- Food & Drink
Week 11. The penultimate week; our last full week in the kitchens and what, after 54 days of intensive cookery tuition, am I doing? I’m splitting the soup again.
Day 71 (Monday) began so well. At 8am I was mixing a brown soda bread. At 8.30am I was feeding lumps of butter into a saturated fat-hungry brioche dough. By 9.30am, the soda bread was cooling, the brioche was slow rising in the fridge and I’d fried a panful of croutons without burning any of them.
The brioche and the soda bread were extras. My main cooking duty was mussel soup with croutons; a soup with plenty of milk in it that would involve careful temperature control to ensure it didn’t split like my mushroom abomination. Determined to learn from previous mistakes, I made the soup so slowly and gently that it occasionally felt like I was reversing time. My old lady soup driving efforts were repaid and, eventually, I had a saucepan of liquid that combined briny and creamy to magnificent effect.
Satisfied, I turned the gas off and took my pommes dauphine mix (mashed potato and choux pastry) over to the deep fat fryer. 5 minutes later, I came back to wipe down my section and found my soup seething and boiling like a witches brew. I hadn’t turned the gas off, I’d turned it up. Not only had the soup split, it had sprayed grey, foamy geysers all over the walls.
I wailed my grief all around the kitchen and mopped up the mess. My only comfort was that I’d kept the mussels in a separate bowl, so at least they hadn’t been beaten to a pulp by the roaring thermal currents.
My teacher consoled me by telling me that it tasted very nice and could be rescued with some judicious sieving and blitzing with a hand-held blender. Then I had to put it in a Bowl of Shame and it was put into a cupboard so no one would see it/make the horrible mistake of trying to eat it.
Day 70 was a better day, not least because it was Steak Day. Every student was going to griddle their own slab of delicious fillet steak for lunch. No matter how full of dread and despair you are, Steak Day will always pull you into the kitchen.
I was making 2 accompaniments for my steak: aioli, because I was going to do it in my exam, and bearnaise sauce. I love making mayonnaise and if I had more muscles my upper arms, I’d make mayonnaise all day. A satisfactory 20 minutes of garlic crushing and egg whisking led to a bowl of spreadably thick aioli that was my pride and joy.
The béarnaise was a little more tricky and kept threatening to scramble and split the second I let my eyes wander from the pan. I did, just about, manage to pull it together and produce something that would pass for béarnaise in dim lighting and after a few apéritifs.
As well as the sauces, I’d made coconut meringues, 2 bouncy loaves of brioche and a Normandy pear tart that had oozed out of the pastry case and welded itself to the tin. Even if I ruined the steak, I could comfort myself with the knowledge that there would be plenty of dessert to binge on.
Nervously I approached the hazy-hot griddle, tongs in hand. I laid the meat down on the pan and then spent the next 8–10 minutes prodding, prodding and prodding the steak some more in an attempt to not overcook it. This resulted in a medium-rare steak, rather than the rare-medium 1 I’d been aiming for, but hell, it tasted good.The Ginger Pig. They explained that we were doing it to give us something to do. I suspect similar reasons applied at Ballymaloe.
Remembering my Ginger Pig class, I got the joint off the bone fairly smoothly and, once scored, roasted it on top of the rack of bones. It was a lovely piece of meat, which I plated up with roast new potatoes and a pot of parsley standing in for apple sauce (treeloads of the stuff had been made but I couldn’t find so much as a spoonful when I needed it).
Friday (day 73) was a disaster. It was lobster day – week 11 was all about the luxury dead things – and I’d been looking forward to it because I’d never eaten lobster before. But I was exhausted, completely broken on the wheel of relentless evening lectures and early morning starts. I plodded about the kitchen like a depressed donkey in gravity boots.
My inertia meant that I got nothing done and by 12.30 I was still at the lobster chopping and shredding stage. Finally whipped into a frenzy, I starting frying lobster in butter while simultaneously splitting another panful of milky fish soup (seafood chowder). I’d also made a loaf of soda bread that stuck to the tin and burnt a batch of ciabatta.
On the brink of chest heaving, lung bursting sobs, I slopped some lobster in cream sauce into a small bowl, garnished it and presented it to my teacher 45 minutes after everyone else had left the kitchen. It tasted good, but then it would – it was 3/4 butter and cream. I took it into the dining room for a hurried, harried lunch and wished I was anywhere but Ballymaloe.