A festive, foodie finish to the year

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It seems fitting that I end 2016 writing a post on the blog I started almost exactly a year ago when I went to Ballymaloe. And now, 11.5 months later I’ve just finished my first ever 4 day gig as a Private Chef, working over Christmas for an extended family in the Cotswolds.

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I’ve spent the last few days in a chocolate-box-pretty little village just outside of Cirencester in Gloucestershire. Aaaaaand… it’s been super fun! Seriously fun, much more so than I thought it would be. The cooking went well, the food was on point (e.g. hot, on time, tasting good) I didn’t drop the Turkey, or step on a dog (more on them later) and I managed to get out for some walks in this beautiful countryside.

The couple I’ve been working for live in a beautiful house with a mahoosive open kitchen.

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Complete with an Aga but also (thankfully) a regular oven and hob

They’ve had various cousins, nephews, in-laws and friends staying/visiting over the festive season and so they can relax and enjoy it all; they hired a chef – me. Since the 23rd I’ve been doing two meals a day for anywhere between 8 – 12 people.

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Christmas Day menu prep accompanied by a delicious Chablis

I agreed the menu with the Lady of the House a month or so ago when I took the job. Some of the greatest hits from over the 4 days included:

  • gruyere and parmesan souffles
  • open squash, sage and pancetta tarts
  • whole baked salmon with coriander salsa verde and samphire
  • a (giant 8.4kg!) Turkey with dried apricot and pinenut stuffing
  • wreaths of pigs in blankets
  • bread sauce (surprisingly delicious)
  • individual brown sugar pavlovas
  • mini mince pies
  • my favourite Ballymaloe chocolate almond gateau
  • glazed ginger and kumquat ham
  • two kick arse turkey and leek pies. (Turns out an 8.4kg turkey means lots of leftovers).

So it was a mix of special, festive, but not totally traditional food.

So what did I learn? As much for myself as a list of next time, here are some things I must remember for next time.

  1. Double check all the ingredients. I made a really detailed shopping list that I sent to the Lady Of The House, who did all the shopping for me. (No mean feat as shopping for this much food in the madness of Christmas is chaos) But it wasn’t until Day 2 that I realised there was no fresh cream, no flat leaf parsley, no cinnamon and only half as much dark chocolate as I’d specified. There was however plenty of greek yoghurt, coriander and cumin. after further investigation, it turns out she’d gone shopping “without my glasses, as I just didn’t feel like wearing them” – hence the slight mismatch of items. Hmm. Lucky we could pick up cream from the local shop, but the other items were a no go which meant some rather on-the-fly recipe adaptation.
  2. Tupaware containers, tinfoil, baking paper and clingfilm are crucial. I didn’t check these existed or put them on my shopping list and ran out of some. Pain. In. The. Arse.
  3. Join your hosts for a festive drink, but maybe not before midday. (Makes for a more slightly hectic hour-before-lunch than is necessary)
  4. Check there is a dishwasher. I was lucky and there were 2. But even with 2 dishwashers and people helping out doing clearing and loading there were lots of dishes. No dishwasher = would equal no fun.
  5. Take a break. Drink water. Go for a walk. Get out of the kitchen. It’s surprisingly easy to realise you’ve spent 8 hours on the trot and haven’t sat down, even to pee. Oops. (Although that was just once)
  6. Don’t assume everything will fit in the oven, fridge or on the hob. Today I had leftover Turkey, the ham and the creme brûlées in the ‘outside fridge’. Thank goodness it is winter time and this was a viable option.
  7. Remember to eat. I had lots of mouthfuls but I have no idea if this equated to one small meal or one giant feast. (See point 5)
  8. People have particular plates, knives, jugs etc that they like particular dishes to be served in. There might not be a(n obvious) reason for this, it’s just the way. Best to ask up front, rather than have to un-serve something onto the specially-for-this plate.
  9. Don’t feed the dogs. Or let them eat anything you may have dropped on the floor. Or let them put their head in the dishwasher and lick dirty plates. Also it turns out that dogs shouldn’t eat Turkey. Makes them sick. Which on lovely white carpets isn’t so much fun.
  10. People have all sorts of eating habits. That’s all.
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Beautiful Cotswolds countryside

Tomorrow I jump on a plane and head back Down Under for 2.5 months. Woo hoo! A week in Melbourne and then 2 months at home. I can’t freaking wait. What a year it’s been! When I look back (as I am doing now after 4 satisfying days of work and a large glass of port) I feel really proud and excited of what’s happened in 2016.

Going to Ballymaloe really kick started something for me and gave me a different focus for my energy and inspiration. I’ve done so many new, interesting, scary, slightly bonkers but super rewarding things. I’ve met lots of new people, said YES to lots of new things and along the way made, eaten and served lots of really delicious food. I’ve been balancing food activities with my ‘old life’ of Service Design and while I definitely haven’t got the balance right all the time (in fact quite a few times I was close to a Code-Red Over Commitment Level) I’m pretty excited to see what else is going to happen next.

Much love to anyone who is reading this, thanks for reading and supporting some of my adventures of this past year. Here’s to what happens next!

Happy New Year to you all,

Fi

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3 thoughts on “A festive, foodie finish to the year

  1. Audrey December 27, 2016 / 2:19 am

    Well, that’s super awesome news Fi! Sounds like a pretty cool experience! Enjoy your time back home for summer. I wish you all the best in 2017, we should finally get to hang out this year as we have just ‘retired’ and getting ready for part 2 of the ‘world domination tour’! 😉

    Like

  2. Susan Turner December 27, 2016 / 10:35 am

    So enjoyed reading about your experience and your food looked amazing. Traditional and polished. Darina will be proud! I look forward to ‘what happens next’. Enjoy the warmth of ‘down under’ and home 🙃

    Like

  3. larsmarshandlebars December 27, 2016 / 7:41 pm

    Great post, sounds like a great experience. That kitchen looks amazing. So funny about the dogs licking the plates in the dishwasher. Hope the white carpet scrubbed up okay. Have fun down there.

    Like

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