Stella-Maria (smtfhw) wrote in ljgourmet,

Cookery School - Part One

Saturday morning, despite having been out pretty late the night before, I was awake bright and early and in a fever of excitement. After all, I'd been waiting for this day since January when I'd been presented with a bright, shiny certificate that said several of my friends had clubbed together and bought me a day's course at Raymond Blanc's cookery school at le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in rural Oxfordshire. Anyway, in a flurry of anticipation I headed off, getting there significantly too early and ending up sitting in my car in the village centre reading a newspaper for a while before I felt I could decently go and present myself at the reception ready for a day of fusion cooking, billed as Tastes and Textures from Elsewhere.

I wasn't the first person to arrive (though I was second), and as the rest of the ten students gathered there was a gathering sense of awe, especially when we were issued with our pristine white chef's jackets, and long burgundy aprons. We all looked the part even if we couldn't necessarily prove our skills in the kitchen to justify our new garb. After a quick coffee, we were shown through to the school kitchen, tucked away in a corner of the restaurant's kitchens. We were introduced to Lisa Witkowski, who was to be our tutor for the day, and were asked to introduce ourselves. And then the fun really started.

Lisa began by producing some scallops for us, and teaching us how to extract them from their shells. I'd been quite nervous at the idea in the past (and given how difficult it is to get fresh scallops anywhere near us I'd never had the opportunity to even try), so I was very pleased to find just how easily I could extract the little darlings using just and ordinary knife and spoon! Who knew? The freshly extracted scallops would be used to make a mousse, along with the next ingredients.

And the next ingredients were a batch of freshly steamed crabs. The meat had to be removed, separated into brown and white, and the shells needed to be saved to make a crab and ginger bisque, scented with lemongrass while the meat would go into the crab and scallop mousse, which was going to end up as the filling in some freshly made ravioli.

We were given a demonstration of how to extract the crab meat from the shell, and were turned loose, with hammers, plastic bags and a variety of other implements if we wanted them. Things got very messy, especially as two of the people at my end of the table didn't do shellfish and thus didn't want to deal with the crab. The third woman just claimed she'd never cook with crab so she didn't need to know either! That left me, a hammer, and a "small" crab (small is around 2 kilos)! I had a thoroughly enjoyable time removing as much meat as possible and trying not to leave too much shell in with it, especially as Lisa had threatened a £5 fine for each piece - though how she'd know who was guilty I have no idea.

Shortly after that she decided we needed some breakfast, which turned out to be an excellent crab with tamarind and curry leaves, and then some miso soup with vegetables and tofu. Both were excellent, the curry in particular being so delicious we all dug in - at least those of us who eat shellfish - until there was none left despite trying to stop ourselves.

After that there was mid-morning coffee and some sublime little biscuits, and then it was our turn again.

We were to make pasta, turn in into ravioli stuffed with the scallop mousse, make a bisque to go with it, and stir fry some vegetables to serve the pasta on. This would be our lunch... if we managed not to make a mess of it. We were paired up and I was working with Carol, one of the non-shellfish eaters, which meant we also had to make ravioli filled with a chicken mousse so that she would have something to eat. As we all got to work, Lisa made a Sauce Epice (with cardamoms, star anise, lemon grass, cumin seeds, fennel, shallots and tomatoes among other ingredients) to go with the chicken-filled pasta.

And we made a great pair, Carol and I. We got the job done neatly, efficiently and with a minimum of fuss, as demonstrated by the fact that we were ready to eat long before the other four pairs, and we'd made less mess getting there. First the bisque had to be started, strained and put on to reduce:

Then we chopped the stir fry vegetables and boiled water for the pasta:

I also learned how to hold a chef's knife properly and not lose my fingers... Oh, and I reckon my pasta looked pretty professional:

At least until I got to the serving part and couldn't unstick it enough to make it look pretty!

And so we sat down to lunch at around 2pm, and very good it was too.
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