Chef Paul asks if we’ve all had lunch. What a great way to start class. Even though hardly anyone replies. It’s 3pm, hours since lunchtime. We know we are in for a treat. He offers us some of his duck liver parfait on brioche. It’s week 8 and I am seriously running out of superlatives. I have to fight with myself to stay in my seat and not lunge for another helping.
Chef gets on with the business of fully boning a chicken which he will stuff with a combination of minced meats, ham and pistachio nuts. I wonder how many chickens he has boned in his career to date? He makes it easy for us by taking his time and explaining every incision. Actually, the tricky part is the consistency is the stuffing. It’s got to be quite thick otherwise it will be impossible to keep it inside the rolled up flattened flaccid bird. And when we add the cream it must be done over a bowl of iced water to keep it as cold as possible. The final stage is wrapping it in caul, the fatty net-like stuff that connects the stomach to the other abdominal organs. It ends up looking like a parcel in a string bag.
The chicken will be served with a garniture of paysanne vegetables – all cut in different shapes but about the same size, and cooked with blanched and fried lardons and a bouquet garni. A pan of pommes Anna will be on the side. This dish has to be the ultimate for potato lovers – thinly sliced rounds of spud evenly layered in a buttered pan, butter between each layer and brushed with butter. They’re crispy on top and soft in the middle. And dangerously addictive.
Desserts don’t get much simpler than a sabayon, or as the Italians refer to it, Zabaglione. There are just three ingredients – sugar, yolk and white wine. It takes a couple of minutes to thicken over a pot of boiling water. Put some fresh fruit in the serving bowl, pour on the sabayon, lightly grill it and serve. Magnifique.
With exams on the horizon and the constant pressure to produce perfect dishes, there’s not always enough head space and definitely not enough time to dwell on the exceptional quality of the food produced for us each day by the Chefs. We taste it, ooh and aah and then rush off to the kitchen with our work plans in hand. We’re supposed to get it all done in three hours. The gas goes off at 10pm and there’s a mad scramble to share pots of recently boiled water to make the sabayon. I get there, just! With no air con on, the clean up is almost unbearable. There are what seems like mountains of roasting pans, wire racks, trays and bowls to rinse, clean and put through the sterilizer. We’re done, and done in, by 11pm. Time for a pot of tea and a quick study of the notes for tomorrow’s class – an intricate and elegant apple tart, plus salmon to be served in a paper bag or papillote.