‘Bao’ To The Bun – A WhistleStop Global Street Food Extravaganza With The Brilliant John Fernandez At The Jericho Cookery School

The clocks went back last night and I was up at 05:30 on a Sunday morning, to be honest I was not sure what time it was, the excitement of attending another cookery school after such a long time was too much!

My last attempt failed due to, well that ‘C’ word as ‘Junior’ had ‘symptoms’ and as a result self isolation had to take place, but I had managed to secure a place on a later date and that day had finally arrived.

This was my first venture 29 miles up the road to the Jericho Cookery School just outside Oxford, and I was using a new Phone/Camera which did not work quite as expected so please excuse the pictures, normal service will resume on the next post!

The owner Emma and I had something in common, we had both lived in Eastbourne and remembered the famous “Hungry Monk’ in Jevington, the restaurant where the Bannoffee Pie was ‘evolved’ by chef Ian Dowding, click the link to read the real story of how things happened.

Unfortunately the ‘Jevington’ Hungry Monk now closed.

Social distancing was in order, a maximum of 8 hungry and expectant pupils where ready to learn some challenging and tasty Street Food recipes from the brilliant and knowledgeable chef John Fernandez, my nearest ‘neighbours’, a lovely couple who ran a farm, had driven over 2 hours from Exeter in Devon to attend such is the popularity and reputation of the school.

The courses at The Jericho Cookery School are ideally ‘bite sized’ sessions of typically between 2.5 and 3 hours, and the team had been extremely busy before we arrived, making sure every cookery station had the Ingredients laid out, and recipes at the ready so we could all attack our particular menu items straight away.

Two large bowls with Garlic and Ginger were passed up and down (safely) and amazing aromas filled the air as we got to preparing Gyoza’s, Chicken Satay, Bau and much more.

I had been given the task of preparing the Gyoza’s (Jiaozi), a speciality for Chinese New Year, but also a popular street food. I was really pleased as this was something I was keen to master, you can see the filling I made in the first picture, Pork Mince, Prawn, Spring Onion, Garlic, Ginger they were going to be delicious. There is a ‘secret’ ingredient I won’t mention, you will have to book the course to find out!

Yep, they were very delicious indeed, especially when served with the punchy sauce/dip I had also made under Johns’ guidance adding some extra ingredients not on the recipe to ‘lift’ things a bit. We were all shown two methods of creating the folds in the delicate thin water pastry cases which was actually quite therapeutic.

The group worked really well together, chatting, sharing experiences and all producing their elements of the menu time was flying by all too quickly. In the background, the very efficient Jericho team was making sure we had clean tasting spoons, washing up, providing refreshments and making the whole session run extremely smoothly.

Now, Gua Bao, or Bao Buns, fluffy light, slightly sweet, sticky, gooey, tasty, yummy, addictive so many words can be used in the same sentence for these very popular street food, especially in……… Taiwan which has a fascinating history, click the link to find out more!

John had prepared a yeast based dough which needed to rise, and then showed us how to produce the well known smiley shape, and then it was our turn, not bad for a first go I hope?

We ventured to the Far East via India, a delicious Aloo Gobi had been prepared by one couple, delicate florets of Cauliflower and Potatoes had been combined with fragrant spices to make a ‘yummy’ addition to our travels around the world, interesting was the use of the sweet Jaggery to balance the various spices that had been used. You can see how its made both traditional and modern here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhUdfB2uzgI and you can get it in many supermarkets if you look carefully in the low cost Indian Ingredients section.

Back to the Bao and once shaped and left to rise a bit more they were steamed then left to cool a little before filling with an assortment of deliciousness including a sticky mixed mushroom mixture made with the addition of Hoisin Sauce, Mushroom Soy, Oyster Sauce, Garlic and Ginger. We added slithers of Cucumber and Spring Onion and an addictive Sweet and Crispy Chilli condiment, mmmmmmm, yes please!

I love these kind of courses as you learn so much more than from a recipe book or following say, a YouTube video. Things like technique, texture and smell really need you to be in the room with the chef so you can experience what exactly is happening.

Visits to Mexico and Peru were included in the non-stop journey that Sunday morning, Ceviché as fresh as you could get and Churros with a rich Chocolate Sauce finished things off. We were shown how to skin the fillets of Bass and advised that too long in the ‘curing’ mixture would make a lovely mush!

I was extremely fortunate to visit Mexico last year and had several Ceviché and have to say that, despite the lack of sunshine and blue seas (not available in Oxford), it was banging delish….. The addition of some roasted Sweet Potato really balanced the tart acidity of the Lime cure, something I will definitely be having a go at.

So, the menu of our world tour went something like South Asian Chicken Satays With Peanut Sauce (not that claggy stuff you usually get in take-aways), Bao Buns, Ceviché, Gyoza, Aloo Gobi and ‘Mexican’ Churros with Chocolate Sauce (They are subtly different from the Spanish ones).

It was a fantastic morning, I am already booked on another course at Jericho, with Sumayya Usmani from Pakistan and also plan on booking at least one more before Christmas (this year)!

Please take a look and see if anything takes your fancy, as usual, these are my personal views, no payment or discount for promotion just an honest appraisal of my investment in learning new cookery skills,

Many thanks to Emma and her team, and John Fernandez the guest Chef for putting on a fantastic experience and putting a skip back in my step 🙂

……………………………Till next time…………….L8ers………………….

Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes) – Cooking with the Caliphs & Bethany Kehdy

It started around the 10th Century, a collection of recipes from the court of ninth-century Baghdad authored and put into a recipe book Kitab al-Tabikh. Interesting is that much of the ‘familiar’ food eaten in The Levant today bears no resemblance to recipes in the book.

So it was great excitement that sight of a random post on Instagram recently, by the Chef and Author Bethany Kehdy attracted my attention. The opportunity to sign up to a zoom cookery lesson and create some historically significant dishes was too much of a temptation and within a few minutes It was booked.

I know Bethany, I have her two cook books and we met in London a few years back when she ran a popup at a restaurant called Jago, in fact she was my inspiration to start this food blog several years ago and explore food in more detail, moving away from the conventional, dipping into the unfamiliar which has been a thoroughly satisfying journey so far.

So, a two hour ‘Zoom’ session was the plan, three recipes to tantalise the taste buds, and some culinary education on the way, Saturday was going to be very wet so a perfect excuse to spend some valuable time in the kitchen, with hopefully some tasty results to satisfy the appetite, and sharing the experience with global ‘foodies’.

Bread is a staple of the Levant, and so it made sense to come up with something to go with the dishes we were going to prepare. First thing Saturday the Mixer was loaded with a dough hook and a simple flat bread produced, yes, I know I could/should have done it by hand but I was simultaneously getting the ingredients ready (mise en place), so unusual for a man, multitasking!

We were going to make a Borani to start with, an appetiser made with either Spinach or Chard, soft Labneh and an assortment of aromats to add extra flavour, the dish would be topped off with halved, pickled grapes, yum.

I have never made Labneh before, the joining instructions we received several days before gave some alternatives, but I decided I wanted to make the ‘real deal’, which was a simple process. Yoghurt, Salt, Mix, Muslin cloth, hang over bowl in Fridge to drain the moisture. I started this on Thursday afternoon and it was ready for Saturday, delicious.

The Swiss chard and Grape Borani was very tasty with the Bread, fragrant, and crunchy with the addition of some chopped Walnuts. So that was the appetiser, what next?

If I said ‘Candied Beetroot’, what would you be thinking? My interpretation was slightly off the mark! I have been in the mobile telecoms industry for a long time. I can remember the ‘start’ of social media, and times before when you used a stamp or carrier pigeon to communicate. The miracle of communications, the internet and social media meant that I was ‘talking’ with Bethany (in Dubai, where she is based at the moment), within seconds and my mis-understanding clarified just as quickly!

Candied Beetroot Maqluba, or in my case Burgundy Beetroot was great fun to make. Layered Rice, with optional flaked Mackerel and beautiful earthy (not candied/sugared) Beetroot was delicious. I have seen this particular dish on YouTube, turned out in ceremony as its looks quite impressive when on the plate, the white and yellow Rice, and, rich and indulgent Beetroot, again another very tasty dish. This is one one of the recipes originating in the Kitab al-Tabikh cook book, the word Maqluba means ‘upside-down’.

Anyone think Aubergine is boring, if so this beauty will definitely change your mind, and its name is somewhat intriguing, ‘Lady Buran’s Sticky Badhinjan Fingers’! Its kind of sweet, sour, spicy, earthy, deliciousness and takes your mouth on a journey of tastes you will never forget.

Having been sent the ingredients and their alternatives I had decided I wanted to try and use the authentic ones like Argan Oil, Verjuice and Pomegranate Molasses, the latter I already had in the cupboard. For the Verjuice I went a bit ‘off piste’, and found something called Ab Ghorreh which is similar but actually Middle-Eastern. I checked with Bethany (Instant Messaging is just so useful), and was advised it was fine, but not to use so much as it was a bit more sour than Verjuice.

What fun we all had, Zoom did its job despite the audience being in two different American States, the UK and Dubai, and two hours of cooking chatting, questions the result was, well you can see for yourself, taste wise, it was delicious and now I have some more historic and unusual cuisine in the portfolio.

Bethany was very patient, frequently checking where we all were, answering queries on the various stages we had to go through to produce three, to be honest extremely impressive looking dishes, fit for any party, banquet, or in my case, cooked for a loved one.

I would highly recommend trying to get on one of these cookery lessons, they are about 2 hours long and great value for money, I enjoyed it so much I have already booked the next one!

As usual, I paid full price, was not offered anything and this Is just an honest view of my experience, great fun and more culinary experience to use in the future.

I have not updated this blog for a long time, obvious reasons with the mad world we are living in I have been distracted but apart from another session with Bethany on Saturday, I am attending Jericho Kitchen in Oxford (hopefully if rules don’t change), at the end of the month to do an Indian Street Food Course.

……………………………………..Until Next Time……Keep Safe……………………………….

The Wonder that is Mexico

The flight wasn’t too bad only 10 or eleven hours and I was on my adventures again, with 29 colleagues, all top performers, and the destination was Mexico.Photo 08-12-2019, 15 08 41The Banyan Tree at Mayakoba on the Maya Riviera is a luxury hotel, everyone gets a villa with private pool, lots of outside seating to chill and listen to the birds talking to each other, it was paradise. Each villa gets a bicycle for each occupant, or alternatively pick up the phone and an eco friendly buggy will come and pick you up!Photo 05-12-2019, 10 26 53A welcome dinner had been prepared for us, interesting were the bread rolls filled with a cream cheese, unusual but tasty. The fish was very fresh and cooked perfectly, it looked like Stone Bass but whatever it was, it was damn good,

These trips are full on, the itinerary is jam packed and on this one, I had added a couple of extra’s, a cookery course that I have already posted about, and a trip to the ancient site at Tulum, an important historical port which was on my bucket list, and now ticked off.

Breakfast at the Banyan Tree was nuts but in a positive way as the choice was endless. I opted to go local and was glad I did, a cookery station prepared various options each morning, if you wanted Sausage, Bacon and Eggs that was available on the buffet station. The fruit was delicious, fresh, nicely prepared and extremely tasty with lots of variety. Unusual, but very good was the Bacon Wrapped…………Banana with the Eggs. Nice!Photo 05-12-2019, 18 20 35The first activity was ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicles), followed by some history on the Mayan Civilisation and a dip in a Cenote. The morning flew by and it as soon time for lunch, hurray.

Lunch was at La Fondita, part of the Mayakoba complex where we were staying and was to be a real treat. We were presented with numerous ‘Tostadas’ laden with delicious toppings such as Ceviche Mixto (Mixed Seafood, Tomato, Onion, Avocado, and Black Habanero Salsa) and Atún con Chicharrón (Tuna, Habanero, Avocado, Lime, Red Onion, Crispy Pork Rinds) which was particularly good and I managed more than one! There were Meat, Chicken and Vegetarian options and they were all FAB.

A ‘nice swim at my villa’ was just what was needed after the mornings activity as I had not dipped completely in the Cenote, but just dangled my feet. Those little fish that nibble your toes in the various resorts around the Med were a natural phenomena in the pool of water so I got my feet tickled by their nibbling instead! The evenings activity was to be a ‘meal in a cave’ and ‘Chaak’ the Water God was one of the statues that were to great us as we walked up to our evening venue, Rio Secreto.Photo 06-12-2019, 01 34 39I have never eaten in a cave before, we were 50 metres below the surface in a beautiful cavern, and entertained by a Mayan ritual dance which was extremely energetic, as we were served a combination of Mexican and International Cuisine.

The main course was fine but for me the standout dishes were the starter, a Tamale, filled with Cream Cheese and served with a mild Pepper Sauce and the take on a Cheesecake which was delightful, a crisp shell with a sweet cheese filling, very tasty and a beautiful light finish. Time for bed, #Stuffed.Photo 06-12-2019, 17 28 07The following day was free time, I had booked on a cookery course, it was awesome, see the previous post for details as I learned the proper techniques to prepare Mexican cuisine and was taught by the lovely Karla, who really knew her beans 🙂 Photo 06-12-2019, 18 05 04After a welcome rest we were off to Cancun to Rosa Negra, a ‘hip’ goto restaurant with a reputation for food and entertainment.

They must have been having a very off night, there are loads of reviews saying this is the best restaurant in Cancun, oh dear! The beetroot starter was MASSIVE, way too big, ugly in fact. It was completely un-balanced and from what I saw, most plates where sent back with at least 1/2 the food uneaten. The concept was fine, but reduce the Beetroot by 2/3’s and increase the Goats Cheese Mouse by 400% and you would have a fantastic dish. The fish was style over substance, apparently there was Hoisin Sauce but the Salty Soy was so strong you could not taste it. The Carrot Cake was sweet, sweet, too sweet, much too sweet! Sorry this was my worst meal of the whole trip which was a shame as a little attention to detail and it could have been amazing, I guess the head chef had a night off!

The following morning was our last before moving on to Tulum, breakfast was a delicious Blue Corn Quesadilla stuffed with Courgette Flowers and Oaxaca cheese, yumm. After a few hours on a 44 Foot luxury Catamaran and a light lunch we were ready for dinner again! This time it was ‘CATCH’ in Playa del Carmen.

Catch was amazing, the food was amazing, the views over the town were also very good, fireworks kicking off as we ate course after course after course! Standout dishes were the ‘Hellfire Rolls’ (spicy Tuna Two ways, Green Apple and Balsamic), ‘Catch Ceviche’ (Crab, Caribbean Lobster, Shrimp, Scallop, Mango and Orange Ponzu), ‘Wagyu Short Rib Taco’s (Huitlacoche Aioli, Guacamole, Mango & Serrano Relish), in fact, it was all bloody delicious! Next Stop Tulum.Photo 08-12-2019, 22 23 41

What can I say about Tulum………traffic jams, slow traffic, building, Taboo Beach Club, Casa Malca and some historic ruins (about 30 of them just down from Mayakoba) 🙂 Its a hip place and our stop before reaching our hotel was the beach club. It was slow, lazy, relaxing and just the thing after a few busy days. Lunch was fantastic, probably the best Seabass (Branzino) I have ever eaten, it was beautiful. The Ceviche starter was delish as was the Ricotta Orange Cheesecake.

We all relaxed for a few hours, taking in the atmosphere, the DJ was amazing and the Saxophone player, walking around and amongst the guests was extremely good, it was a really delightful afternoon and it was soon time to book into our hotel, Pablo Escobars’ old hideaway, now a boutique hotel Casa Malca, about 20 mins away

Almost done, phew, I’m nearly full up. Casa Malca has a style of its own, eclectic, eccentric and hip. Previously Pablo Escobars hideaway it’s now a boutique hotel owned by an America art dealer which makes for some interesting items spread around the property. This was our last location before flying back to the UK.

Evening dinner was very pleasant, the restaurant has a new chef and the food was exemplary if not that Mexican. After getting up early to go to the ruins and feeling somewhat hungry (I have no idea why, after the previous few days), breakfast called and a interesting cup of tea (which was very nice) and a freshly cooked Omelette, which was the tastiest I have ever eaten and beautifully presented. This was not quite the finale to this epic adventure. We had one last stop for lunch at Mina, another Beach Club, Burritos and Pizza which were nicely cooked, the kitchen very open plan.Photo 09-12-2019, 18 20 00

 

…………………………..Until next time…………….L8ers……………………

I should quickly mention that on our return journey we spent a few hours at a school for disadvantaged children, donating a load of food for breakfast, for some the only meal they get each day. We also played and watched them smile with beams of happiness, that we would spend time with them, it was a wonderful end to the trip.Photo 09-12-2019, 19 59 24

 

A Mexican Dream – El Pueblito Cookery School, learning to cook Mexican food in Mexico, from a Mexican chef!

So I am in Mexico at the moment, enjoying some sun and culture. Did you know the Mayans invented Bubblegum! Nor did I until yesterday, but as often happens synthetics and mass production take over and what was an organic by product of the Manilkara Chicle tree is now artificial,  and full of all sorts of ‘stuff’.Photo 06-12-2019, 10 27 59Having spent a few hours with the delightful Executive Chef/Tutor Karla Enciso, at the El Pueblito Cookery School at Mayakoba my senses have been kick started, I am now of the firm belief that Mexican food has been much maligned by mass production and marketing by multi-national brands, I am sure you know who I mean.

Being extremely fortunate to be awarded a ‘prize’ for hard graft again, I found myself the holder of a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Mexico, and this included some spare time to enjoy the resort we are staying at, in between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on the ‘Riviera Maya’.IMG_1173Mayakoba is a ‘complex’ with a number of hotels, a championship golf course, and a small ‘village’ where the cookery school resides. I had booked 3 hours of 1-2-1 cooking, just me and the lovely Karla.

On arrival a ‘station’ had been prepared for me with various ingredients, and a couple of ‘Molcajete’  which are rough stone pestle and mortar type implements. As I used them it struck me that they were much more effective than the version I had a home, and generally seen available in the U.K., the surface was much rougher due to the use of stone rather than a smoother marble like product.photo-06-12-2019-10-42-35-1.jpgKarla has a couple of assistants that do a very fine job of supporting the session, washing and cleaning and putting together the ingredients for each of the dishes, after a quick cup of coffee which they also supplied on demand, we set to start the first dish, a Green Tomatillo Salsa.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a food processor, set it to maximum ‘whizz’ and pour out some green ‘Kermit sludge’ a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

There IS a skill and element of precision to making Green Tomatillo Salsa properly, its takes time, and a great deal of precision. Yes, you DO whizz, but not after some careful attention to the process, but for that you are going to have to come to Mexico and learn for yourself. Oh, I should mention I personally paid for this course and received no discounts etc. so this is a honest view of what I experienced.IMG_E1191Being a 1-2-1 session we were able to interact a lot and I was frequently asking questions and getting to the ‘why’s’ and ‘where’s’ of each dish which was very interesting. 

One thing that really struck me was the detail around getting to the right taste which you cannot learn from a cookery book. Ingredients are different so one Tomatillo contains more or less water than the next, is riper or less ripe so the flavour can change significantly, this was the ‘magic’ of this session jointly debating more Salt, more Lime, more Chilli, lets add some Black Pepper and the result was really delicious.photo-06-12-2019-10-42-48.jpgSo next was a simple Molcajete Salsa, yeah right. You might recognise the next paragraphs context.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a pestle and mortar, smash them to bits and pour out some multi-coloured stuff a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

This time we were going to ‘roast’ the ingredients within various seconds of their individual lives on this planet, why, because we were developing some serious intense smokey pungent flavours and this was the way it should be done.photo-06-12-2019-11-08-33.jpgAt this stage we are about half way through making the Molcajete Salsa, who’s name comes from the Mexican pestle and mortar I was going to use to complete the dish. More notes, another cup of coffee, further debate etc.  As an aside, at the beginning of the session I was asked what music I liked and during our cooking we had RUSH, and Yes playing which being a couple of my favourite groups added to the atmosphere!IMG_1202This Salsa was a massive surprise, it had a deep intense flavour and was something I had never tasted before, when combined with the Guacamole we made next, on top of a thin Tortilla crisp, wow, awesome. I will be definitely making this when I get home.

Having made various important and tasty side dishes we set to work on the Tacos Dorades, and Sopes which involved more techniques for me to learn, which was great.IMG_1177The ‘Masa’ had already been prepared, a dough made from processed corn which is a staple of Mexico and used to make a variety of dishes including ‘Tamales’ which we had last night, 50m down in an amazing ‘cave experience! I will be publishing a separate post on the overall trip with an obvious food focus when I get back to the U.K. next week.IMG_1220If you remember that multi-national comment I made earlier, well I made (pressed) the fresh Masa into Tortillas, they then got a quick fry on both sides before being stuffed with Chicken boiled in Chicken Stock (adds more flavour and keeps the meat moist), and rolled. IMG_1241These are then fried again to crisp up, and topped with whatever you fancy, they were bl@@dy good! I went with the spicy and rich Molcajete Salsa on top of Lettuce and some Cream, and a little Mexican Cheese.IMG_1229Next was ‘Sopes’ these are like shallow cups made using a similar principle, but a bit different! You know where to come to learn how to make them. It was really good fun and having nibbled and munched through Tortillas and the numerous Salsa’s and Guacamole I was ready to sit down for a light lunch, and the Sopes do need eating as soon as possible after they are cooked so that was what we did.

You can see in the pictures above the process of layering re-fried Beans, Chicken, Lettuce etc. into the Masa cup and finishing with a Mexican Cheese called ‘Cotija’.

I have to say that the few hours with Karla went too quickly but I learnt absolutely loads and for the money it was well worth it.

If ever you find yourself anywhere near Mayakoba and fancy a go a authentic Mexican cooking the El Pueblito Cookery School comes highly recommended, the session is long enough to learn loads but to too long that your start to get distracted. Before joining you have a choice of a number of ‘menus’ to pick so there are lots of different techniques available to learn.

 

…………………………………Until next time………………………..L8ers……………………

 

The Last Supper! Well Worth The Effort.

It was time to prepare ‘The Last Supper’ at The French House Party and after a morning creating chocolate sensations (in our own minds at least), we were back in our favourite kitchen with Jean-Marc, pen at the ready he showed us on paper what we were going to prepare.

How about Crab Crumble, Avocado, Papaya, Whipped Mustard Cream and Sorrel Shoots for starters, another lesson in flavours, cooking and food construction techniques.

So we made a Mayonnaise, and referred to the plans as we prepared the dish. As usual, nothing went to waste. Once we had prepared each item we then went about the construction, layers of Crab, Mustard Cream and the other items were carefully layered into an oblong ring. Photo 04-06-2019, 18 37 48You will notice a red item on the top of the finished dish in the picture below, this is a ‘tomato crisp’. The Tomatoes we used to dress the side of the crumble were de-skinned in boiling water and the skins placed in a low oven to dry out completely, and they were really delicious, as was the finished dish, the Mustard Cream was unreal, the fruit balancing the taste.Photo 04-06-2019, 18 38 56So on the main event Lightly Salted Cod in Aioli à La Languedocienne! For this we learnt (loose phrase) to turn vegetables, and very fiddly it was too. The Aiolli was problematic as we were running low on Eggs, we had one! A quick search in the fridge and a couple of yolks from the day before were discovered and we were on our way.Photo 04-06-2019, 19 12 15It was an extremely tasty dish, despite all the effort to make the various elements, but the dessert was the ‘piece de resistance’, a Gateaux St. Honoré. I made some Choux Pastry with Gill whilst the others knocked up a Crème Patissière (Creme Pat, as we came to call it by this time)! Then there was the Puff Pastry Base, and the piping, oh, the piping.Photo 04-06-2019, 17 33 33This was very testing indeed, home made Choux Buns dunked into Hot Caramel,  filled with the Creme Pat, constructing Swans using a piping bag, it was baking and construction and everyone contributed to the elegant dessert, which was very very good.

And that was it!

The end of 5 days intensive cooking and baking with Laurent, Remi, Jean-Marc and Chocolates with Marion, interspersed with fine dining in the most amazing restaurants, and the odd tasting of the origins of Champagne at Limoux,  the marathon was unfortunately over too soon.

So, that was my third trip to The French House Party, it won’t be my last, great fun, great people and always lots to learn it’s a home away from home, thank-you Moira and the team for putting on such a fantastic vacation.

 

…………………………..Until Next Time………………L8ers……………..

 

Ah, just one more thing!

Cronuts!

When I was in New York Last year I had great intentions to hunt out the inventor of the Cronut, a mixup of of Croissant and Donut. I ran out of time and did not make it! I was on Instagram the other day and found Dominique Ansel has an outlet in London, so I will be visiting this fine establishment and testing said ‘Cronut’ as soon as I can!!

IMG_0574

 

Marion Les Chocolats, Création Artisanale, Lets Make Some Chocolates!

The last full on day cooking at The French House Party Gourmet Explorer holiday came much too soon, but it was to be a fantastic time as usual.Photo 04-06-2019, 10 09 49I have done a bit of chocolate work with Mark Tilling, he was 7th in the world in 2009 and won the first ever Bake Off Créme de la Créme in 2016, it was a privilege to be able so to spend a day with him learning all things chocolate, and the morning we spent with Marion in her ‘Chocolate Boutique’ was to be no different, it was brilliant fun and the end results were really very good, a testament to her teaching and her very good English, much better than my hopeless French.IMG_0545.JPGMarion’s ‘Boutique’ is 5.2 miles to the North Of Carcassonne in ‘Pennautier’, in fact 16 rue Pierre Loti 11610 to be precise! It’s very close to the impressive ‘Château de Pennautier’. I have marked the boutique, in the fortified village on the map above, it’s very historic and well worth a walk around if you are in the area.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 22 54Her small ‘chocolate kitchen’ is near the centre of the ‘fortified village’, where sessions like ours are run and she sells some of her fantastic products, her husband shares the premises where great organic wines are also available, what a partnership!

You can also buy the chocolate mail order HEREPhoto 04-06-2019, 09 32 35We started off by making a caramel, to fill some of the chocolates we were going to produce later. It was fascinating (to me), to understand how a professional knows when the sugar has reached the correct stage before adding the other ingredients, you will have to spend a morning with Marion to find out though, she runs regular ‘ Stage d’initiation au chocolat’!photo-04-06-2019-10-43-49.jpgThere was a lot going on as we went through various stages of delicious Chocolate production. Gill, one of our ‘team’ is making ‘Rocher’ in the picture above. You remember the advert, the big pile of circular golden delicacies balancing on the waiters tray, that annoying music playing. These were much better than the mass manufactured version, but then I would say that!

A centre of home made, hand rolled Hazelnut Ganache, a coating of Almond and Caramel ‘shards’, and then a coating of quality Chocolate, we had the choice of White, Milk or Dark.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 13 00We also made ‘Orangettes’, and ‘Lemonettes’ and ‘Gingerettes’, I made up the last two but essentially a firm, sticky fruit stick, dipped in my case, Dark Chocolate. There were filled Chocolates, and yes, we made a box, out of Chocolate, mine White and Milk, with a Cocoa Butter Patterned Transfer, I have some of those at home so must find an excuse to use them one day soon.IMG_0546It was soon time to go, and on the way out some bars of Chocolate were too tempting to not purchase, Caramel, Gianduja and Fleur De Sea, yum.

Thank-you Marion for a fantastic morning and Moira, our host for organising. The next post will cover the final session with Jean-Marc and wow, what another great session it was.

 

…………Until Next Time………………..L8ers………………………………….

 

Lunch done, Let’s Prepare Dinner!

Monday morning’s time in the kitchen with Jean-Marc was really good fun. We had been chopping, mixing, constructing, making sorbets and ice creams,  and to be honest, what we ended up with tasted very good indeed. Dessert was simple (a slight relief), but even simple can take your tastebuds to the moon and back.

‘Fraises’ or Strawberries as we know them, they were abundant in all the markets and featured heavily in our dessert combining a Puree, a marination in Balsamic Vinegar Basil Ice-Cream, and some ‘Nut Crumble’ we had left over from the previous days efforts to provide some texture, it was very good and you can see the dish in the featured image at the head of this blog post.photo-03-06-2019-15-31-58.jpgLobster is a delicate meat and was to be part of our evenings menu, very nice indeed.

The next few hours were going to be even more testing with ‘Pastilla’ as the main feature for this evening. A Moroccan dish traditionally made with Pigeon, this was an interesting  interpretation and one I was looking forward too as I had made a ‘Yotam Ottolenghi’ version some months back, and posted the exercise on the blog, it took hours to make!photo-03-06-2019-15-49-15.jpg Having cooked the Lobster for a couple of minutes after dispatching it using a knife through the………you don’t want to hear that I guess, but we were using the freshest high quality produce as is always the case at The French House Party.

Jean-Marc, who owns Le Puits du Trésor (The Treasure Well), a 1 Michelin starred restaurant in nearby Lastours (The Towers), brings the most amazing ingredients that are fit for only the best restaurants, but still available in the High Street or online so we could reproduce all that we made.

Nothing is wasted and the Lobster Shells were cooked on a high heat before adding Shallots and Garlic, Water and Tomato Paste to make a rich, tasty lobster sauce which was reduced by over half to make it thick and umptious, yummy!photo-03-06-2019-16-37-47.jpgAnyone for Daiquoise with Apricots? My piping needs a lot of practise, it started well, going from the centre but I was a bit lop sided and you can see what it ended up like. As it was going to be covered in all sorts of yumminess it wasn’t a problem.Photo 03-06-2019, 18 36 00The starter was to be a simple but tasty Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with a Garlic and Basil Oil, we all had great fun preparing the evening meal and when we had finished we sat down to enjoy all three courses, plating each one in turn learning more culinary skills. Oh, and the usual Cheese course which I really enjoy, I have a thing for Cheese!

So that was Dinner. Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with Garlic and Basil Oil, Lobster Pastilla with Mild Spices and Honey (and you can see a sprinkling of grated bright orange coral in the picture above),  and Hazelnut Daiquoise with Apricots, oh, and some locally sourced Wine to help it down of course.

Phew, that was a marathon day. At least 6 hours in the kitchen, interspersed with the odd break for tea/coffee in the afternoon, and ‘bubbles’ in the early evening it was well worth the effort.

Jean-Marc Boyer is cooking for the French President, Macron in August, he is pretty good having held his star since 2007 and if you check out his BIO it’s very impressive indeed. We were extremely lucky to have him as our Chef Tutor, he a lovely man and personal friend this being my third time cooking with him over the last few years at Moira’s amazing French House Party.

And then comes…………………………Chocolate 🙂

 

………………………………Until Next Time……………….L8ers………….

The Master that is Jean-Marc Boyer

IMG_0410Mind your fingers..! Monday starts the marathon session with Jean-Marc Boyer, our Michelin starred Chef tutor. Before I start, a massive bit shout out to the team at The French House Party, who clean, make tea, provide moral support at times of difficulty (joking). The well oiled engine behind the Chef’s make things run smoothly and efficiently.

Today we are going to prepare, and eat two 3 course meals, yep, 6 dishes on top of breakfast which was as usual, very tasty, and not just any old meals, these will be complex, challenging and intricate, so please read on.

Jean-Marc has a style, and manner which does not seem that of a Chef in a high pressure environment. He is methodical, relaxed and nothing is a problem! The starting gun is always paper and pen. There is always a recipe pack and agenda supplied by Moira, the owner of The French House Party; with timings to make sure everyone is ready to start at the allotted time, but it’s the way that each dish is described graphically that sets Jean-Marc above the rest. fullsizeoutput_b7aSo, Lettuce Soup, yes…. you heard, Lettuce Soup and wow how delicious it was. The top right hand corner picture above is the architectural design. A thin strip of Courgette is punched with holes, ‘wild asparagus’ is prepared by cutting off the long stalk and placed through some of the holes.

You can see the process we went through above, to produce the final dish which was delicate, intricate and divine, along with the unusual asparagus which none of us had seen before.

Jean-Marc’s approach is very much multi-tasking and whilst some were preparing elements of the soup, others were tasked with different jobs. I had the fun of removing fat and pin-boning the Salmon which was to be the main course after salting for 40 minutes then frying, then, after I had finished chopping Potato into fine matchsticks, Frank added it to a batter mixture and made ‘Potato Waffles’. Then there was a Tzatziki which required Cucumber to be finely chopped into little squares and mixed with various ingredients.DnDz2+ZQQnCmVSlKTRoPAgAh, and we also made a ‘Basil Sorbet’ just for the fun of it. You can see the main course above, which whilst was a labour of love, tasted slam dunk. During the first session we had learnt so much about planning, prepping, cooking and plating, after a break we headed back into the kitchen and continued to prepare the evening meal!

I have just said farewell to Frank, Carolyn and Gill who are off to their respective next destinations, it’s Wednesday midday so I will be heading to Toulouse Airport shortly for my flight home.

There is more to come of this culinary gourmet exploration but I am back at work tomorrow and unlikely to get the story finished until the weekend. So please keep watching for more fun in the kitchen at The French House Party.

 

…………………………Until next time……………L8ers………….

Remi The ‘Cake’, Dom the ‘Thief’ and a 21 Year Old Chef (He is Wow)!

Please excuse the title of this post, Sunday at ‘The French House Party’ was a another day to remember, filled with excitement, history, intrigue and lots of fantastic food and flavour experiences, typical really and why I love coming here.tR%v+B01TRyuP9Z9BYDNVQThe morning started with the communal breakfast outside as the weather has been fabulous, with fresh everything, Fruit, Bread, Jams, Cheese, Ham, Tomatoes, Croissant, Tea or Coffee and always needed to set you up for a very busy day!

This morning we were delighted to have ‘Remi’ Touja as our tutor, holder of the French Sucre D’or, a national award for outstanding Patisserie as shown by the placard adorning his shop front, this guy was seriously good. IMG_0248So, what about Chocolate Brownies and Coconut Panacotta, what’s that all about, taking what seems very simple and elevating It was the order of the day.C24DE086-B424-4839-9100-E772B2843D46As is usual with my reviews of personal trips on cooking vacations and the like, I won’t divulge the complete experience as it really will not do justice to what goes on and what you experience, suffice to say we all learnt lots about presentation, flavour mixing and how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and it was enlightening to say the least! This is my 3rd trip to the French House Party and I will definitely be back for more.IMG_0361After lunch and a brief rest we headed out for the town of Limoux.

Limoux is a commune and sub-prefecture in the Aude department, a part of the ancient Languedoc province and the present-day Occitane region in southern France. It lies on the river Aude about 30 km (19 miles) due south of Carcassonne. Its vineyards are famous for being first to produce sparkling wine known as Blanquette de Limoux, that’s what WIKI says!

I’ve been to Limoux before and really enjoyed it, and this time was no different. Didier was our guide at Maison GUINOTthe oldest producer of Blanquettes and Cremants since 1875. These fine sparkling wines predate Champagne and it was Dom Perignon that came to Limoux, saw the technique (aka nicked it), and took it back to the Champagne region, the rest is a lesson in marketing!fullsizeoutput_b2fThe tour of the cellars and its history are great fun and really interesting, the produce is exceptional and awesome value, you cannot get it in the U.K. except by mail order as they limit production. The other stuff in U.K. supermarkets marketed as Crémante and Blanquette is mass produced by other local ‘Maison’ and they do not use the same old traditional methods which you will find about if you come and visit. Guess what, my suitcase is a bit heavier, oops.

After the trip to Maison Guinot, we headed across country to the restaurant for our evening meal, it was a delightful drive, the sun was a stunning colour lighting up the countryside, filled with grape vines and we all chatted about the trip to the ‘Guinot bubble factory’, which was fab!

Our final stop of the day was Domaine Michaud, in the hilly village of Roullens. (www.domainemichaud.eu). 

The location is stunning with views out to Carcassonne and the surrounding countryside which was stunning as you can see in the heading picture.8D6BC63B-83F7-4E2F-8799-6F5B17938ECBDomaine Michaud is a “gastronomical’ B&B set near the base of the Pyrenees, and close to  Carcassonne. The owners are Dutch; Jolanda, Fred, Naomi and Sandor the exceptional 21 year old chef who provided us with the most amazing meal.

Service was delightful, each dish being explained. There is no menu, you just book and they ask if you have any dislikes and allergies, the food was just stunning, stunning, yep, STUNNING.

I have eaten in a few restaurants, with the odd star or two, honestly, this is THE BEST so far, beyond doubt. What an amazing chef Sandor is, age 21!

Oh my god, what a meal. If was to have a ‘bucket list’ for last meals this HAS to be it, it was F&%$@£? (expletive) amazing!

There was a moment when Moira (our host) and I shared eyes (not that way 🙂 as the wine choice was based on the two vineyards we had tasted on my last trip to the French House Party in 2017, Domaine Le Fort and Domaine Gayda, both exceptional for their own reasons. Naomi did an excellent job of explaining why the wines had been paired with the food we were eating.

That’s it for tonight, its well after midnight, and I am sadly travelling back to the U.K tomorrow, but the review is not finished yet, hopefully  I will get the rest finished in the morning.

 

…………………Until Next Time………………L8ers……………

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday in Carcassonne, Mr Michelin and Some Hearty Fair.

Meet Carolyn, Frank and Gill my colleagues on the Gourmet Discovery Course at ‘The French House Party‘ in the featured image,  Australia, Ireland and the U.K. are represented and we all share an interest in food!  Today was to be taken up by a visit to the market at Carcassonne, a gourmet experience at the 1 Michelin starred La Barbacane, and our 1st cooking session.

I have visited numerous French food related markets over the years and they always seem to show produce at their best, always fresh, bountiful and ‘abundant’ as the recently departed chef, Antonio Carluccio used to say.

All the markets have a plethora of fresh fruit and vegetables, sometimes fish, and poultry swinging around a rotisserie spouting fat and aroma simultaneously, local specialities proudly displayed and Carcassonne was no different.fullsizeoutput_adeOne stall particularly caught my attention, extremely intricate pastries that were absolutely stunning, you can see an example in the picture above, Middle Eastern in origin and showing how food culture has spread across the world.IMG_0248Remi Touja has a Pâtisserie in Carcassonne and we passed by on the way back to to our next stop. Remi is top of his league and at 28 was working in Le Parc Franck Putelat,  a 2 Michelin Star restaurant in Carcassonne, winning top awards for his work and we were going to have him teach us the following day. I have had the pleasure of  Mark Tilling as a tutor for a day who was 7th in the World Chocolate Masters Final in Paris in 2009,  so appreciate the skills that can learnt from such talent in a few hours, all very exiting.hxdbc+W3T1yBYZh807GnhwI am not a ‘car person’ but when we arrived at the entrance to Cité de Carcassonne we were surprised to see numerous Citroen cars from ‘yesteryear’, like a scene from Paris in Day of the Jackal they were in remarkable condition and seemed very popular. Our reason to visit the famous location was to eat at a renowned restaurant, the only 1 Michelin starred restaurant in the walls of the Citadel, La Barbacane7EA70CB8-AD66-4A65-95B7-62D0E62493DCSuffice to say service was excellent, the food was excellent, the location was excellent, the weather was…. well you guess? Every dish showed its true light through well balanced flavours, quality ingredients and expert cooking we all were very pleased with the first of our ‘gourmet’ experiences, big tick in the box to Moira, our host for organising this visit.P1040077It often the local translations that can cause much amusement when travelling and this trip was to be no different, I always though cults should be avoided at all costs, now back to St. Raymond for some cooking with Laurent Jeannin and some hearty fare.

This was the first time the team of Frank, Carolyn, Gill and myself, Jules had worked together, and even more so in a kitchen producing any form of edible plated food, it was great fun. We jelled very quickly and started sharing life, jokes and global experiences which made the next few hours fly by.

Laurent is the newest member of the team, the previous mainstay Robert, retiring at 78 year of age, who I remember from previous trips as having a kind manner and being very calm and understanding. Laurent was a younger version and did very well, directing our efforts to produce some delicious hearty food as can be seen above!

Duck, Beef and yes, a Soufflé were produced over the three hour session and the end results were very tasty indeed. Laurent helped us with plating techniques and the end results were very pleasing to the eye.

As an aside, as I write this at 23:15, I have a miniature FM analogue stereo radio plugged into my head and have counted 20 or so local radio stations all pumping out tunes, mostly French but very enjoyable indeed.

 

……………Until next time……………..L8ers…………………