‘Chef, I can’t get my legs off!’
Hardly the most auspicious of starts so of course it was me whose chicken legs were defiantly clinging on to the rest of the bird and refusing to come off in my first class…thankfully, it all went up from there.
First class at Le Cordon Bleu and first cooking class of 2014…’Cuisine Technique Essentials’. A four week evening class that claims it will teach you a ‘classic repertoire of cuisine techniques’ and armed with those, ‘you will be able to interpret recipes and improve your confidence in you kitchen at home’. Sounds perfect to me.
As someone who’s confidently able to wave a whisk around the kitchen and throw a sponge together with relatively little stress but who has considerably less confidence with a piece of meat, some vegetables and a sauce, this was exactly what I wanted to gain…a basic knowledge of classic skills that would then allow me to experiment with imagination and a touch of fearlessness.
This fervent desire to learn and to do well is why my apparent inability to detach said chicken’s legs from body was an unsettling start but you know what? I’m glad that moment of ‘oh god, I’m rubbish!’ came at the start because all it did was prove to me how lovely and reassuring and generous with their time, knowledge and skills the chefs and the assistants here were. No-one did anything that was met with any less than a big smile and a happy-to-help attitude and when you love something and can be quite hard on yourself regarding your abilities, that’s massively important.
The fruits of tonight’s labour were Soup au Pistou, a traditional vegetable soup from Provence drizzled with a Pistou Sauce which is the cousin of pesto but without the pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Normally I’d be questioning the point of anything without the addition of cheese but here, oh it’s gorgeous. Fragrant garlic, basil and olive oil blended together into a vibrant green sauce.
Simple, clean flavours made this the perfect starter to tonight’s main – Poulet Roti avec Puree de Pomme de Terre…roast chicken with pureed potato. Chicken and mash. Sounds easy right? Maybe. But to get a beautifully succulent bird whose skin was crispy and golden and whose flesh was tender and juicy and full of flavour? And silky soft potatoes blended with butter and cream until it just begged to be devoured in big heaping forkfuls? Well that’s quite a bit harder to accomplish if you do it yourself and don’t do it that often. Well tonight I did. Big fat tick pour moi.
The best thing about tonight though was the start of my ‘knowledge library’…things that I know I will use again and that go some way to explaining how fantastic food can be constructed with fairly simple ingredients. Take the mirepoix – finely diced carrot, onion and celery which forms the base of most sauces and which, as well as adding a sweetness to the dish, also acts as a brilliant de-glazer if you’re left with a warm pan, sticky with meat juices.
Or the bouquet garni – bay leaf, thyme, parsley and celery wrapped inside a leek leaf, tied with string which is used to flavour dishes when cooking. Never heard if it before but know now how simple it is and how you really don’t need to pay pounds for ready made ones in supermarkets…why would you want to? It’s one of those amazingly easy things to learn that makes you feel properly cheffy! And that’s a massive plus in my opinion…roll on week 2 please!