.

I joined the other students, (I think 'mature students' is appropriate), inevitably a mixed bag of mostly middle-aged keen foodies, chatty, knowledgeable and seemingly passionate about food, in some cases blessed, as I am, with a partner who will pay handsomely to get them out of the house for a day.

We coffee'd, we danish'd, we broke the conversational ice, we laughed nervously, we were mollycoddled by the lovely ladies who run the place and then we trooped upstairs into the eaves to meet the man.

I've done a cookery school at Raymond Blancs gaff, Le manoir aux quat' saison which was enjoyable but made notable by an absolute lack of Raymond. This was very different.

We gathered around Michel and he effortlessly kicked off the day, the format was fun, he'd demo some techniques all the while chatting about chef stuff, TV stuff, food stuff, personal stuff, encouraging questions, interaction and creating an easy informality. 
We then scurried off to our well-appointed stations to try and replicate what he'd shown us. As we exercised our respective culinary skills Michel circulated enthusiastically and guided, pointed out, complimented, enthused and in the case of my beurre blanc, rescued.

We made fougasse, it's an easy bread but great fun, we cooked artichokes, a new experience for me, creating an artichoke cocotte filled with baked egg, ham, cream and chorizo. It was an interesting dish and obviously chosen to enable the demonstration (and subsequent exercise) of many skills, knife work, stove and oven use, palate, timing, concentration and a little instinct. It's a dish I'm now very happy with and will be delighted to inflict on family and chums here at the Barn. 

We also prepped and cooked some exceedingly fresh scallops, poached in a leek stock and served with leeks julienne on smoked salmon. Again, out of my comfort zone, I'm not a shellfish fan but I was delighted with the results, the techniques and information imparted and will be more than happy to deliver this dish to whomsoever is here next for supper.

All the clients seemed to be at least competent in the kitchen, apparently that's not always the case, they do have folk show up with no kitchen skills but I can't help thinking that would be a waste of some great instruction and insight.

Overall I find it hard to fault the day, the venue, the organisation or the host. As those who know me will probably attest I'm not prone to praise but he seemed to be a genuinely nice bloke and I'm now moved to break all my rules and congratulate my better half on a great gift and a great day. 

With Christmas on the horizon, no pressure there then***.

**more sarcasm

NB Click on the Cactus kitchens logo for a link to their website.

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