The pace is really stepping up. Every class feels like a big class as we head towards our week in the Brasserie Le Cordon Bleu where we will hone our skills by preparing dinner for paying customers. There will be lots of pressure. Patrons will have high expectations. And I’m expecting the atmosphere to be exactly the same as it is in a top class restaurant kitchen. But there are several classes before then including lesson 20 which is duck breast and savarin (and the catch-up class thanks to the freak accident involving the wood splinter and finger).
Duck with cherries is a French classic. One of the things that this dish reinforces for me is the importance of the sauce and in particular, the fact that you don’t have to completely smother the dish with it but rather use it sparingly to enhance and beautify the dish. I’ve always thought that being a good host is about giving people plenty of everything. I’m not sure if it’s about generosity or gluttony. But more is not always better. A spoonful or two of jus is enough to enhance the meal – the food doesn’t have to swim in it.
By the time the sherry has deglazed the pan that I cooked the duck breast in, and the estouffade has reduced, there’s only a small amount of sauce left but it’s a deep ruby colour and intensely flavoured. Our recipe refers to magrets de canard which are breasts from force-fed ducks for foie gras but ours are regular breasts and therefore not nearly as fatty.
Several students screw up their noses at the thought of more endive on the programme but this time it’s in a salad with rocket, and not braised like last time. This salad is crispy with a light vinaigrette, touches of bacon and garlic croutons and with two perfectly poached eggs atop.
The dough used to make the savarin is the same as that for a rum baba but we’ll be soaking the savarin in a spicy stock syrup – no rum. It takes real love to make these syrup-infused donut shaped sweet treats. We prove the dough twice, once in the bowl and the second time after we have piped it into the moulds. Once they’re cooked and still warm, they are soaked in the warm stock syrup. But the process goes on. They are covered with an apricot glaze, cream is piped into the middle and finally expertly sliced and filleted fresh fruit sits in the middle of the cream.
The week is over for my classmates but I go back into school to make crusty rolls with crispy shallots and lamb noisettes. It’s just me and Chef Francis in the kitchen. It’s so quiet. There are no distractions. Everything is at my finger tips. Chef is right there whenever I have a question. It’s a really tricky dish. I get the skin off the lamb rack and discard it. I carefully remove the flesh and fat from the rack in preparation for using a thin trimmed layer to roll up the noisettes. Chef gives me a hand. “Ooff your knives are …”. He hunts for the word in English. “Hopeless”, I volunteer. “Ah, oui, hopeless”. He’s going to get out the stone later and show me how to sharpen them – they are too far gone for the steel to have any impact. No wonder I haven’t cut myself much this time round.
I use the thermometer to make sure I don’t overcook the meat. The beans, sprinkled with flaked almonds are just right and the coriander pesto is the perfect accompaniment. I’m seriously chuffed with my efforts and grateful that I was able to give this dish a go – it’s a beauty.