The school itself is new and modern – like a giant version of your dream kitchen! You each get your own small cooking area, a bit like Masterchef. The weekend course was fairly expensive (£289pp), but the classes are small so you get good 1-2-1 time with the head chef and we were there for about 17 hours over the whole weekend and were fed to the brim with the food that we cooked. It was a light, airy and positive environment to be in. Plus all the ingredients you get to cook with are of a stunning quality and are sourced locally. It does feel like a right old treat to be playing with such luxury!
We were thrown right into the deep end with a spot of butchery for breakfast. A shiny skinned rabbit was plopped on each of our chopping boards, and after a little tutorial we set to work jointing it with our butchers knives. Having done this with a chicken leg on the last course I was surprised at how much I remembered. It was particularly satisfying removing the loins and then rolling them into little ballotines ready for tomorrow’s lunch.
What I love about the school is that absolutely nothing goes to waste. So for example, the veg peelings and animal carcasses all go towards some delicious stocks. Our head chef’s motto was that everything had a use, in terms of adding a new layer of flavour to a dish. The rabbit bones were roasted off, then smeared with tomato puree and roasted some more, and then covered in honey – all of which combine to make some deliciously complex flavours in the stock they were to become.
Next up was a little pigeon, which we were instructed to take the breasts and fillets off. These were delicately fried with lots of butter and then left to rest. The pigeony pan was then deglazed with cassis and some blueberries, to make a fruity sauce for the pigeon. This was served with hazlenuts and a beautiful flowery salad. Now, I hate fruit and savoury food and yet this was one of my favourite things of the whole weekend. The pigeon was livery and deep compared with the jammy jus.
After lunch we re-entered the kitchen to find a massive saddle of venison casually lying on the counter. We were each offered the chance to remove the loins, which actually wasn’t as hard as it looked. As we had been working on relatively small animals, the venison was less fiddly and I was not as scared about cocking it up. Plus the weight of the meat helped to remove it from the bone. This was cut into the most succulent looking steaks, which we cleaned up and then wrapped in locally made ‘parma’ ham. These were rolled up and then left to set a bit in the fridge, ready for a quick seal later on in the day.
Next up was more prep for our dinner. We were fed very well, which was something that worried us a bit as we had a table booked at a local restaurant for 8pm! Our dinner started with a delicate trout fillet that was crusted with walnuts, breadcrumbs and yummy herbs. This was served with a fricassee of broccoli and tomato concasse in a horseradish dressing. The horseradish was surprisingly light and fresh. I personally found that the nutty crust overpowered the fish tremendously. But this is probably my fault for piling it on! What I did learn was some fantastic presentation tips. Our head chef described plates as the picture frames for our food, which I thought was nice.
Then it was back to the venison, which was sealed in yet more butter and then popped into an oven for about 4 minutes. We had quite thick steaks, so even after this time they were very rare. We served these with a lovely gravy made earlier in the day, potato dauphinoise, buttered cabbage and a delicate puff pastry tart of fig and honey – all made by our fair hands throughout the day. To top it all off it also came with an indulgent chocolate oil, which was basically good quality dark chocolate, cocoa powder and oil – a chocolate fountain for a steak! This dish was stunning. The venison was literally the tenderest meat I have ever tasted. It just shows what a difference a top quality ingredient makes, especially if you cook it well and leave it to rest. It melted like butter in the mouth and had a very light and enjoyable flavour, better than any steak I have ever had before – AND I COOKED IT 🙂
The only downside was in another 2 hours we were due at the Riverford Canteen for 3 more gut bursting courses. We felt bilious at the thought of yet more rich food, however you’ll be pleased to know that we soldiered on and did indeed manage two whole dinners in just one day. You’ll be able to read about how amazing it was when I get round to writing that up later this week.
I’ll leave it there for the game for now. You can read part two here, which features the rest of the rabbit… the plucking and gutting of a beautiful red legged partridge… and the revelation on how to cook a perfect consomme, phew!