Saturday 26th February 1a.m: Is it time to get up yet..?
2.30a.m: Panic in a foggy half dreaming, half awake state that I had over slept and missed all trains to Lyon.
4.30a.m Pavlova related nightmares from Fridays Pavlova fiasco…
5.50a.m Alarm finally rings. Personal experience has since told me that nothing will get you out of bed faster after a disturbed nights sleep than to see a pair of creepy bug eyes staring at you a mere 20cm from your face…
I arrived in Lyon at 9.30a.m, nerves no more calmer than when I left Bonneville. Under the premise of getting into French mode, I treated myself to a lovely petit déjeuner that was only slightly marred by a beggar child kneeling at my feet playing an accordion.
To celebrate the end of a long 8 week term, I had enrolled myself in a French cooking class at L’Atelier des Chefs. Today was a big day.
I found my way to L’Atelier des Chefs building, by which time my stomach was churning, my palms were sweating and I was muttering to myself “Breathe, breathe…” This may also have been a side effect of the incredibly strong espresso I had just drunk… But as soon as I walked in I felt at ease. I was standing in a kitchen shop: a wonderfully familiar array of silicone baking pans; recipe books; spices in glass jars; serving dishes and utensils; exotic teas; aprons and pepper grinders in front of me. I caught a glimpse of the shining stainless steel kitchen out the back. This is a place I know.
Cuisines the world over: Japanese, Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian, American, each one is different. They all have different flavours, different techniques and different traditions. Yet, there will always be knives, ovens, oils, passion and ideas. A veritable creative hub where if you mix a bit of this, add a bit of that you can make something extraordinary. This is what I love about a kitchen: it is full of warmth, often a fare amount of tense excitement and a universal understanding of the potential that lies within. So when the Chef handed me a white plastic bag apron and I was guided to my station, I felt kind of at home. Though a cloth apron wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Plat du Jour
Crème de potiron, oeuf poché, châtaignes et chips de jambon.
Dos de cabillaud en croûte de pavot, wok d’endive à l’orange.
Tatin de poire à la cardamome et chantilly de mascarpone au miel.
I could have been on the set of the food network. In an immaculate commercial kitchen, ingredients pre-measured in individual stainless steel bowls, knives of various sizes laid out straight and clean, white chopping boards ready to use. We were shown how to chop the produce in front of us: shallots and onions without tears, pumpkin, endives, pears and oranges. At our station I took on shallot chopping duty, successfully, without tears. It’s all in the knife action…
Handed a giant pair of tweezers, we tried to pull the bones out of our cod fillets without destroying the tender flesh. Next, we moved to the hot part of the kitchen. This was were things started to get serious. I now had to compete with the scraping of pots, the sizzling of oil and the ten whispered french conversations around me to follow the Chef’s instructions. My brow furrowed and my hands clasped tightly in front of me, begging myself to understand.
We filled the kitchen with the wintery fragrance of caramelised pears, lightly spiked with cinnamon and cardamom. Spooned delicately into mini tarte tatin pans and soft, buttery rounds of pâte feuilletée gently pressed on top.
In a searing fry pan, we lightly cooked the cod fillets. De-glazing the pan with soy sauce, incorporating deliciously crusty flakes of fish, adding poppy seeds to make a glossy crust.
For the grand finale we were taught the perfect method for poaching eggs. It was reassuring to see the fear of poaching eggs on everyone’s faces. Before Saturday I had only poached an egg once, in the privacy of my own kitchen, where if it was a total disaster no one need know. (For the record, it wasn’t a disaster but it’s nice to know the security blanket is there nonetheless.) With trepidation we each approached the swirling pan of simmering water and poached an egg. Beginner’s luck or I’m a natural egg poacher, je ne sais pas, but my egg was far from the stringy mess of white that some people made!
I was amazed at the simplicity of every step. As a notoriously messy chef, producing an exotic three course meal in an hour and a half is a feat I could never imagine myself completing. Every stage only used two or three ingredients at a time and none of the techniques were difficult to master (even in french!).
We were all given the chance to practice our food presentation skills but somehow the meals which I so beautifully and carefully plated ended up at someone else’s place setting, ruining my chances for lovely photographs. The meal was delicious though, an interesting, yet pleasing combination of flavours. My favourite course was the entrée. Partly due to my egg poaching success, but mainly because of the pure taste of the pumpkin combined with the creamy egg yolk and salty jambon chip. A delicious flavour combination I can’t wait to recreate.
My one criticism of L’Atelier des Chefs experience is their choice of whiteware! I don’t want to eat my meal off china that more closely resembles a bathroom tile or a UFO than a normal plate. What happened to the classic, round, rimmed, white plate? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…
I walked out of L’Atelier des Chefs with such a sense of achievement. I had just cooked a french meal, in a french kitchen, in french! Could speaking like a french woman be next? Dressing like a french woman, drinking wine like a french woman, having the waistline of a french woman? I live in hope…