That’s all folks!

And here we are. We have reached the final curtain. Today was our last day, save for our practical exam next week, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to update you on my final two weeks at Leiths. We have had some amazing guest chefs demonstrating and cooking for us over the past 9 months and the last couple of weeks did not disappoint either. Along with Bruno Loubet (such a lovely chap), there has been Norman Musa and Atul Kochhar of Benares fame (guess where we’re going to celebrate Bill’s birthday?). And who could forget the delightful Tom (or Chris and Nick)? Not me, that’s for sure. The afternoon was possibly the highlight of my time at Leiths (and there have been many highlights). Tom and his team were truly great fellows. There was nothing starry about them and each played a part in the dem. I tried to play it cool and pretend it was all just part of every day life but there was an obvious buzz around the school and even the teachers were unashamed to show their excitement. Oh, and by the way, the food was fab too.

Lush. Just lush.
Lush. Just lush.

Down to Earth with a bump and the theory exam was held on Monday. It was as tough as we expected it to be and we won’t know the outcome until next week. At least there will be no more weekends, evenings or early mornings of revision. We had some good news this week when we were told that our whole group passed the wine exam – I, for one, was not convinced that I would despite my love for a glass of red. In between the dems and the exams we have managed to fit in a little cooking and have all been trying to second guess the content of the practical exam. We have been asked to prepare and cook scallops on more than one occasion and also to produce a savoury souffle. Yesterday (Thursday) we were put out of our misery when Claire informed us that in 4 1/2 hours we will be required to prepare and produce scallops (good guess) with cauliflower puree and pancetta, prepare and cook a best end neck of lamb (French or English trim – remember a previous blog?) using ingredients from a selection provided and to include a farinaceous (but not mashed potato) and a vegetable accompaniment, deliver an individual gateau pithivier (yes, puff pastry) and if that isn’t enough, at some point during the morning we will get a tap on the shoulder and be asked to prepare and present a short order cheese soufflé. My exam is on Monday, no prizes for guessing what I’ll be up to this weekend.

Last week’s final cooking included 4 from my group cooking a dinner party for 4 of our fellow trainees. It was huge fun but hard work and it gave us (we worked under our Amba chefs banner) a good insight into how we work together. Harriet, Megan, Sophie and Annabel cooked for us on Thursday and it was truly outstanding. Beautifully presented, amazing food. Well done girls.

Amazing plates
Amazing plates

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The girls were extremely complimentary about our food too, the highlight of which was assiette of strawberries – almost too good to eat. And, as if the pressure wasn’t enough, Jenny Stringer co-MD at Leiths joined our table for lunch. Jenny told us that it was the best dessert she has ever had. By the way, the rest of the meal was delicious too – even though I do say so myself.

A lovely day
A lovely day

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Finally, here I am on the 05:33 (yes, the morning one) to Liverpool Street for an 08:00 start at school. It’s exam day! I had a run through of all of the dishes over the weekend and things seemed to go fairly well. I hope it goes as well today. Re-take day is Friday and I really don’t want to be there. Please wish me luck.

Then it really is back to reality. I’m hoping to have a bit of a break – no more 05:30 alarm calls for a while and we’re going for a week’s holiday. I plan to do some freelance work in between launching ‘Amba chefs’ so please bear me in mind for any of your catering needs.

I hope to continue blogging in some form and if all goes well today I can drop the ‘trainee’ and blog as ‘chefahoy’!

Thank you for following me over the past 9 months. I hope I’ve provided some entertainment. It has been a fantastic experience and I will be very sad for it all to end. Au revoir.

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Biga, bisque and bloodshed

I’m not sure if I’ve suddenly become desensitised (train and tube tolerant) but very little has aggravated me this week. Yes, the sniffers, snorers and smelly still get to me but not enough for me to report. The only vaguely irritating things I can add to my list this week are: 1. People who turn the pages of their newspaper in an aggressive manner (see, scraping the bottom of the barrel but it does happen) and 2. People who you know only enough to acknowledge with the briefest of nods, i.e. parents of your children’s friends or the neighbour who lives nextdoor but-10, but insist on sitting next to you on the 07:05 to Liverpool Street and try to make small talk for the next 40 minutes. I DON’T WANT TO! I bet you’re thrilled that there are only 2 more blogs to go!

There’s a strange old atmosphere at school. It is still extremely busy and we continue to learn loads but it is getting very end of termy. Last Thursday I had an appointment with a headteacher at a school in Ascot to discuss the delivery of a Leiths course (I won’t mention the name of the school but Princess Beatrice attended back in the day) and it was a clear case of déjà vu. On went the high heels and the office dress and I was instantly transported back (actually not instantly transported – it took me two and a half hours to get there) to my Southend days and the endless round of meetings in Headteachers’ offices.

This week started with an all-day cooking session on Monday – chocolate and petite fours. I can hear you salivating from here but it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. To start with it was very, very messy. Very sticky and very chocolaty. We worked in fours for most of the session and were each allocated tasks. We had to produce truffles, marshmallows, fondant fancies, nougat and macaroons. My job was the nougat – you try stirring a bowl of nougat. Man alive! Ansobe’s help was required. The finished selection did look very pretty (except for the fondant fancies – don’t ask) and tasted pretty good too. At the end of the session we all craved salt (especially Phil) so we went to the pub (not with Phil) – well alcohol is a good salt substitute!

The stars of the show for the remainder of the week have been lobster, crab and snails. On Wednesday we prepared a detrempe for Danish pastries and made a biga (a starter for fougasse), made a pistachio souffle (very delicious) and prepared a bisque (also very delicious). Oh, and we killed and grilled a lobster to be served with beurre blanc. Yes, killed a lobster! Quickly and sharply stick a knife in just below the head and cut quickly again through the head before swiftly turning it round and cutting (quickly again) through the back. It was not a task any of us were looking forward to and, for most of us it was pretty tough. Sue was very clear at the beginning of the session that we had to be certain that we would go through with it before starting and that we had to complete the task with the least amount of stress for the animal (crustacean). We all managed it and the dish was a huge success but it’s not top of my repeat list.

On Thursday it was ‘crab day’. For some reason I thought it would be easier. The procedure is that you lift the apron underneath the crab, locate the hole, place the tip of your steel in the hole and bang down with a saucepan. (I sense I’ve lost some of my avid readers already.) I didn’t mention that you then move the steel back and forth to finish the job before poking  a cocktail stick into the crab’s eyes to ascertain death has definitely occurred. Reader – I wimped out. I did not kill the crab. Thank you to my lovely partner, Chris, who conducted the dirty deed for me. I am forever in his debt. I don’t think he signed up to that at the beginning of the week. I did however prepare the cooked crab and made a fine tian of crab with a Bloody Mary sauce. A lovely dish. We also made an array of Danish pastries with a choice of fillings including almond, pecan and cinnamon.

On Thursday Bruno Loubet, The Grain Store (worth another Google), entertained us with his take on vegetable dishes. Bruno prepared, and we sampled, vegetable chorizo stuffed courgette flowers, vegetal caviar on fermented corn and potato pancake and sweet parsnips. A hugely interesting dem.

Friday ended with Matt from Riedel, the wineglass company, demonstrating what a difference a glass makes. Who knew that there are different glasses for different wines and I’m telling you now, the glass does make a difference. I have never been a fan of oaked Chardonnay but drinking it from one of Riedel’s £22 Chardonnay specific glasses has converted me. I’m not sure I will be rushing to buy the £395 decanter that Matt poured the Cabernet Sauvignon from though despite its undeniable beauty. I will never look at a wine glass in the same way again. Btw – ditch the cut glass, they are a definite no-no.

So, here we are at the end of week 8. Next week is the last full week of cooking. We have our theory exam on 22 June and, today, we were allocated our practical exam slots – mine is on 1 July. And then it really is the end of term. On the 20 June I have work experience with a local catering company and then I really have to concentrate on my future. Watch this space.

I’m off in to Hertford this evening and, make no mistake, the wine glasses will be under close scrutiny. Have a good weekend.

Au revoir Ansobe


I apologise in advance for this short but, hopefully, sweet blog. I’m am the guest blogger for Leiths this week  and only so much happens in a week – I will let you know when it my blog has been uploaded to the Leiths site.

I’m not sure if public transport has been quiet this week or if my head has been so buried in my wine book that I haven’t noticed what’s been going on around me. Only one addition to my list of ‘things that should not be allowed’ is people who play games on electronic devices and who somehow manage to get fellow passengers involved. I refer, in particular, to the man who sat next to me on the tube last Tuesday and who proceeded to play Novak Djokovic from St James Park to Tower Hill. Four times I was caught on the knee by his back hand. My book was abandoned whilst I prayed for Cliff Richard to appear heralding ‘rain stopped play’. I was also going to include ‘people who try to draw you into conversation when you, quite clearly, have better things to do’. But the lovely Aussie chap who asked me on Friday if I was doing a presentation or revising for an exam (the cue cards were his clue) and then continued to ask questions about my course was so sweet when he got off (thankfully 3 stops later) and wished me lots of luck that I refuse to include him in the list.

So, here we are with just 3 short weeks to go. I’ve drenched my Leiths blog in sentimentality so will spare you that in this blog. Suffice to say there are sad days to come. The past few weeks have included final dems from the teachers culminating in Ansobe’s and Helene’s patisserie and petite fours dem on Friday. They really had their work cut out trying to keep us entertained on Friday morning as the group’s focus was inevitably on the wine exam scheduled for the afternoon. They did a sterling job and I think it was the work of a genius to timetable such tempting treats for this particular dem. It was still difficult to come out of the dem to be confronted by the White Group who had just completed the wine exam (a different paper to us unfortunately) and who informed us that it was extremely difficult. Yes, it was quite difficult and you definitely needed to know your Burgundy from your Bordeaux, your qualitatswein from your pradikatswein and your joven from your gran reserva. I hope I did.

Cooking included croissants, terrines, jam and the delicious scallops with lemongrass and couscous.

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Scallops with lemongrass and couscous
Terrine de champagne with onion confit
Terrine de champagne with onion confit

With only 3 weeks to go and a theory exam and practical exam looming, we are really forcing ourselves to focus on life after Leiths. Many of us have a clear idea of next steps and many of us don’t. As for me, I’m going into business with 3 very close Leiths buddies. We are starting a company, Amba chefs, Amba being a name made up of our initials. It is an outside catering company and we are looking at premises on Monday. Please remember our name and keep us in mind for any of your catering needs. We offer services from small, intimate dinner parties to the biggest wedding you can imagine. And, you never know, I may even write a blog to charter our progress.

Enjoy the sun. I intend to.

Delicieux Desserts

Apologies to all those who noticed that last week’s blog ended rather abruptly. And further apologies to those of you who were concerned that I have been stuck in a tunnel on the 18.11 since last Friday. The fact is that I pressed publish rather than save and my life has been so revolving around portfolio completion and wine exam revision (no cooking you’ll notice) that I just did not have the time to resurrect the blog over the weekend. Sorry, sorry! As for this week, there is very little to report train or tube-wise. It’s half term so transport has been fairly quiet. Unbelievably there have been no cancellations and 8 carriages each day. There has been so much space that I’ve found it difficult to decide where to sit. The down side of half term is the amount of children skidding on their knees (a la family wedding) across the concourse at Liverpool Street and the amount of children travelling at rush hour. Yesterday (yes, on the 18.11) a group of children and mothers came on board – high on fizzy drinks, sweets and the excitement of the Big Smoke (and that was just the mothers) and for twenty minutes had the following conversation (I apologise for the paraphrasing): ‘Mum, where are we going?’ ‘Ware’ ‘Yeah, that’s what I said, where?’ ‘And I gave you the answer – Ware’ ‘Yeah, where?’ And on, and on, and on it went. It was such a hoot!! Sorry to those of you who don’t know Hertfordshire very well – you may not get the hilarity of all this. As I write this (10.11 on Friday morning) – a later start today, a little boy has just informed the carriage that he needs a poo and  his Mum has asked if he can hold it until they reach Liverpool Street – a full 6 stops away! I hope for all our sakes he can. The upshot of all this is that I have added another thing to my list of ‘shouldn’t be alloweds’ – small children (or their mothers) on rush hour transport.

I realise (because of the abrupt ending to my blog last week) that I gave no report on my Leiths week, so here is a brief synopsis. Fun! Fun! And more fun! We just do not want it to end and we have only 4 weeks left. In a little more detail, on Monday we made smoked haddock, poached egg and mustard beurre blanc followed by crab and prawn tortellini. However, the first dish was without haddock and the second without crab or prawns – Leiths was seriously let down by the fishmonger. But, in true professional chef style, we improvised. Well, we cooked poached egg and mustard beurre blanc and tortellini filled with ricotta cheese!

On Tuesday we cooked a creative red mullet dish (the fishmonger returns) – I pan fried mine and served it on courgette tagliatelle with a fennel purée and basil oil. On Wednesday we had an all-day dem with Michael – terrines and preserves. I felt really inspired to try some recipes but then realised I just don’t have the time. (Family, look out, a number of terrines may be appearing at the Family Picnic this year.) We sampled fois gras and chicken liver parfait with Sauternes, smoked mackerel and trout with saffron potatoes terrine (delish), pressed fois gras terrine with green peppercorns, artichoke and rabbit, confit salmon terrine, terrine of baby vegetables, pan-fried fois gras with figs, duck confit rillettes, ballotine of confit pork and duck ham, all followed by an array of jams, conserves and chutneys. Well, it was an all-day dem! It was Michael’s last dem to us so he received an extremely well-deserved round of applause. Friday was an all-day cooking day – cheese gannat (so good), tuna with fennel and asparagus salad and a marinated vegetable vinaigrette, pan fried sweetbreads with Madeira jus, baby carrots, fresh peas, baby leeks and pomme purée and, to top it all, sable aux fraises. There has been a lot of ‘jus making’ recently – the photograph shows the empties from just one kitchen.

Sable aux fraises
Sable aux fraises
The empties!
The empties!

And so to this week. Monday, as you know, was a bank holiday. Not for me. The deadline for handing in our portfolios was Tuesday so most of the weekend was spent titivating mine. On Tuesday we, again, had an all-day cooking session. The brief was to serve a main course portion of duck using as much of the bird as possible and serving it with, you’ve guessed it, a jus. The first hurdle was to joint the duck. I prepared pan-fried duck breast and confit of duck leg (meat taken from the bone and reformed around the bone, dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and deep-fried) served with celeriac purée, baby carrots, beetroot dice and a beetroot jus.

On Wednesday I had a 04:30 alarm call to catch the 05:33 to Liverpool Street In order to be at school by 07:30 to catch a coach destined for Sussex. It felt like we were on a school trip, as I guess we were – much excitement and sharing of snacks. The reason for the trip? We first visited Plumpton College where, amongst other courses of study, they deliver the WSET wine course. We heard a couple of very good speakers, had a look at the vineyard and were shown around the wine making area. Best of all, we were able to sample the sparkling wines they produce. Oh, and we had lunch and were able to purchase the delicious cheese they also produce. After lunch we were taken to Ridgeview Wine Estate – a family company producing sparkling wines. It is a truly beautiful vineyard and well worth a visit. Oh, and we sampled more sparkling wine. The wine was very welcome as it anaesthetised us enough for the journey home. The least said about the coach driver, the better. He was an extremely affable chap but not the best man for the job. He wasn’t at all sure where he was headed (thank you to Dan for guiding him in on the sat nav on your phone) and was hell bent on taking us down the narrowest country lanes in the largest Mercedes Benz coach known to man. We do live to tell the tale though. It was a really good day and helped put what we’ve learnt into perspective.

On Thursday we made puff pastry, a parfait and praline – all for use today (Friday). In the morning we had a dem from Ben Tish of the Salt Yard Group. I’m saying nothing except Google him in the way you Googled Frederick Forster in the first term. The food he produced was amazing and I thoroughly recommend you visit  one of his restaurants. You may not get to see him though, he doesn’t do much cheffing these days. And today we prepared a dessert incorporating puff pastry, parfait, praline and sabayon. A good time was had by all and some beautiful dishes were produced. Mine tasted lovely, very good flavours but still requires some finesse. I’m working on it.

My dessert.
My dessert.

I’m off to a Turkish restaurant this evening. Have a lovely weekend.

4 Coach Chaos Continues!

Monday came around very quickly and so did the train debacle. Hearts sank and faces became grim as it was announced that the 07.05 would, once again, be reduced to 4 coaches. As it arrived at St Margaret’s it was pretty obvious that there was standing room only and very little of it. We all squeezed our way on and tried to find a little bit of private space. As we pulled away from the station the driver made the following announcement (pretty much word for word): ‘I would like to apologise to those passengers who have just got on at St Margaret’s. You may have noticed that there are only 4 coaches’ (no s**t Sherlock – that was me, not him) ‘this is because a number of our rolling stock are in for repair. This train was almost cancelled but we managed to pull together 4 coaches. We have to make do with what we’ve got. I do apologise, and that comes from my heart, what little is left of it and some say I haven’t even got one’! I’d like to say that the response was a unanimous titter but the only positive response he got was from those smug passengers with their bums on seats. By the time we got to, yes, Edmonton Green, I could feel mysel getting palpitations and for good reason. This time the language was so bad that I really thought a fight would break out. It really is not a pleasant way to start the week. Oh, yes, today the train was cancelled!

Just to lighten the mood a little, a couple more ‘shouldn’t be alloweds’: (1) loud yawners. Why do some people feel the need to yawn with as much vocal as they can muster? And if they can get their tonsils on display as well, they really hit the jackpot. (2) Cheap perfume. It shouldn’t be allowed anywhere and definitely not next to me on a crowded tube. Maybe I should forgive this one though because the underlying aroma was of poached sweetbreads and I was the only one to blame. Sorry! (3) People who don’t look where they are dumping their rucksacks? My apple strudel has been rendered inedible. (Bill may still partake of a slice – I’ll tell him it’s supposed to look that.)

Train trouble!

I started writing this blog on Thursday morning from the comfort of a corner, window seat (more about this later) and only really have two things to report travel-wise. On Monday, on the busiest rush hour tube, a chap got on at Embankment with the most gorgeous Weimaraner pup. I couldn’t resist a little stroke (of the dog, although the chappy wasn’t too bad either) and all around were coos of delight. Until, that is, said pup, in all her nervousness, decided to relieve herself of the biggest wee known to man. I have never seen bags retrieved from the floor so quickly nor so many people crammed into a small area as they sidestepped the torrent of canine urine.

Talking of people crammed into small spaces brings me to the delightful commutes I have experienced this week. As I’ve probably already told you my train station, St Margaret’s, is the second stop from Hertford East, the beginning of the line, and I am fortunate enough to get a seat – albeit I usually have to scramble over somebody who has taken the aisle seat and not the window seat. Picture my, and my fellow commuters’, dismay this week when the train was cut from 8 coaches to 4. Yes, cut by half! By the time the train reached St Margaret’s, Greater Abellio had been scratched from the side of the carriages to be replaced by Indian Rail with people sitting on the luggage racks and noses pressed against the windows. However, with true British spirit, us St Margaretarians pushed and shoved and wedged ourselves in. Not so at the 6 stations the train has then to pass through. Although there were a number of concerns voiced along the way it was all fairly civilised until Edmonton Green where fever pitched. On Tuesday a man banged (very loudly) on a window and shouted (very loudly) for everyone to move down the carriage. Where to? I was already so intimate with my fellow travellers that we were arranging a Christmas do! And, on Wednesday, again at Edmonton Green (what is it about the place?), I could hear raised voices – I couldn’t see where they were coming from because my face was firmly wedged against Mark’s (of course I asked his name first) arm pit but I did hear a rather upmarket voice very politely ask a man to ‘get off the train until he could present with a better attitude’. Uh oh! You’re a braver man than me Gunga Din (I know it’s ‘better’-  allow me some poetic license).

So, now it is Thursday evening and the end of a super-busy day. A man sat next to me on the tube and proceeded to instantly fall asleep but instead of snoring and dribbling, he nose-whistled! I was thoroughly entertained all the way from St James’ Park to Liverpool Steeet. What a skill to have. He must be so proud.

The sessions in school this week have been an exercise in continuity with aspects of dishes being prepared ready for use later in the week. On Monday we made rabbit ravioli (but only the ragu and pasta bit) in preparation for assembly on Tuesday. We also slow-roasted tomatoes and grilled red peppers ready for consommé on Tuesday. And, finally, we cooked an egg, in its shell, in the water bath of the sous vide ready to be served with asparagus. We had to weigh our eggs and ‘water bath’ them at 63 degrees for 1 minute per gram. One of my eggs weighed 64g so 64 minutes it was. At the end of that time the shell was cracked and the egg presented on/with the asparagus. One of my more entertaining buddies described it as phlegm on a plate and I couldn’t disagree. As our teachers said, it was an experiment and at least we still had the beautiful asparagus to munch. I’ll be sticking to old fashioned poaching in future.

So, then, on Tuesday we assembled and cooked our rabbit ravioli with a cream sauce (quite delicious) and cleared (vigorous whisking of egg whites and shells in the liquid to form a crust to filter the liquid through – remember?) our consommé to be served with concassed roasted pepper. I was pretty pleased with mine.

Pretty clear, don't you think?
Pretty clear, don’t you think?

On Wednesday we made puff pastry (lots of butter and much ridging – is that a word? – rolling and folding) to be used on Thursday and we boned out a chicken to form a ballotine with the thigh and leg meat forming the base of the stuffing. What can I say about Wednesday? Things didn’t bode well when we realised that the morning groups (usually super-speedy) were still in the kitchens at 13:30. It was a pretty tough session with many tears shed (and that was just the teachers). The pastry had to be rolled and folded 6 times with a 20 minute fridge rest between each roll and fold. During the rests the chicken was partially prepared. Each time we went back to the pastry we had to completely clear down our benches (including sanitising – us and the area) before we could roll and fold and then completely clear the pastry detritus before recommencing on the chicken. What a flipping palaver! We finally left the kitchen at about 17:20 with nothing to show for our hard work because it was all preparation for Thursday. And, can’t remember if I mentioned before, 4 Leiths buddies and I, for our sins, are also signed up for a ‘running your own business’ course on a Wednesday evening (ending at 21:45) – not the best idea we’ve ever had.

Thursday found us in the kitchen all day, a 09:30 start. We made seafood feuilletees with our puff pastry. The fish filling included lemon sole, salmon and tiger prawns on a bed of samphire and served with buerre blanc (our first attempt at this sauce – lots of butter and lots of whisking but very much worth the effort). There was a service time of 12:45 – just in time for lunch.

Seafood feuilletees
Seafood feuilletees

After a quick break and a, much needed, cup of tea we started on the afternoon lap. We tenderly cared for our rosemary jus (started in the morning and lovingly cared for throughout) “you have to love your jus” was Sue’s mantra for the day. We cooked our chicken ballotine and prepared our chef’s choice potato dish – mine was potato salardaise cooked in duck fat and not for the faint hearted (or those concerned for their arteries). There was a lot of butter in the kitchen on Thursday. The afternoon dish was served with spring greens or green beans and I also made a parsley purée as an accompaniment. All in all a very pleasing day. And I got to take some home for Bill. Everyone’s a winner!

Chicken ballotine, potato salardaise, spring greens and rosemary jus
Chicken ballotine, potato salardaise, spring greens and rosemary jus

The dems this week included ‘spirits and liqueurs’ on Monday. Malt whiskey at 10:30 is not to be recommended. On Tuesday Ansobe entertained with her dem on chocolate. What’s not to like? She talked us through a brief history of chocolate (we think we believed what she told us but you just never know) and she demonstrated tempering chocolate – seeding and tabling. She showed us how to create chocolate shells for filling and, best of all, we got to sample truffles and moulded chocolates. A very pleasant morning.

It was Heli and Helen’s turn on Wednesday with their yeasted pastry dem. Heli welcomed Helene back from her honeymoon by coercing her into preparing the dough for brioche – much kneading of much butter into the mix and all by hand. The duo demonstrated the making of croissants, brioche, Danish pastries, craquelins and raspberry savarin. Can you even begin to imagine the delicious smells in the kitchen that morning? We were able to sample them all and Heli and Helene really inspired us to ‘try this at home’. My favourite was the Danish pastry filled with frangipane.

Today, Friday, I am on my way to school for an all-day health and safety course. Not the best way to end the week. Please think of me. A large glass of red may be required at the end of the day. Have a good weekend.

A Cork(er) of a Tuesday

So, what are your thoughts of men in vests? Mine is much the same as unpainted toenails in FitFlops. Not in public, please. What goes on within the confines of one’s own garden is one’s own business but please leave it there. On Wednesday a chap got on the tube in the tattiest, greying vest and sat next to me. The foliage under his arm was so extreme that I would not have been surprised to see two blue tits and their offspring nesting in there. Another no-no, as far as I’m concerned, are sunglasses on the Underground, unless, of course, you are an A-lister and, despite my round trip commute of two trains and four tubes over the last six months, I have yet to see a celebrity. I did think I was sitting opposite Ian Hislop the other day but, just as I was about to flash him my ‘private eye’ I realised I was mistaken. And today I thought I saw Tracey Emin but, again, wrong!

The pressure is very much on at school and it is clear that we are (very quickly) hurtling towards final exams and the end of term (boo hoo). On Tuesday we cooked and served roast duckling with pommes Anna, we made dough for a walnut and raisin loaf and also prepared sweetcorn purée.

Wednesday found us preparing lamb bones for a lamb jus to be used later in the week, we finished and baked our walnut and raisin loaf and we roasted pollack to be served with a mushroom mousseline (a lot of fuss and bother for very little reward – think drum sieve) and the sweetcorn purée.

On Thursday we made the lamb jus ready for use on Friday. We also prepared salmon quenelles from a salmon mousseline (see the theme?) and served them in a lemongrass and ginger broth. I was told the day before that my quenelles were a triumph (thank you Sue) but on Thursday they needed work. We also prepared pannacotta to be served on Friday.

And so to Friday – a really full-on day but huge fun. We cooked lamb fillet – some chose to cook in the sous vide but I chose the conventional method (Giles Coren, be proud!) and browned my meat in a pan before roasting for 6 minutes (it was ‘perfectly cooked’ – thank you again Sue). The lamb was served with potatoes, chef’s choice, I chose boulangere and green beans. We also prepared an onion, chilli and garlic marmalade to be served with the dish. Sue told me that a little more work is required on my presentation but ‘almost there’. Oh, I forgot, the lovingly cared for lamb jus was also served with this dish.

Work in progress. Sue removed the rhubarb from the pannacotta.
Work in progress. Sue removed the rhubarb from the pannacotta.

The dems have, again, been as much fun as the cooking (well, maybe not quite as much fun, but almost). On Tuesday afternoon we had a wine dem based on sparkling wines and Champagne (not too much to complain about there) and we were able to taste a number (9 actually) of different wines – some quite expensive. It would have been such a waste to spit, so we didn’t. I even enjoyed the Asti, and might even buy some. Oh, and Richard, the wine expert, showed us how to gently tap off the top of a Champagne bottle (cork too) with the back of a knife. Don’t try this at home.

Wednesday’s dem was all about shellfish and was delivered, in their own compelling way, by Phil and Ansobe. I lost count of the ‘man alives’ half way through – most were directed at Phil and his inability to handle a live crab (he’s arachnophobic and crabs’ claws remind him of spiders’ legs). During the dem we were taught how to kill a crab (Ansobe obviously took on this task) and a lobster (Phil managed this) in preparation for us carrying out the task in a few weeks’ time. The anticipation of the kill was actually worse than the deed. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it but, hey, if you want to be a chef. There was quite a bit of black humour during the dem. Phil went to get two lobsters out of the freezer (they had been in there a short time to stun them a little before the kill) only to find that one of them had crawled off the tray to the very back of the freezer. Ansobe was sent in to retrieve it and as it was passed to Phil one of its claws fell off (apparently this can happen when they are stressed – all quite sad really). Tip of the day was to cover the lobster with a tea towel and gently stroke its back – this gives a sea sensation and calms the lobster. I’ll let you know how I get on when the time comes. We sampled tempura soft-shelled crab with fried chillies, grilled lobster (and yes, despite being dead, you can still see them move under the grill) with red buerre blanc, langoustine bisque with Pernod and tarragon cream (say no more), razor clams Rockefeller and scallops with nettle cream (as it was Phil’s last dem he piled on the butter). At the end of the dem we had the opportunity to shuck and eat oysters (a great many of them). A great afternoon.

On Thursday it was the turn of Sue and Belinda with a ‘pasta with a difference’ dem. They prepared and we sampled tortellini (we all got to make one too) of ricotta, lemon and Parmesan with sage butter, rabbit ravioli (I’ll be making this for Sunday lunch tomorrow), lasagne of crab with shellfish cappuccino and Champagne sauce, hand rolled garganelli with new season’s morels and spring truffle pesto (I was straight on to Amazon ordering a garganelli board) and scialatelli with pesto Siciliano (mouths watering yet?). I love pasta and it was an inspiring dem.

And so to Friday and after the manic morning in the kitchen it was great to be entertained by Alison Price and Company – one of London’s most successful catering businesses. Richard, the executive chef, talked us through the history of the company and the current set-up. They have an average of 400 jobs a year and have catered for between 10 and 10,000. Richard doesn’t do much cooking these days but is the brain behind the innovative side of the company. He showed us an array of canapé trays he had designed, ranging from a bird’s nest to an artist’s easel. He also showed us a presentation of the many varieties of dishes they prepare. Halfway through the dem we trainees had to go and take a theory test (how mean on a Friday afternoon). When we returned to the dem the room had been rearranged with a rack standing over a table. Hanging from the rack were ingredients to make a dessert but this was no ordinary dessert. Richard and his pastry chef (Taren) made the dessert directly on the table and then invited us to eat off the table. It was a spectacular scene and also extremely delicious. My photographs don’t really do it justice. You had to be there and I bet you wish you were.

From here
From here

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To here
To here

Have a lovely weekend. I’m off to buy a rabbit.