Chef Paul tells us there’s a lot to get through. It’s a big lesson alright: French onion soup, gnocchi with pesto, and a cold chocolate souffle with coffee Anglaise. He says we need to allow about an hour for each course. The soup is all about getting the right intensity of flavour; too much reduction and you’ll only be able to eat a couple of spoonfuls, too little, and it will be insipid and really boring. The gnocchi is about using floury dry potatoes, getting the shape right and not overcooking it, and the souffle, well, there are so many obstacles to getting this right that it gets a paragraph on it’s own.
It’s sort of like a mousse in texture but with more air, and when it’s chilled it sits beautifully above the ramekin, thanks to gelatine and a raised collar. So firstly we have to prepare the ramekin by wrapping a band of acetate around the sides so that it sits about 3 cm above the height of the dish. It must be even. ( I remember the Genoise sponge last week.)
The filling is a combination of the four bowls of mixture: a sabayon, melted chocolate, meringue and whipped cream, each prepared to precise instructions. Once mine is in the fridge I feel a sense of relief although it’s taken over an hour and I still have to make the coffee anglaise.
The gnocchi appears the easiest dish in this lesson but my mixture seems too moist, not at all like Chef’s dough. I gently turn the small squidgy pieces across the back of a fork to get the nice ridges and they only just hold together. I hope that putting them in the fridge a while will firm them up. The pesto however is a beautiful colour and has an intense taste.
I start on the soup knowing that it will be a chance to test my ability to get the flavour just right. The onion slicing holds me up. I’m still painfully slow at preparing vegies and the onions have to be thin, even juliennes. I’ve reduced the two stocks, veal and chicken, and think they taste pretty good so in they go with the sweated onions and herbs. I’m feeling confident that I will have something special to present to Chef.
Not so the gnocchi which I would rather not talk about. The pieces are too big. I see that now. The fridge hasn’t made much difference to the texture. They start to fall apart in the boiling water and there’s nothing I can do. I think about not presenting the dish at all which would of course mean scoring 0. But the pesto is really good so I box on even though I’m not at all proud of the plate. It’s no surprise that Chef doesn’t say much.
I scuttle back to my work station to plate up the soup and the dessert. The soup is so good it warrants a hand shake and a huge smile. And the souffle is perfect, as is the coffee Anglaise.
Two out of three ain’t bad, but it’s the gnocchi I’m thinking about as I bike home as fast as I can, the gentle evening breeze cooling me down and removing some of the fluster that remains after nearly five hours of intense concentration in a hot kitchen.