On cooking a Michelin starred meal

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A week or so ago I was lucky enough to attend the The Art of Michelin Star Cookery course at the Waitrose Cookery School on the Finchley Road with my Oldest Friend. Apart from my obvious delight at being able to stand at a hob without a toddler tugging at my apron strings and biting me intermittently on the thigh, it was a genuinely great day; we did lots of cooking under the tutelage of a swoonworthy Glaswegian pastry chef, made some lovely food, accompanied by some gorgeous wine, and managed to get home on time (well, I would have done if I hadn’t left my phone behind and then missed my train as I ran around Marylebone station unfairly accusing random herberts of pickpocketing).

Last night I recreated our gastronomic oeuvres for my DH, mother, and MiL. The menu was:

  • Starter: Gazpacho jelly, dressed crab, avocado [puree, with cucumber and pepper garnish, melba-style toast, cress]. Wine was: Chapel Down English Rose 2010
  • Main: Roast loin of lamb with fondant potato, shallot puree, jus nicoise [with spinach, and roasted artichoke]. Wine: Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cab Sav 2006
  • Pudding: Pavlova with rhubarb confit, lemon yoghurt sorbet, basil [plus sesame tuiles, lemon syrup, and a passion fruit curd]. Wine: Brown Brothers Special Late Harvested Orange Muscat & Flora 2009

Thankfully, I managed to pull it off – at least everyone made very satisfactory noises and no one got food poisoning. About two thirds of the way through the prep, however, I did change my mindset from a high-achieving ‘I’m going to present such a kick-ass beautiful meal that it could genuinely win a Michelin star‘ belief , to ‘OK this doesn’t look much like it’s supposed to but if I keep the lights low they might not notice‘ disaster limitation.

So, for my Roaring Record:

  • This is not the kind of meal one would knock out every week. I ended up spending a shocking £100 on all the ingredients and wine (plus 2 packs of 4+ Active Fit nappies). It took 2 days to prep* and cook, and would have been impossible without MiL there to look after the children. The quantities of butter used would give one a cardiac just to look at.
  • Nevertheless, one might WANT to eat it every week. It was – even my version – gorgeous, and that came from a delicious mix of flavours and textures. The Michelin star skill was not so much in the technicalities of cooking, but in the way the plates were put together, with so many different components (each of which required particular cooking techniques), and the way they were presented. Having said that, it wasn’t quite a piece of cake…
  • I forgot the cress and basil garnishes. (Nobody missed them.)
  • My gazpacho jelly was supposed to be a clear consomme, but because I used a liquidiser to mash up the gazpacho before straining, a bit too much stuff (technical term) got through the muslin, so the jelly looked as if it has tomato-coloured coral floating in it. To be fair, Waitrose said don’t liquidise, use a food processor, but as we’re not getting one of those until (hopefully) W-day next year I had to make do.
  • My dressed crab was supposed to be white meat only but it came mixed with brown. I gave up at this point and just tried to ensure my mix didn’t involve crab shell or eyeballs, and had lots of mayonnaise.
  • The melba toast would have worked better if I’d used proper white bread rather than some inch thick slabs of soda bread which was the only white stuff we had. Took an age to bake.
  • My potatoes were probably the let down of the meal, as I’d turned them in advance and left them soaking in water, which when they were shallow fried just created a sort of chewy film round them which got blacker and blacker as they cooked.
  • I was proudest of my lamb loin, as I really went to town sharpening my knife and turning a quite nice-looking rack of lamb covered in fat, into a beautifully shaped cylinder of lean meat, which just took a bit of searing and 7 minutes in the oven to turn into something really delish. I made some lamb stock from the bones, which I needed for the jus; a Jolly Good Thing as Waitrose was out of it when I did my shop.
  • I’ve just noticed from looking at the photos that the main was also meant to include roasted artichokes. Had completely forgotten about those (not on the Official Recipe). It might have satisfied my mother’s sole complaint that there were never enough vegetables… Darn it.
  • The recipes Waitrose gave us to follow on the day were quite haphazard in their volumes. I now have a fridge full of shallot puree, which tastes yummy but looks like bread sauce. Only blue. Please tweet me if you’d like this and I’ll wheelbarrow it over.
  • As a pudding aficionado (-da?) I like to think I’d be as good at making them as I am at eating them. Yet I still have to practise on my piping. It didn’t help that I broke my superduper cloth piping bag on the day by trying to squeeze out the last lot of hardened vanilla icing left over from the recent bake-a-thon known as the Jubilee weekend, and in my urgent gluttony burst its seams. So to pipe my Michelin meringue nests I had to use a freezer bag with the point of the corner cut off. I’ve seen them do this on the TV, but it’s a bit trickier in practice unless you fold it properly and don’t cut too big a hole. I also baked them on some new superduper no-stick paper from Lakeland onto which they stuck like glue. I baked the reject versions on normal greaseproof paper and they were fine, so it was definitely the no-stick paper’s fault. It meant my meringue nests were beige instead of snowy white, and dry inside instead of being marshmallow. Learning point there, don’t try to be too clever.
  • The official Waitrose recipe called for lemon curd (with ingredients for 2 jars worth), but the chef at the time made it mostly from passion fruit juice with a touch of lemon. I bought 4 passion fruit and that wasn’t enough, so ended up adding the juice of 1.5 lemons, and half an orange which had been in the fridge for a while after some zesting a week ago. This was my other error, as to my (admittedly totally naive) palate the curd now has a flat taste of old orange. Everyone else has been noshing this down without complaint, but I think the compost would have been a better bet for l’orange.
  • The lemon yoghurt sorbet was the only component I caved in and bought. This was absolutely the correct decision.
  • Waitrose ovens are significantly hotter than mine. Their tuiles looked caramel brown from the start. Mine looked pallid until they’d been cooked 5 times at ever increasing temps. I put too much vanilla in the lemon syrup and it looked like someone had had an accident with a pepper mill (though by this time my ‘if I keep the lights low they might not notice‘ philosophy was proven appropriate).
  • The vino was all gorgeous.

The official and DIY pics:

Not bad, Roaring Kate, if I say so myself. Would anyone like some shallot puree?

* On day 1: I made the gazpacho and left it to strain overnight, made the passion fruit curd and left it to set, made the lamb stock (because Waitrose didn’t have any, and I handily happened to have half a carcass due to my loin trimming) and chopped a kilo of shallots to puree.

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