The Dreaded Blue Plaster – Cookery School (Days 10 & 11)

Up until now, I had managed to avoid the dreaded blue plaster (band aid). It comes out when you cut yourself. When this happens, you tell Chef, and he’ll saunter off to locate one from the first aid kit. It’s blue, a dark blue to be precise. This means that it can be easily spotted in the event that it accidentally drops off and falls into the food.

But this also means that everyone knows you’ve been clumsy with the knife for that dreaded blue plaster is pretty hard to miss. Almost one third of the way through my course and I thought I had managed to escape from the dreaded blue curse. But I’ve been watching my fellow students slowly succumb one by one to this fate. So it was inevitable (sigh) that I would fall too, and the other day I finally met with my destiny. But the stupidity of it was I didn’t cut myself because I had been butchering a whole chicken, or from finely dicing an onion or the like. Oh no, nothing glamorous like that. I suffered my cut washing my vegetable peeler. Go figure.

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Westminster Kingsway College – Cookery School (Day 12)

This week we had our first of six assessments. Typically we work in pairs, but seeing as it was an assessment, we cooked on our own although we were still allowed to prep in pairs. I wasn’t particularly nervous, although I certainly felt the time pressure. That, and the pressure of logically planning each work step so that all my dishes came together to allow me to plate up everything at once.

We made darne of salmon with parsley butter, ratatouille, and macaire potatoes.

I am seriously considering taking up NVQ Level 2 as well. However this depends on whether I would be permitted to start this September (before Level 1 has been completed), or whether I would have to see out the rest of Level 1 first. The benefit of a September start is that I would finish Level 2 in July, but the latter option would mean not starting Level 2 till February and not finishing till Next December. The extra five/six months would work against me, and it would mean that I probably wouldn’t go on to Level 2 which would be a shame.

Quite a few people in my course are keen to start NQV Level 2 in September as well. Chef will be making inquiries so watch this space.

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Westminster Kingsway College – Cookery School (Day 9)

Before we move onto the practical, our day starts with a two hour theory session. During this time we will cover, amongst other things, the dishes that we will make that day. We do this in a classroom and not in the teaching kitchen. It involves the use of a whiteboard, Chef scribbling away, and us taking notes. There is always an endless stream of questions from some of my fellow students about what Chef writes on the board. Seeing as some of the people in my class don’t speak English as a first language, I went through a period of great puzzlement and bewilderment as I wondered if it is because they couldn’t read very well. But closer observation of the people doing the questioning made me realise that they are constantly squinting, and so I now know it is because they suffer from myopia and simply refuse to wear spectacles.

Chef also occasionally draws diagrams on the board, especially when there is some sort of dissection involved. This week we were to butcher a chicken which resulted in this very artistic diagram that made us all giggle.

Chef's art work

Chef's art work

As you can tell from what he wrote, we made chicken saute chasseur. This is how it really turned out, after being butchered and cooked. It was tasty, although I have to confess a little under seasoned.

Chicken saute chasseur

Chicken saute chasseur

We also made pot roasted chicken; and roasted poussin with bread sauce; parsley, sage and thyme stuffing; and jus roti. There is always something so delicious and wonderfully satisfying about roast chicken. As we are not allowed to take our food home anymore, I tried to stuff as much chicken as I could into my mouth before handing it over to Chef. It must have amounted to several portions. And here I was, vowing to cut back after my winter of excess…

Westminster Kingsway College:
Web: http://www.westking.ac.uk

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Westminster Kingsway College – Cookery School (Day 8)

As you know, we work in pairs, and I have been trying to work with a different person each week in an effort to get know everyone in my class. This week was with G, who tells me he has been cooking since the age of nine. It is clearly evident he loves to cook, for when he’s not in cookery school, he is cooking at a 5-star hotel in Green Park where he’s been working for the last year and a half. And when he’s not doing that, he’s at home cooking.

It turns out that at lunchtime he sometimes heads to the hotel to eat. It’s free, and I’m sure the food is very good. I’ve managed to get myself invited to go along with him at some point, on the pretext of wanting to see the kitchen, although I wouldn’t say no to lunch either. Or maybe I invited myself, for I guess he really didn’t have much choice, seeing as I was brandishing my just-sharpened 9 inch chef’s knife as we were speaking.

Sweet & sour pork

Sweet & sour pork

We made lamb navarin and sweet and sour pork this week. The lamb stew, enriched with the flavour of the vegetables that we had passed through a chinoise to create a thickened sauce, was utterly divine. So much so, we scoffed it down rather quickly and I didn’t manage to take a photo. The sweet and sour pork was good too. As we created the sauce purely by eye and taste, it was a good test of our palate to ensure that we got the right balance of sweet and sour.

There will be no class next week on account of the Easter break.

Westminster Kingsway College:
Web: http://www.westking.ac.uk

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Westminster Kingsway College – Cookery School (Day 7)

We all seemed to be in better spirits this week. I suppose we’ve all become use to the idea that we can’t take food home now, whereas last week it was cause for a lot of grumbling. We have moved onto meat. This week’s dishes were: chicken escalope holstein (an egg, anchovy and caper garnish) with beurre noisette, chicken stir-fry with noodles, and pork chops with apple sauce.

Chicken escalope holstein

Chicken escalope holstein

Chicken stir-fry

Chicken stir-fry

Pork chops with apple sauce

Pork chops with apple sauce

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Westminster Kingsway College – Cookery School (Days Five & Six)

There is an adage that all good things must come to an end. In our case, we will no longer be allowed to take the food that we cook home from cookery school. Truth be told, Westminster Kingsway College has always had a rule of forbidding students from taking the food, and this was communicated to us on day one. So the fact that we have been taking home our food ever since the course started was because our lovable teddy bear of a teacher (Chef), in his usual generous spirit, turned a blind eye.

But someone (not from my class) snitched, and the powers that be came down on Chef. Therefore doggy bags are to be no more. The food is to be sent to the cafeteria for sale so that the college can recoup some of their costs. This is understandable given how little our cooking course costs in comparison to the courses at other notable cookery schools such as Leiths School of Food and Wine and Le Cordon Bleu London. But you could imagine the collective chorus of groans that echoed across the room when we were told; and the disappointment that formed on our faces when at the end of the day, after plating and tasting the output of our work, we then had to relinquish ownership of the dishes: plaice florentine, grilled sardines with herb butter and deep fried sprats (a small oily fish) with paprika and cayenne pepper.

Plaice florentine

Plaice florentine

I know I was a little naughty and that I missed blogging about last week’s class. Somehow, time just passed me by. We also covered fish last week: salmon fish cakes, supreme of pollock with a herb crust, pan fried mackerel fillets and a supreme of salmon with a herb beurre blanc. I am glad to say that my filleting skills have definitely improved, but next week we will move onto meat; and I am also glad to say that I won’t be missing that fishy smell that just stays on my hands for hours after the class is over.

Westminster Kingsway College:
Web: http://www.westking.ac.uk

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Westminster Kingsway College – Cooking School (Day Four)

We have now migrated from vegetables to fish, and I’m delighted that we’re starting to cover the meatier, more substantial stuff. As much as I appreciate some good veg, I do like my meat, or fish as the case might be. Filleting and skinning were the order of the day. The former requires good knife skills of course. As for skinning, once you find the angle at which you ought to guide your knife along the fish, well, it isn’t really so hard after all. Patience and care are what is needed.

We covered how to poach a darne of salmon, which is the middle cut of the fish; in a court bouillon made from water, malted vinegar, onions, carrots, bay leaf and peppercorns. As for the filleted fish, a plaice, we churned out deep-fried goujons and shallow-fried fillets finished with beurre noisette (a brown, nutty butter sauce). At what seemed like a quarter pound of butter going into the pan, I mildly protested at all the calories. “Yes” said Chef, “but it tastes so good”, as he contentedly laps up my sauce for grading with a happy grin. I can’t help but agree, but then, he is a little rotund after all, and that is a state I want to avoid becoming. But truth be told, Chef has had many more years of cooking and eating than me, so hopefully it will be a little while longer before I too, become more round.

Plaice with beurre noisette

Plaice with beurre noisette

Chef started his professional career in the kitchen of the Savoy Hotel and he occasionally regales us with some of the stories from that time. The hotel is currently under refurbishment and is scheduled to reopen later this year, but Chef was there in the 1970s, before even the last refurbishment. Back then, there was a long corridor that ran from the kitchen to the pot wash. All the chefs avoided this protracted walk, preferring instead to funnel the pots that needed washing down to the pot wash by way of rolling them down the corridor. Oh what fun! But rue the day you got in the way of one of those pots as it barrelled towards you. Nowadays, with health and safety regulations, no doubt a time honoured tradition is unlikely to ever see light again.

Westminster Kingsway College:
Web: http://www.westking.ac.uk

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Westminster Kingsway College – Cooking School (Day Three)

Yesterday was day three of my cooking course, and I have to confess, I love it. I talk, cook and eat food all day so what is there not to love? What could be more nourishing and comforting for the soul and stomach then being in the presence of food? Being surrounded by hundreds of other students in their chef’s whites also gives me an added sense of purpose. It’s as if we are all part of one big brotherhood and sisterhood, uniting together with a common goal. My lecturer’s (Chef) jokes also continue to provide me with great amusement and entertainment. His funniest joke of this week was so morally offensive and politically incorrect that it caused me to grimace. But it was really funny, and 24 hours later, I am still giggling at the thought of the words that passed his lips.

We are taking gentle strides at the moment, covering the easiest topics first, with the view to building up to the harder ones in the weeks to come. This will give us a chance to slowly ease into the routine of cooking school and to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the kitchen, etc. We cook in pairs and the pace can get quite hectic in the kitchen, especially when Chef is yelling out orders and we’re all busy scrambling for the pots and pans.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

This week, our main dish of the day was ratatouille. And if I may be permitted to say, ours turned out wonderfully. Our vegetables were cooked to a perfect doneness, not too firm and not too soft. It was seasoned nicely, and fragrant with the beautiful aroma of fresh basil. Chef lavished such high praise on it that I couldn’t help but clap my hands in glee.

I have also discovered that I am more adept at ‘turning’ carrots that I was at piping mashed potatoes, but I need to improve my carrot glazing technique. We also cooked cauliflower and broccoli which we finished in a beurre fondue (butter melted in water to create a creamy emulsion). Now why does butter taste so good?

Westminster Kingsway College:
Web: http://www.westking.ac.uk

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