The Michelin Experience “Chefs Table” L’Ortolan Style

It’s my last night in Padstow after attending the Rick Stein Cookery School for two days on a Fish and Shellfish course, and eating my way through 5 restaurants, the last being Paul Ainsworth at No.6, which is happening later. To say I have eaten well is a complete and utter understatement, and a bit surprising considering the horror stories of supply chain, availability of ingredients etc. When you hear the difficulties faced by restaurants it a miracle any of them are open, but evidence of the passion and effort they put into making it happen and cooking fine fare available at a price that enables them to pay staff and contribute towards our economy.

Following our recent trip to L’Ortolan in Shinfield near Reading recently we received a thank-you note, and an offer for a discounted “Chefs Table” at a future date, well, why not, none of us had done a Chefs Table, we understood the principle and had loved the previous visit so an ‘intimate’ insight into the workings of a Michelin starred restaurant seemed too good to miss, so we booked a date.

We arrived on-time and were ushered into the conservatory for a glass of Champagne, and very nice it was too. the premise of being invited into the kitchen during a live service was playing on my mind, what would we see, what would we hear! what was going to happen, how long etc. After 15 minutes relaxing we were escorted into the kitchen area, a large historic wooden table that was so robust it would seem equally fitting in a castle awaited us, directly opposite the pass, by a gap of about 3.5 feet, enough for the waiting staff to pass by as they collected dishes to be taken to the diners!

James Greatorex, the Head Chef walked around the pass to say hello, describe the evenings events, and then gave us an introduction to each member of the team and their role in the kitchen, then returning to start service and call out the orders as they arrived from the dinning room, it was utterly fascinating, seeing how each section jumped into gear with each call, ‘oui chef”, well it is a French restaurant!

The Chef’s Table uses the Tasting Menu with the odd subtle change so some dishes were familiar (but still delicious), and others new and exciting to try. Throughout the evening James would prepare dishes for us, and serve us personally explaining the composition, the provenance of the components, why particular ingredients were chosen, which made for a brilliant foray into the life of a kitchen and how particular dishes are constructed, even Justin our 15 year old and my better half of 32 years found the whole experience really interesting, and the food of course was probably the best we have ever eaten, and James could have been my son nearly twice over, he is just brilliant.

I love the above picture, when we arrived at the Chef’s table there was only one ‘Check On’, an order on the way so to speak, and now it was like, oh my god, what is what, who, which table, jeez. Not at all, the skill by which James ran the pass and managed the orders just has to be experienced, especially as there were a combination of people ordering ‘a la carte’ and the tasting menu which requires impeccable timing to start dishes at the right time, assuming how long someone might eat a particular course, or an awkward git like me that often says ‘can we have a 10 minute break between course 3 and 4 please’, it was an example of superb organisation, timing, control and management of a team of chefs and waiters in perfect unison…….. And only to think that if a Michelin inspector is in the restaurant on a ‘bad’ night, you could so easily loose that precious star!

So, we had another fantastic evening, it was a worthwhile investment, it was entertaining, educational, interesting (no fascinating) trying to get your head around what really happens in a high end eatery, we were able to ask James questions all evening about restaurant life today, and he was very open in explaining the highs, lows, challenges in obtaining ingredients, staff etc. The food was amazing (again).

I would thoroughly recommend anyone with the slightest interest in good food, to save for another week or two, or however long it takes and and go for a Chef’s table. It’s a intimate insight into the working of a high end restaurant with, personal chef, waiter and educator, comedian and entertainer all in one and I would like to think that it’s an experience we will continue to repeat as time (and budget) allows, its worth every single penny.

Thanks James and the L’Ortolan team for our best ever eating our night………… ever……

Next time I will be focussing on the Rick Stein Seafood Cookery School I attended for two days, and start on the 5 restaurants I tried whilst on my mini ‘foodcation’ to Padstow.

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

The ‘Michelin’ Experience Part Deux!

I am definitely of the opinion that once you have tasted ‘good’ food, then ‘excellent’ food is something very special. So we had several excuses to eat out again, my birthday of course, new job, feeling happy, lockdown easing, I was desperate to actually ‘get out’ being in the class of ‘at risk, stay at home at all costs’, the last two years have been like a prison cell.

It’s a stunning day on the 2nd of my Padstow trip, the sun is shinning on the Estuary, the ferry started crossing to ‘Rock’ earlier, a trip I am taking later to try another eatery. Last night was epic, thanks to Senior Sous Chef Sam Bessant who was heading the brigade at Caffe Rojano, and to Jade and Mauro who’s front of house skills were to be applauded, more of that another day!

Hey Justin, fancy a trip to another restaurant for lunch? Yes please Dad, so we booked L’Ortolan in Shinfield near Reading, another 1* Michelin Restaurant with James Greatorex heading up the kitchen. At Under 25, he is very young to have such an honour bestowed before him, but hey, age is not everything and youth has its advantages, like energy, passion, commitment, a young brain has the ability to soak in lots of information so we were sure it was going to be a great experience, and we were not wrong.

After some obligatory but nonetheless delicious bread and cultured butter was served we were presented with a tray of ‘tasters’, little morsels of deliciousness on a tray indication land and sea. The land was a Wagyu Beef tartare with a little egg yolk in a delicate pastry case, the second was a Cod Brandade Ball, fried, with a topping of a delicate spiced mayonnaise which was utter delight. if this was the of things to come the lunch was going to be fabulous.

Again, a delicious looking tasting menu was on offer, and was a easy choice, let’s see the ‘mettle’ of the chef and we were glad we did. Dad, can we have the ‘Oscietra Caviar‘ course please, booom , that came from nowhere, oh and the Waygu Beef, I have heard its really good! This meal was going to be more of an investment at this rate. So the caviar came and was woofed down by all of us, it was a delicious plate of food, perfectly cooked pommes soufflée a light Crème fraîche, Trout Roe and the Caviar……Yum

Next came the ‘Salad’ of Lamb, with Isle of Wight Tomatoes, Anchovy and Seasonal Leaves, another delicate but accomplished dish the lamb was rich and full of flavour, the tomato, acidic, cutting through the richness, the anchovy adding some seasoning and leafs ,some texture. Another fantastic dish, so where to go next, this was a cast of the rich and famous already?

Let’s cure some beautiful Tuna with Citrus, and serve it with Apple, Cucumber and Nasturtium a real play on Mexico cuisine in my humble opinion but not do much in your face like the traditional ceviche, flavours dancing all over the palate. Yum. Service was unhurried as we tackled each dish, discussion between us the merits of quality (expensive) ingredients treated with the utmost respect, by an extremely competent chef, aided by his equally competent brigade.

Sorry to say I am a sucker for Foie Gras. I have an annual cookery trip to France, to Gascony, where such produce is revered and commonplace on menus in restaurants and in the home, and I was fortunate to be taught three methods of preparing this highly prized ingredient, cru (cured with salt and Piment d’Espelette), mi-cuit (half cooked), and used as a wrapper for a French style of gingerbread. This was a Terrine with Fig and Walnut, I was in heaven, rich, umptious, sweet and savoury it tickled every taste bud available at time, and for many minutes after as it searched out more.

Now something interesting happened, in my previous posting we had Gigha Halibut from the island in Scotland with white beans, snap, here it was again, but with brown shrimp and foraged seaweed, completely honest and back to nature type tastes which went perfectly. And again, I was the bean fan, my wife and son not being so keen. It was interesting to see something so familiar but subtly different cooked in a quality restaurant, another yum. The fish was cooked perfectly.

Are we there yet! at this part of the adventure our son had opted to go for the Waygu, which he stated was the best beef he had ever eaten, after already saying that at the previous restaurant, it looked good and smelt great. Myself and the better half went for the Fallow Deer, I am a sucker for game and regularly get such produce from our local butcher, who also supplies this restaurant too, great minds and all that. It was a very ‘earthy’ dish aided by the addition of beetroot, savoury and grelot, a small French Bell Onion served with a rich sauce, utterly beautiful another winning dish.

The ‘pre-dessert’ arrived, an interesting and delicate looking morsel, an ice-cream sandwich but not as we had ever had before! beautiful crisp wafer layer, encompassing a citrus ice-cream, with a lemon centre, it really cleaned the palate a treat, I could have eaten several of those one after the other they were that delicious, and then we had the finale……

Yes, I know we had already celebrated my birthday, but, we had tried to get bookings in two restaurants and when they both came up it was a kind of ‘sod it, let’s do both of them’ moment, so we did! This was another extremely clever, and delicious dessert, Peach, Yoghurt, Verbena and Szechuan Pepper, it definitely had an after kick, that was very pleasant indeed. I think when you look at how to finish a meal, the results are often over-heavy and leave you feeling a bit ughhhhh, not here, it was a light tasty and perfect finish to a wonderful tasting menu, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

For someone so young, James Greatorex has more than ticked all the boxes and shown what awesome cookery and presentation should be like, the front of house did a sterling job and we all felt the experience was more than worth the investment.

So the question is would we go back…………. We have already, this time to experience a Chef’s table, that will be the next post but for the moment, thank-you James and the team at L’Ortolan for making my second birthday a celebration to remember it was a delight……

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

The ‘Michelin’ Experience Episode 1

It’s been a crap couple of years, that’s of my chest! This year I have managed to take corrective action after getting man flu and moving to new employer which has does wonders to my happiness and mojo. I cannot believe my last post was in March, time in the kitchen has been limited but that is slowly changing.

So action was needed to kickstart a new chapter, and with a birthday approaching it was decided that a treat or two, or three was in order. A long search on the net and a couple of restaurants stood out that we had not tried before, and 20 minutes later they were booked.

So, I am currently in Padstow, just been for a stroll, my restaurant sitting is booked for 20:45, but that’s not what this post is about, it’s just that I have taken a week off to immerse myself in food, and have some down time to catch up with the blog posts I have been meaning to write! This trip will follow in the next couple of weeks when I have recovered.

We are really proud of our 15 year old, he has been through a torrid few years with bullying, ADHD and General Anxiety Disorder which has disrupted pretty much everything He does love good food and eating in ‘posh’ restaurants, and doesn’t follow the usual Pizza, Pasta routine and can cook an excellent ‘Fish en Papillote’ as well as make macarons from scratch. When we asked would he like to come, there was no stopping him.

Out first expedition was to ‘The Nut Tree Inn’, a quaint restaurant to the North East of Oxford, it was heaving with rain on the day, so when we arrived and were seated by a protected open fire it was very welcome. Service was very friendly and relaxed at this 1 Michelin Starred Restaurant, very welcoming and not at all stuffy. Starting with some delicious bread and ‘cultured’ butter it just felt great.

As you can see, we went for the tasting menu, let’s see the chef strut his stuff, he should be good having held his star since 2008 that’s not bad going. Mike North is an extremely accomplished Chef and it showed with his Cauliflower velouté  and Tartare of Loch Duart Salmon, absolutely delicious. I was watching an episode of Saturday Kitchen recently and they showed the proper method of making a velouté, its actually quite complex to get the correct velvety texture. Things were going really well so far.

So now we get adventurous for a 15 year old, Chicken Liver Parfait, Brioche Bun with a Pork Skin Crumble (aka Airbag) and Plum. Jeez it tasted awesome, really rich, lovely balance of plum and beautiful parfait which was perfectly smooth and melted in the mouth, it was a knockout dish. I cheekily asked our waiter if he could ask the Chef how he ‘glued’ the Airbag to the Bun, as I have some at home which I love using, she came back shortly and explained it was egg white, as it does not make the Air Bag soggy and prevent it from puffing up, fantastic tip to add to my list of ‘cheffy cheats’.

Fish Course next, Gigha Halibut. Gigha what, it’s an island in Scotland that produces sustainable Scottish Halibut which was also to feature on the next restaurant we visited. Find out more HERE it was served with pancetta, white beans, artichoke and lovage and was yum, although my two fellow companions were not too keen on the texture of the beans but that’s a personal thing.

If someone gave me the choice between Beef or Fish, I would normally pick Fish, I love it. My beloved of 32 years is the other way round, Beef is always her first choice, same with our son. Now when you all say, ‘that’s the best Beef I have ever had, ever, ever, ever’, you know the Chef must have got something really right and created something really special, the Beef was OUTSTANDING………. I would go back for this dish alone, it was AWESOME…… note the capitals it was THAT GOOD.

It was served with a smoked potato puree, if you read the menu at the beginning of the post, it stated 50% dairy, I think my mash normally has nearly 250grms of butter, it how to make proper rich mash. A king oyster mushroom and cavolo nero completed the plating nestled in a delicious reduction.

They remembered it was my birthday celebration (well at least one of the them), the pre dessert was a mango and coconut meringue pie, it was genius. Served in a sterilised Egg Shell, it was light and sharp and really cleaned the palate nicely, getting you ready for the final course.

Lets have a Valrohona Guanaja Chocolate Souffle with Tonka Bean Ice Cream. Another belting dish, I love Tonka Beans and have used them in a variety of dishes at home. It has a unusual flavour, like, but not like Vanilla, it’s difficult to explain, but paired with the souffle went perfectly.

I have to start to get ready now, for tonight’s meal at a very special bistro, but more of that on another post. Just to say that if you want a wonderful, expertly cooked, unhurried meal, with lovely service and staff that chat with your like you have known each other of years, head to The Nut Tree Inn we will be returning to this lovely homely restaurant.

……………………………………….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!!

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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………….

Rillettes – French Deliciousness (If you like fatty stuff)! and Tamarind Springs in Kuala Lumpur

Photo 20-12-2017, 12 22 59Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on, streaming to my iPad as I pen the 1st blog of 2018. River Cottage HQ is about to open and rather than let one of his prize pigs go, the menu will be based on Beef rather than Pork, along with an Asparagus starter, all 40 portions. Fish is also on the menu, trying to find a ‘monster’ Lobster in the locale fails and it’s actually a massive Conger Eeel that ends up on the plate!Photo 20-12-2017, 12 29 12I have very fond memories of past trips to the South of France where my brother lives, the preferred time being late Autumn when the Olive picking season is in full swing. He has some trees in his garden and the process of picking and taking down to the ‘Olive Pressing Co-Operative’ is an annual ritual. It was during one of these trips that I discovered ‘Rillettes’, similar to Pâté it’s rich, fatty and delicious spread on crusty Bread.

You can buy it in a ‘well known higher end super market’ but at over £2.50 for 110g its not cheap, so why not have a go at making it myself! At a recent cookery class at my favourite school ‘Richard Bertinet’s’ we had some Rillette’s and after asking, Richard was more than happy to share the recipe, it’s in one of his books ‘Cook: In a Class of Your Own with Richard Bertinet’ published in 2010 and subsequently I found a second hand copy in excecllent condition, complete with CD, It’s now sitting on the shelf along with Crust, Dough etc. I think I have all of his books!Photo 20-12-2017, 12 39 46Taking 1Kg of cheap pork cuts (shoulder and belly), and some Duck or Goose fat a very slow confit takes place over several hours, the addition of flavours such as Garlic, Thyme and Rosemary add extra interest to the final dish.Photo 20-12-2017, 15 37 20You might find, as I did that the Pork had not broken down completely due to the low and slow process (3 – 3/12 hours give or take), the temperature was not high enough to break down the connective tissues so I turned the heat up a bit and within 30 minutes the job was done.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 24 43At this stage you will need to KEEP the cooking fat AFTER draining it, don’t throw it away, it’s integral to the dish!! The Pork does not look particularly tasty at this point but carefull pulling and tugging to seperate the meat from any unedible bits and we are nearly there.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 43 15Given some time to cool a bit you will have a dish of ‘pulled Pork”, the drained and strained Fat, and Salt and Pepper. I added 60%-70% of the fat into the meat before starting the next process, I did warn it’s fatty stuff but believe me, it’s delicious and you don’t have it that often.

This dish needs LOADS of seasoning, you will need to add, taste, add, taste, add and taste until that magic moment happens and you pallette will say YEEEEEESSSSSS.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 59 28I had some Kilner jars which were sterlised in the oven for about 20 mins at 115 degrees. In Richard’s book there is a section where it talks about various ways of potting the Rillettes but you will have to invest a few pounds to find out like I did, it’s worth it, it’s a very good book with lots of hints and tips.Photo 20-12-2017, 19 06 06Once the Rillettes is packed into the jar, some of the Fat is poured over the top to seal in the goodness before adding the lid and popping into the fridge to cool down, job done.

We tried some a couple of days later, my in-house taster agreeing that it was amazing and took us both back to fond times in southern France. The cost worked out out just over £1 per 100g and I had just over 1Kg worth sealed in the fridge for the future.

So, back to Malaysia and a trip to Tamarind Springs, a lovely restaurant about 20 minutes outside the city. We arrived on the Harley-Davidson motorbikes we had spent the morning on, touring the sites with the Police escort which I still keep thinking about.Photo 24-11-2017, 10 32 00The dishes were varied and delicious taking in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam tastes dancing over the pallette. During lunch we had a tropical downpour which was a welcome release from the heat, it poured it down.

The restaurant was very good, friendly service and awesome food, another experience that will not be forgotten.Photo 26-11-2017, 06 52 47The following day we were on the island of Langkawi and had some free time to wander around. A group of us hired a taxi for the most of the day and toured around the island a bit which was great fun, especially finding the hawker stalls selling home made fresh food to passsers-by.

That’s it for now, I hope you have a go at the Rillettes recipe, it’s very tasy and really quite easy to make.

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

 

 

 

It’s Tough, Really Very Tough – A Night of 2 Michelin Starred Gastronomie in Carcassonne!

2017-05-23 17.09.35I’ve been to Carcassonne before, a couple of years ago when I was last a guest at The French House Party. It’s a magical place Carcassonne, having a similar feel to Tallin in Estonia (highly recommended too, had a day trip there on a cruise a few years back). Narrow cobbled streets, Coffee shops to sit outside and watch the world go by, we arrived late in the afternoon when the majority of the crowds had gone home, it gets very busy here!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 50 30How can I describe La Table De Franck Putelat…………Bloody Brilliant!  The whole experience is just so different.

I have had the pleasure of eating here before, a restaurant with 2 Michelin Stars you expect it to be good, but it’s the theatre as well as the food that takes it to the next level. From the Flame in the Glass Cabinet, that warms the Bread Basket placed on top it’s an amazing experience that, given the chance I would recommend to anyone.Photo 23-05-2017, 19 56 17Hmmmm,  a little Appetizer was passed to each of us the waiter then described what was in our hands…………..Duck Foie Gras Lollipops with a Grapefruit Emulsion….. Gulp! How they made the Emulsion stick in such a uniform way was mind-blowing, it tasted pretty damn good too!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 58 41Ah, I am sure I didn’t have these the other day!…… Tapioca Crisps perfumed with Aioli, Tapenade and Mushroom Cream, crispy and very very tasty, my mouth was already salivating after the previous tastes and textures. The others in our group were also amazed at these little tasty delights.photo-23-05-2017-20-02-29.jpg‘What’s this’ we all declared as a bowl of ‘Smoking Something’ was placed before us! Dry Ice used to great effect, the delights were Cromesquis of Pig Feet (errkk)! Crispy Morsels that had a lovely light crunchy coating they are like a Croquette, and a soft melting pork centre with some lemon jelly they were so so good, and this was just another appetiser!Photo 23-05-2017, 20 25 51Bread is the life blood of France, just ask my occasional Tutor and owner of Bertinet’s Cookery School in Bath Richard Bertinet, I am sure he will agree. There was a great choice of Bread, all homemade and displayed on the ‘Fire Cabinet’, with the waiter cutting on demand as we all tried to decide what to pick!photo-23-05-2017-20-27-45.jpgMy Choice was the Spelt Bread which had a great crust, and the Thyme Bread which was like a Croissant but shaped like a traditional Beehive they were both really delicious. There are little ‘nods’ to the surroundings and very obvious was the ‘chain mail’ place mat, and wooden butter knife being linked to the Knights that used to occupy the City.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 28 44The ‘Theatre’ carried on, not a dish with a block of butter, or the usual ‘curls’ they have a paddle like wooden butter dish, with ordinary and one laced with Seaweed to provide the salt component, very tasty on the home-made bread.photo-23-05-2017-20-29-53.jpgThe last delight before the 1st course was ready, came in a beautifully designed porcelain Chicken Foot,  a perfectly cooked Egg, covered in a rich and decadent Mushroom Cream with a bit of Truffle for added decadence! Boy it was so tasty, and we had only completed the appetisers, that set the bar high for the remainder of the meal.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 39 57So onto the starter, let’s see if the food was as good as last time. Duck Foie Gras Rougié, Palourdes Cranquettes de Méditerranée, Pistils de Safran à Gégé. It was a full (and I mean FULL) flavoured broth with seared Foie Gras, beautiful Clams and an assortment of vegetable brunois (chopped really small)!

The comments around the table sort of went like, ‘this is amazing’, ‘this is sooo delicious’, ‘oh my god, how do they get so much flavour into this’, ‘Jeez this is really very good’……. We sort of knew ho they got so much flavour into things as the 1st two days of our cooking course had been just that, spending hours frying, boiling, reducing, adding more flavours, reducing etc… The starter was a hit with everyone. Photo 23-05-2017, 21 04 51The main course soon arrived and was equally as tasty. I don’t think I have EVER had a fillet of Cod so perfectly cooked! It fell apart, melted in the mouth, was so light and flaky, no rough or slighty stringy edges it was PERFECT. The flavour of the vegetables and broth were perfect with subtle flavours and did not overpower the fish, it was just fab, and all of us had come to pretty much the same conclusion (until the next day, more of that later)!photo-23-05-2017-21-49-25.jpgIt maybe a personal thing but the thing most people rememeber about a restaurant is the dessert, it’s the last thing they eat before departing and will have (In good restaurants), a significant visual impact as we knew from our own efforts over the last couple of days. Our dessert had visual impact, lots of it! Pavlova ananas, infusé aux bais sancho, sorbet céleri branche. It was a Pineapple Pavola (deconstructed), infused with Sancho Berries (Japanese pepper) and Celery Sorbet (and some White Chocolate).

This dish divided the group, it was the Celery Sorbet that was the bone of contention. The thing was, if you had a bit of each element the Sorbet worked a treat, cleaning the palate especially with the sweet White Chocolate. The textures were great too, soft, crunchy, smooth melting I personally loved it, a lot. So that was it, multiple courses all great and we had a fantastic time, and experience. But there was a bit more to come yet!!photo-23-05-2017-22-10-51.jpgThe service had been exemplary all night, each dish being described as it was delivered to the table, the final little teaser being little crisp tarts with a fresh Raspberry filling, and some light jelly delights, I cannot remember what they were but I think coconut from memory, we had eaten so many tasty flavours it was still delicious.photo-23-05-2017-22-13-04-e1495818627716.jpgAll of a sudden, our waiter came to the table, picked up the flower pot which the delights were resting and threw it onto the table, more theatre the pot was made of Chocolate smashed into pieces and threw more hand made delights all over the table, we all burst into laughter not having experienced such fun as the Chocolate cracked, and various delights were exposed…….!!

That’s it for now, I landed back in the U.K. last night and only have one more post to write, the final day and another restaurant review, that of 1 Michelin starred Chef (and our tutor for 2 days), Jean-Marc Boyer.

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

 

 

 

Cooking &… more Cooking, Damn it’s so Good!

Photo 20-05-2017, 18 14 22It’s late and I have been having some great interaction with my new ‘buddie’ Marc. Today has been full on as usual, with a significant amount of cooking, processes, prepping food and spending a lot of time reducing sauces! The ‘international’ group is getting on really well, joking laughing and generally making fun at every opportunity!

Today’s menu(s) are quite (read very), comprehensive (read complicated) and included Haddock ‘Burger’ with Lime, Filet of Sea Bream au four, sautéed Squid with Vegetables and Squid Ink Sauce, Duckling with Honey Spiced Sauce, Cream Chiboust with Lemon, Strawberry Salad with Garriguette Basil.  Jeez my stomach is stretching already.Photo 21-05-2017, 10 23 03I am starting with what was probably the least squeamish (and easiest) thing to do, prepping the Squid. Removing the membrane that covers the white ‘flesh’. Getting rid of the ‘beak’,  the hard bony mouth that is inedible, sorting out the tentacles and then dealing with the body, it only takes a short while and all is done.Photo 21-05-2017, 11 53 24The Brioche style buns for the Haddock Burgers needed a couple of proving stages, they were buttery and rich, with a pillowy light texture, well worth the effort. Topped with sesame and poppy-seed to add both texture and flavour.Photo 21-05-2017, 16 29 10The duck was interesting, but in a really positive way coooking wise. I am not sure what happened but I just got on with it, maybe I have learnt enough but it came natural seperating the various components and in seconds the Breast, Thigh Wings etc. were done in the right way and lay before me, job done! Sorry Duck……Photo 21-05-2017, 17 56 31Oh, we had Bream to sort out too, another moment of hmmm, I think I know how to deal with this. It seems the past investment in cookery courses has finally payed off and confidence is growing and growing all the time.Photo 21-05-2017, 12 45 38The Haddock Burger (we had Haddock Fillets so no preparation needed), had a Onion relish to provide acidity, dressed leaves, baked Tomato and Lime cream, it was very tasty and very well-balanced. we all munched away commenting on our own personal tastes, all positive. The gang of seven is working like a well oiled engine, despite the language challenges which make translating ‘work orders’ from Robert even more interesting, he has the patience of a French Saint!photo-21-05-2017-16-42-27.jpgWe made some extremely complex sauces during the day. Hard frying the Duck carcass, adding Onion, Carrot and Celery followed by White Wine and Water and reducing by over 50% to provide a really full flavoured base, full of all the richness that the remaining Duck scraps could release. Photo 21-05-2017, 17 36 19These stocks, if done properly do take time but the investment is well worth while in both depth and layers of flavour, it’s what the professionals do. When at home I usually have days where i make a bulk load, and make up 1 pint freezer bags full, ready for when I need them.photo-21-05-2017-17-35-18.jpgWhilst the stock was doing its stuff in a separate pan we were getting a ‘spice base’ ready, Acacia Honey was cooked until a light to medium brown, then adding Sherry Vinegar, Orange and Grapefruit pieces, Fresh Ginger, Five Spice, Cinnamon,  White Pepper and the Coriander and finally topped up with the reduced Duck Stock, then reduce even further.photo-21-05-2017-10-00-15.jpgThe Squid did not escape either, Shallots, Fish Stock (from the Bream carcasses), Noilly-Prat and Lemon juice were reduced. Then Tomato skins and seeds etc. were added from Tomatoes we had turned into a concasse, then some crushed Garlic, Tomato Concentrate and Ground Almonds were added as the reducing continued, with Squid Ink being the final ingredient, Phewwwww!Photo 21-05-2017, 13 25 29The Squid dish was very complicated, but seriously tasty.  Lots of processes the end result was well worth the effort. We determined that about 70% of the time in preparation was in the stock’s and sauces, which were rich and umptious.photo-21-05-2017-09-52-26.jpgLittle goes to waste on these classes, making the most of all the ingredients is quite an important ethos to get into, stretching as far as using the some of the skins we removed from the Tomatoes to make an EXTREMELY tasty edible garnish, crispy Tomato Skins!

Yep, you heard it, spread some Olive Oil on a tray, lay the skins shiny side down and season, bake in the oven for about an hour on a low heat. Believe me, they were a revelation, you can see them strategically placed on the final squid dish above, along with some Filo diamond ‘crisps’, that added an additional pleasant texture.Photo 21-05-2017, 20 04 15We made what was a simple pepper suace to go with the Bream, accompaniement was lightly fried Courgette Julienne, it was a lovely plate of food. As we sit down to each meal, after several hours tuition and cooking there is always wine on the table, Red, White and Rosé to wash things down. Fresh bread of numerous types is also plentiful, useful for mopping up those sauces that required so much effort to make!Photo 21-05-2017, 20 43 01About 70% of an Artichoke is thown away during preparation, removing the leaves, cutting off the top and getting rid of the furry center they are an aquired taste, one that seems really enjoyable to me, probably in part due to the number of times I have visited France now. They are a bit fiddly and have to be left in acidulated water until needed as they dis-colour very quickly.

We had then with the Duck, along with some thickly sliced Mushrooms that had been fried in oil and butter.

Our first tutor Robert Abraham leaves us first thing, he is such a great cook and will be missed, but will be replaced by Jean-Marc Boyer who will bring a new dimension to the course (and some deserts, which should be interesting)!

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

 

 

 

To revel in ‘Revel’ – Continuing International Adventures at The French House Party

Photo 20-05-2017, 10 23 26I woke up this morning feeling really good, the sun was shining and despite a late(ish) night there was a sense of excitement in my bones. The itinerary at The French House Party is full on, lots to pack in over a few days so the time is used wisely.

Breakfast was lovely, a selection of fresh fruits, yoghurt, Cheese and Ham of various sorts, Croissants, Baguette (the proper stuff) the choice was endless.

We were heading to Revel today, a quaint town with a 14th Century central Square and covered roof, Saturday is market day the reason for our trip.  I have been to Revel before but it is a place you find difficult to not be attracted to, if you are an adventurous foodie like me.

Locals mingling and bustling around the many stalls, buying and selling mostly food of the highest quality with some very unusual options as will become clear shortly.

I am becoming to believe you can tell the pulse and passion of a nation by its cuisine, more importantly how it un-ashamedly sticks to tradition which some may find challenging, Cuy (Guinea Pig in Peru), Cazu Marzu (Maggot Cheese) in Sardinia and France has a few favourites the most notable being (in my own mind) Escargots (Snails) and cuisses de grenouille (Frogs Legs)!2017-05-20 08.52.20Wandering around the many food stands was a delight, fresh artisan Goats cheese, stunning proper Bread that had come fresh out of the oven that morning, Aligote, a smooth blend of cheese and potato and………Ducks Hearts!!2017-05-20 09.14.03There was also a marinated variety, dowsed in Olive Oil and Piment d’Espelette a special variety of pepper from the Basque region of France, I so love the passion this country shows for regional specialities!

The market was buzzing, locals embacing the french tradition of kissing either cheek locally known as ‘faire la bise”, friends greeting as if they had not seen each other for months, live music rolling from the coffee shops entertaining the Gitaines smoking regulars downing coffee, strong enough to sink a battleship.

As an aside, I am writing this blog sampling a very good Domaine Samarel Red Wine listening to the French radio. I have a ‘Zippo’ size FM Stero Radio and doing a quick tune I can pick up over 30 (yes THIRTY) ANALOGUE STEREO radio stations 45 minutes from Toulouse, all rocking and good quality!!!!2017-05-20 09.31.07The market is considerably ‘savoury’ but also caters for the sweet tooth, which is a bit of a challenge for me but one of my new American serious foodie buddies (he is a chef and food traveller/journalist) said the Nougat was really good (that’s not quite accurate but you get my drift). #awesomePhoto 20-05-2017, 15 28 15Back in the mini bus we headed back to foodie ‘HQ’ to start the next cooking session, our ‘light lunch’. As we got ready the kitchen was prepared for us. This lunch was interesting, Sliced Potato, Herb Pesto (Rocket and Spinach), Roasted Tomato (only lightly) Salmon and White Cheese, followed by an Apricot Tart. By the way, our tutor Robert Abraham is an absolutely bl@@dy awesome cook with a lifetime of experience. He is VERY patient and open to ‘suggestions’ if they make sense. He puts a LOT of effort into the menus to ensure students learn as many techniques as possible.Photo 20-05-2017, 12 58 04The starter was extremely tasty, the Pesto had lost a little bit of its freshness (and vibrant colour) but that happpens sometimes, it was still so tasty though, quite rich and took about an hour to prepare. The white Cheese might be difficut to get in the U.K., it’s a bit like a Cream Cheese but a bit more runny. Drops of Sesame Oil on the Asparagus added another dimension.photo-20-05-2017-12-13-36.jpgSome of the tastiest food can be quite simplistic as in the case of the dessert, until I wanted to add a minor addition! A Simple flaky pastry, loaded with pitted fresh Apricots purchased earlier that day and sprinkled with Demerara Sugar. Nope, I wanted to try an experiment and add a savoury note, some Lemon Thyme. So we went 50/50 to compare the difference. (I obviously liked the addition of the Thyme but could had done with some more as the Apricots were very good and had a strong flavour).Photo 20-05-2017, 13 32 18After a break we were back in the kitchen, I said this course was full on! So here we go, Tandoori Style Roast Langoustines with baby Leeks.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 16 55Looks simple huh, hell no! There are a load of processes that go into making this dish, book the course to find out as I am not going to tell you, only that the result had everyone going oh, and ah. It was damn good. Yes, damn good.

The main was Young Lauragai Pigeon with Sweet Clover, Confit of Shallots, Carrots and Honey. You think the starter looked easy the main was full of even more processes. Our ‘group’ of guests is working really well together, old and relatively young we are having great fun, joking and laughing and putting the world to right at the same time which makes the whole experience so great.

One of the guests is Vasily, a Russian living in Switzerland. He is a genuinely lovely guy and we have all been having some great conversation whilst preparing mise en place and eating, drinking and sharing stories and life experiences.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 48 57We all agreed this dish was ‘bl@@dy rich’  but also ‘Bl@@dy Tasty’, it was awesome. This is my interpretation of the plating with a ‘Ying and Yang’ Carrot puree, the three Carrot Tronçon were cooked under a cartouche in Carrot juice, Orange Juice and another ‘secret’ ingredient! There is Pigeon Breast on Foie Gras, Pigeon Leg on Shallot Confit and the two sauces are Carrot and reduced Pigeon jus with some ‘special’ ingredients.Photo 20-05-2017, 20 34 25Anyone can cook a Chocolate Soufflé if they know the process. We used a Crème ‘Pat’ and Meringue mixture to great effect and the results were light, fluffy, silky and delicious.Photo 20-05-2017, 11 52 38So another adventerous day at The French House Party. It’s only day 2 and much has been learnt, the world has been put to rights multiple times, new cooking techniques  have been learnt, we have all probably gained at least an ounce in weight!

It’s an enlightening experience and really takes you way from the hustle and bustle of work which is the main reason I am attracted to these kinds of ‘holidays’. It’s hard work but VERY rewarding.

Breakfast at 8:00 and starting in the kitchen at 9:00 so time to call it a day.

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