World Degustation Event
The World Degustation Event. Sounds auspicious, right. No red carpet though.
This is a ticketed event put on by the students of Superior Cuisine. It’s restricted to 48 guests. Each Superior Cuisine student could invite one guest. Any tickets left become available to other Le Cordon Bleu students. It’s also marked and contributes to our overall grade. Unfortunately Roberta couldn’t attend as she was working in Munich. Bad timing. Pity. She loves a buffet. And this was certainly a resplendent buffet.
The focus from an examination perspective is all about teamwork, planning, organisation, time and people management. We got to demonstrate our skills, show our creativity, and apply concepts and techniques we’ve learned in a commercial kitchen environment. Energy. Excitement. Communication. Banter. All working as a kitchen brigade under time pressure with immovable deadlines to produce quality food in quantity. That means loadsa top tucker.
There were a couple of meetings last week to get us into the mood or mindset. The first meeting went through the various roles and responsibilities, the menu and recipes, and the equipment to be used. Each group appointed a student to be Head Chef and then divided into teams for each section:
Terrines, Charcuterie and Salads
Hot World Cuisine
Desserts, Breads, Cheeses and Mignardises
Every student gets to lead a section as Chef de Partie for at least 1 block in the kitchen—that’s 3 hours.
During the second meeting we organised our mise en place according to key event timings and our recipes. Each section created an ingredients order sheet and a time plan with milestones to be achieved across 2 days of preparation, cooking and service. Planning was iterative and continued across the weekend right up to the first session in the kitchen yesterday.
Look at that menu! 28 different dishes plus a variety of side dishes that accompanied the hot dishes, including steamed pancakes with cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce, jasmine rice, raita, saffron couscous and corn on the cob. What a feast. I jumped on the hot section. You know it had to be done. The ribs were calling my name and I wanted to have a go at the Peking duck. Come to papa.
6 hours on Wednesday for mise en place. First thing in the morning was stock take. Hundreds and hundreds of ingredients. Trays upon trays. And I was Chef de Partie. It took us about 45 minutes to locate and catalog the ingredients for the hot section and report the missing items. Then we were into the butchery. 2 ducks. 9kg of lamb shoulder to trim. That took a while. 5 small chickens to break down. 4 racks of beef ribs to trim. A whole monkfish. 20 prawns. Next up, marinades and glazes.
Beef time. The skin was removed along with the silver skin on the back of the ribs. The meat got a loving massage with a dry rub of smoked paprika, garlic and onion powder, chilli, brown sugar, salt and black pepper. Then vac pac and into the water bath for 24 hours at 75C. Boom.
The Peking duck was great fun to prepare. Clean, trim, wash, then sew up the bum hole with a skewer and use a bicycle pump to force air underneath the skin and fat to separate it from the meat and bones. This gives it a better chance of crisping up during the cook. Ideally you don’t want a fatty bird. Lean means crispy. We had fat quackers. It took 3 of us to pump the second duck. It was like a game of whack-a-mole trying to stop the air escaping. We got there in the end thanks to a damp jaycloth. While all the wrestling and pumping was going on, the poaching liquor was slowly infusing—ginger, lemon, orange, liquorice, rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and Szechuan pepper. So aromatic. The ducks were basted with the hot liquor for 5 minutes and then hung overnight in a ventilated fridge to dry out.
Thursday. 6 hours of cooking then 3 hours of plating and service from 6pm. Here we go. Push. Push. Push.
Priority? Get glazing the duckies. I quickly knocked up the hot glaze—maltose, honey, boiling water, rice wine vinegar and dark soy sauce. Taysteeee. And stickeeee. The ducks were hanging above my oven with a big tray and a field of foil laid out beneath. Brush, brush, brush. Every 10 to 15 minutes, until the glaze ran out a few hours later. A labour of love, for sure. Hang out. Dry out some more.
The beef came out of the water bath just before 1pm. It was falling off the bone. More accurately, the bones were falling out of the meat as I transferred it to a rack. I tried really hard not to chow down right there and then. Make the glaze—tomato purée and ketchup, Bourbon, cider vinegar, Worcester sauce, golden syrup, ground cloves and chipotle chiles. Brush, brush. Into the oven. More brush, brush every 10 minutes. Oh boy. Glazed beef ribs!
The next few hours were a blur. Chop. Chop. Blip. Blip. Push. Push. Plate. Plate. Get the trays organised.
Move all the nom up to the top floor.
More photos from the evening.