For my 39th birthday last year I was treated to a day out at Hartington’s School of Food and Drink located in the heart of the Peak District, in Bakewell. If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know that I see myself as a bit of a foodie, I have dabbled with the reality television show Come Dine With Me and have a burning desire to one day, enter Masterchef, regardless of what the outcome may be. (We all know that I was robbed on CDWM). For the record the repeats are starting on More4 March 29th!!
The full day ‘Chef’s Finishing Flourishes (Chefs Skills)’ seemed the perfect way to try out new dishes, showcase new flavours and experiment with new techniques. I’m a big fan of tasting menus, a couple of my most memorable being at Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, where I was fortunate enough to sit on the Chef’s table for the 10 courses overlooking the kitchen and the second at Winteringham Fields with chef Colin McGurran. On both occasions we opted for the matching wines which whilst being a little extravagant was well worth the money to experience how a wine can completely change the experience of a dish.
With the big day coming I decided I needed to make the most of the experience and experiment with my newfound skills and so pencilled in the diary, a few days after the Chefs finishing flourishes day out, an evening to prepare and serve my own ten course tasting menu with matching wines (other half’s birthday was the ideal opportunity).
March finally arrived, the day was hosted by chef Darren Goodwin who is the head chef at Losehill Hotel and Spa – award winning Orangery Restaurant. Darren demonstrated the preparation of a three course tasting menu and how to build up plates of food and flavours to create three jaw dropping dishes.
On the day Darren taught his aspiring wannabe chefs through the following techniques:
- Sous vide – I have considered buying a Bain Marie since the course, but not sure my kitchen or my OCD could cope with the clutter
- Creating watercress caviar
- Rice-less risottos (perfect for freezing)
- Pickling techniques
- Producing stunning flavoured jellies
- Working with dry ice
- Creating a melting sauce
- Flavoured soils
- Producing scented aromas
- Using a blow torch in cooking
The day was fantastic the participants each had there own work station and required equipment.
There were at least two people throughout the day periodically cleaning up and washing down which made you feel like a proper chef having your own pot washer. On the day we produced and took home (bar a couple of elements which would not have been practical to transport):
- Sous vide mackerel, watercress and horseradish ‘sauce’ beetroot jelly – Sous vide mackerel then blow torch skin, beetroot jelly, horseradish melting sauce and watercress caviar
- Rump of Lamb, pickled red cabbage ketchup, shallot, broccoli, celeriac risotto – Marinate & poach sous vide, cabbage gel, pickled shallots, broccoli melting sauce, celeriac purée and fine dice risotto
- Rhubarb ‘crumble’, and custard – A poached rhubarb sous vide, with a crumble, milkshake made from the rhubarb juices, vanilla ice cream made with dry ice, rhubarb and vanilla aroma and white chocolate soil (made with dehydrated with tapioca powder)
All in all it was a fantastic experience and well worth the £145 fee. To top the day off Darren prepared for us a Beef Cobbler for lunch which was divine. The days following, inspired by my newfound skills I began to research the internet around some of the do’s and don’ts of delivering tasting menus. The general consensus is that large portioning can leave diners feeling bloated whilst lengthy meals can seem strung-out, thats the easy bit. The complex problems arise from combinations of flavours and confused dishes have ingredients fighting against each other instead of sitting happily side by side happily together. Serving small plates of food, in my opinion, is an elegant way of eating, allowing diners to experience more dishes without feeling bloated.
The key to tasting menus is undoubtably the presentation, it bridges the gap between dishes appearing frugal and purposefully-portioned. I picked up a few Japanese rice bowls and square sauce dishes from my local Sainsbury’s to keep small helpings in proportion. A top tip is to choose courses which allow you to do a lot of the preparation in advance that way the tasting menu will run like lots of short sprints, rather than a marathon dragging into the night.
Try to prepare as many dishes as you can ahead of time. This will ensure that you won’t spend the entire party tucked away in the kitchen instead of out where the action is. I found that by making the intense sauces and gravy in advance gave me valuable time to concentrate on the more delicate areas of preparation.
You might also consider serving a palette cleanser between courses, such as sorbet, gazpacho or even a small glass of champagne. This will add a feeling of decadence. A final point is that preparing very small dishes adds an additional risk of over cooking or under heating – heated plates and very hot sauces and gravies compensate for this. The evening was a success, the ambience, music and timings all went to plan – Here it is:
A cup of pumpkin soup served with pumpkin seeds and rustic french bread:
Pan fried langoustines in a white wine, butter and garlic liqueur:
Singapore Beef chow mein:
Poached cod fillet, french lentils with a white wine reduction sauce:
Sweet roasted shallots with a gorgonzola sauce:
Fillet steak, roast garlic mashed potato puree, a head of purple sprouting broccoli and a red wine reduction sauce:
A local selection of cheeses with caramelised shallots and biscuits:
Shortbread served with a double espresso:
Oh and to compliment the dishes Saturday Morning Kitchen’s resident wine expert Olly Smith also recommended (via twitter) some very reasonable wines from Marks and Spencer – this was my favourite to go with the beef.
All in all I’m a big fan of tasting menus either in a restaurant or homemade and I will definitely have another go, maybe next time a long leisurely ten course tasting menu for a few friends – when are you free??????