Some people in the industry think that to ‘turn’ vegetables or tourner was invented for the sole purpose of terrorising culinary students. It’s easy to see why. It is like torture. You take a potato or carrot or swede cut it into a block and then, using a very sharp lethal- looking knife, turn it into a small barrel shape with eight sides. Believe it or not, there is a reason for it. The vegetables turn out exactly the same size so they cook evenly and look sensational on the plate with each of the eight sides glistening with butter.
Chef explains that it is a dying art but is still seen in some five star restaurants and hotels. And given that everything about Le Cordon Bleu is five star, it makes sense to teach us how to tourner.
Chef uses the turned potatoes to make Pommes Chateau: blanched potatoes which are sautéed then roasted. Nothing is wasted and he uses the off cuts to make pommes puree – a dreamy, creamy mash that has the class swooning. Carrots and turnips are turned and cooked in butter giving them a shiny glace. He makes an eggplant and tomato stew which is really like a warm salad and finishes off by cooking green beans and stirring through freshly made pesto.
He whizzed through all the dishes with speed and precision and we break for lunch knowing that the turned vegetables are going to take up much of the time in the practical, and we have already been reminded that we must get our food presented to Chef on time, or we lose marks.
It seems the whole class starts the session by knife sharpening. It’ll be a major feature of the afternoon. You can actually tell when your knife needs sharpening because the sound changes as it slices through the veges.
I start to get the hang of turning potatoes which lulls me into a false sense of competence for the carrots which are so much harder because they’re gnarly and thin and slippery little critters. I’m proud of my efforts but know that I will have to practice the carrots throughout the three months. I’ll have the household begging for sprouts or broccoli.
Chef reminds us that we have 15 minutes to finish and present to him. On one hand, we have to take our time and get it right, and on the other, it has to be presented in a timely manner. The pressure is unrelenting but I get over my own little MasterChef moment and get the food to him in time and, hand on heart, it’s a very best I can do at this stage of the course.
And so, the first week ends. I am in heaven, most of the time, but I know that I’ve got to keep on top of it all; the concentration, the practicing, the reading, the planning, if I’m to succeed. And actually, I don’t want to just pass, I want to do really well. I have no idea where this competitive personality has been hiding all these years.