Whenever anything goes awry for us, we use the hashtag ‘don’t tell Rob’, the big dog we had for our first day – a highly experienced, tad fearsome, ever so slightly sexy chef director. This week, yes I did wholeheartedly place my entire hand around a pan handle that had been in the oven for three hours, at two hundred degrees Celsius. The rest of the afternoon was spent liberally applying tea-tree oil.
The end of our first full week in the kitchen sadly brought with it the end of our precious time with Chef Ross and Apprentice Rhys, or Rhys-y, as Ross affectionately calls him. Every single day, we would be laughing non stop at the same time as learning crazy amounts. Rhys coming round, keeping a well trained eye on things, was a godsend when things weren’t going quite according to plan (which happened all too often for yours truly). Ross’ particular area of expertise is fish, so we were in great hands for our first task of filleting a beautiful plaice.
Fun fact for y’all – all flat fish are born round, then as they grow, their eyes move to one side and they flatten out.
We messily hacked away at, oops, I mean filleted, our plaice. Mercifully, the fillets were just to be used as goujons, so the fact that mine ended up looking like a string vest was overlooked. After rolling our strips in flour, dipping them in egg and then smothering in panko breadcrumbs, we used the deep fat frier until they were nice ‘n’ crispy.
Chopping up some gherkins, capers and red onion to go through our homemade mayonnaise transformed it into a creamy and zingy tartare sauce.
Lunch was served.Looking a bit measly compared to the usual size of our lunches, hey? Don’t worry, we whipped up a bowl of caramelised red onion soup with parmesan croutons to fill our boots.Saying goodbye to our main man Ross also meant whispering sweet goodbyes to our garishly presented dessert dishes. These have been the absolute highlight of the course so far for me, and surprisingly for most of the men, too! And they’ll be the first to admit it. We whipped up a lemon zesty treacle tart on shortcrust pastry, which we served with a raspberry coulis, creme fraiche and edible flowers.Anyone fancy a game of Pacman?
Having confirmed with Rhys at the weekly local pub quiz that we were by far his favourite group to mentor ever in his entire time at Ashburton, we felt sad to see them go but grateful for all they had taught us. Our chef for the next three days was to be Alan, another fish master who has worked under Rick Stein in Padstow, and in the top floor fine dining restaurant of Harvey Nicholls (where he learnt purees and foams that taste of nothing). Presenting us with our first round fish, we set to work on mackerel.Now before the course, I truly thought of myself as a non-squeamish person. Gutting our own fish has quite simply turned out to be the most revolting thing to have to go through. Luckily, the end results are far more appealing, so it makes it all worthwhile. We marinated our fillets in a pickling liquor over the weekend, and served them with a warm potato and bacon salad with vinaigrette. Surprisingly, that humble potato salad was by far one of the tastiest things we’ve made so far!
Then came the gurnard.
Oven baked gurnard on a granary crostini, with buttered spinach, a poached egg, hollandaise sauce and basil oil.For a lighter dessert, we carved up some fruit, all healthy and that. Then we dolloped over our sabayonne (a cooked mixture of eggs, sugar, cointreau and orange zest) blowtorched it a bit and served it with shortbread.
Not so light after all, but one of your five a day, for sure!The shortbread was made with a mixture of half corn flour and half plain flour, which made it crumble and melt like sugary dust in your mouth. Total genius!
These few days also included butchering a whole duck, a breast of lamb and a seabass. Each part has been suitably vac-packed, frozen or refridgerated for whatever they have in store for us next. Considering the breast of lamb was an absolute nightmare to butcher and was entirely responsible for the burning of my right palm, it had better taste damn good indeed. I’ll keep you posted!