Days 57 and 58: à point; my Masterchef moment

Tuesday morning was our final, final demo of the 12 week course. And we were so lucky to have Rory taking us through it. And it was wonderful. Talk about saving the best til last. Oysters with Champagne. Roast Haunch of Venison. Amazing Beef; in Red Wine Sauce, Carpaccio’s and Tartares. Whole Poached Salmon. Quail Veronique and Oeufs a la Neige. All indulgent, special occasion dishes.

Rory and his salmon

Rory was on great form. Honestly has just been such an amazing teacher, so precise and clear. Everything feels totally calm and achievable. Every sentence there’s something to learn. Every word is a gift. 

After the demo Darina and Sharon whizzed in to do the all important Bread Draw. (I know, only at Cooking School)

Fiona Hannah; focaccia!

I’ll explain. As well as cooking a 3 course meal in 3 hours for the practical cooking exam we also each have to make 1 of 6 Ballymaloe classic breads. (Brown soda, white soda, brown yeast, white yeast plait, white yeast buns, white yeast focaccia) The exact bread is assigned at random during said Bread Draw which happens the day before you cook. And as I was cooking tomorrow (Weds) my name got pulled out and I was assigned…. the focaccia! Hmm. So delicious (well you would be too if you were covered in olive oil and sea salt) but one of the breads I have practised least. And as a yeast bread it would take seriously more time than one of the soda breads. Oh well, luckily I had 24 hours to brush up on all things focaccia.

Anyway, later on Tuesday this was mainly happening:

Filing / studying / revising chaos

You see as well as writing a detailed Order Of Work for the written exam, as well as 3 x tasting sheets for the judges, as well as revising all our notes from the past 12 weeks we also have to, by Friday, have all the individual recipes we’ve been given filed neatly in the 5 ring binders and have each section indexed to say exactly what’s in there. Essentially, we’re writing our own recipe book. In hindsight I can see it’s another way of making us revise and go back over all our notes and recipes but honestly it’s also been a giant Time Suck. Have you ever had to try and organise an index thousands of recipes? No? Well then I want nothing but your sympathy please. It’s a big job. I mean take a duck broth for example. Does it go under Duck, or Soup? What about Warm Goats Cheese Salad. In the Cheese Section or the Salad Section? Decisions, decisions.

As well as debating the merits of Spiced Cranberries as a Sauce vs. a Preserve, Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning saw me getting mentally ready for my practical exam which was due to start at 12.00 on Wednesday.

Overall, I was feeling pretty good about my menu. I’d cooked everything at least once, except the chocolate gateau which I’d done about 4 times. (The poor Mrs Walshers; with Kate and I both doing the same cake and practising regularly, my lovely housemates were no doubt as entirely sick of chocolate almond gateau as we were).

My menu was as follows:

Starter: Pea soup with fresh mint cream and bacon lardons

Main: Roast rack of Spring Lamb with Salsa Verde and a warm salad of Jerusalem Artichokes with Hazelnut dressing.

Dessert: Ballymaloe Chocolate and Almond Gateau with Chocolate Curls and Softly Whipped Cream.

Bread: Focaccia

Timing was going to be tight, especially now I knew I had a yeast bread thrown in there. But, we got an extra 15 minutes grace period before they started deducting marks for being over (.5% every 5 minutes) and so I really didn’t think I was going to go all that much over.

I’d written out a detailed order of work and what needed to happen when. I knew what serving dishes I needed to plate up. I knew what equipment I needed (e.g. a saw for the lamb butchery, a Kenwood for the bread, cake and liquidising the soup and a Magimix for Salsa Verde etc etc). In short, I was ready.

By time time I got down to the school, things were already running a little behind. I think I was quite lucky to be starting in the second half of the day. Everyone seemed to be running over time… 3.5 to 4 to 4.5 hours. It was good to know because then I wasn’t going to get stressed then if I went a little over. I got into my section and the clock started at 12.40. And…. it was amazing!! I mean, really. Amazing. I honestly just loved it and didn’t want it to be over. The kitchens were lovely and calm with a good, positive energy to them. I was determined to be really present in there and as much as possible try to just enjoy myself. I wrote ‘RELAX, BREATH AND ENJOY’ in big letters on my Order Of Work. And I’m really proud to say that I did. As I have done so many times during this last 12 weeks I regularly found myself thinking “I’m so lucky to be here, in this moment, doing this” (Cheesy! But true)

1.5 hours in and I was pretty on track. Bread rising. Cakes baked. Icing cooling. Lamb and epigrams butchered and prepped. So far the only hiccup was forgetting to add the rum to the cake batter so I simply poured it over the tops of the cake when I took them out of the oven) But then…. something happened. The Time Fairies came and stole an hour. Honestly! I don’t know what happened. Suddenly it was 4pm and I was only just ready to give the judges my 15 minute warning. Those final few minutes were probably the most hectic. All the plates had to be carefully plated (both single servings and platters of each dish), warm (including both the food and just as importantly the plates!) and perfectly ready for when the judges came past to taste. There were three judges, Darina, Gillian (who is Head Chef at Ballymaloe House) and another guy whose name I have forgotten but who used to work with Rory and owns a restaurant in Cork or Dublin or both. I forget.

I was then swiftly shepherded out of the kitchen so they could eat, talk and mark. Only once this was done could I go back in and do a final wash up and clean down of my station.

And then it was done! So I was about an hour over time (oops!) but, really happy with what I put up. My lamb was neatly French trimmed and the medium rare I’d stated it would be. The soup bright green, light and minty on the palate. The cake was neat and elegant looking even if in a rather understated way. The bread golden in colour and hot with salt, rosemary and olive oil. The artichokes were lovely and golden from being roasted in the oven and the hazelnut oil dressing was delicious.

Of course there were things I’d like to have done differently. Made the cake look a bit fancier. Garnished the soup a little more carefully. Made the lamb sauce not as salty. But, hopefully these are pretty minor.

The pictures are a bit rubbish sorry but needless to say the judges did not want to stand around for me to get the perfect angle whilst they waited and my food got cold. This was the best I could do!

My Masterchef moment was over. (Ha, if they’d really stopped the clock at 3 hours I would have been royally over and out!) I was completely exhausted but totally happy. (And honestly on a wee bit of a high for hours afterwards)





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