Last year I started wondering what it would be like to actually get some real training in cookery and looked at some cookery schools. It soon became clear that I was going about it all wrong and what I actually wanted was an experience day. Just a one day course to give me a taster. There are lots of famous cookery schools out there which also cost if you want the star chef. I decided to look closer to home, a local school if there was one. I couldn’t find one and just happened to see a stall at the Essex Food Fair. It looked good and soon my mind was set on Braxted Park as it offered a good choice of courses and highly trained and reputable chefs.
There was never really any competition when I saw the Modern British Cooking day. It covers game, fish, oysters, and several different techniques that I hadn’t used before so I put the idea among my family that they may want to get me a voucher for Christmas. It done the trick and one Braxted Park Voucher was gladly received on Christmas morning and I was soon planning when to book. That was a little harder as I was about to change jobs so getting time off was a problem. As you will have gathered I have now been on the course and what a day it was.
I got a lift up to Braxted Park Estate (knowing wine would be drunk), only 20 minutes up the road on a glorious sunny spring morning. As we drove up the long driveway towards the house we stopped to allow a pheasant to cross who seemed very unimpressed by our presence. We were then greeted by lots of Geese who also seemed to be enjoying the bright morning. My lift departed and I walked to a small cottage where the office for the school is. I was very early as I’d given plenty of time knowing there were local road works. I knock and no answer so I walk through the open door and am greeted cheerily and with a piping hot coffee. Whilst I wait for the other 6 people to arrive I read through the recipes, mouth-watering, out on the patio with a beautiful view and reminder of how lovely the county of Essex actually is.
Once everyone arrives, our chef and teacher, Chris Jagger, is introduced to us. His CV is impressive ranging from the Royal Navy to the F1 team McClaren to Lees Priory and Reeves Restaurant where they won restaurant of the year with Chris as Head Chef. Chris is also very funny and has this strange nervous twitch. Okay, that is a joke as he put it on when talking about cleaning the kitchen, keeping it in order and one of the group then calling him a neat freak. I also told Chris i would mention his twitch in my post and I’m not sure he believed I actually would. Honestly, he really did put it on…….. didn’t you Chris?
We finish coffee, walk up to the kitchen, all very relaxed. This was where I had a bit of a shock. I was thinking, cookery school, work stations, Chef at the front. No, this was a working kitchen although you could see our stations laid out. We were good, we put on our aprons (which we got to keep) and washed our hands. Chris explained that the morning would be prepping mainly, getting everything ready and anything that needed cooking for long could get put on. We start on the salmon, slicing off a piece each and taking the skin off. First technique I learnt, hold the knife and move the fish. Very simple and works a treat. I give myself a little satisfied smirk as I see the skin peel off with very little fish attached to it. We get the marinade together and cover the salmon, wrapping in cling film and off into the fridge.
Then, the venison. Chris brings up a huge slab on venison, a big layer of fat on it. This is the meat that has flavour he explains and then it’s handed to me, yes the whole thing, to trim. Everyone else gets the veg to prep. I am often called and almost prodded to pay attention to Chris as he explains the veg. Sorry Chris, I was concentrating on the meat. I have only ever had to trim a piece of meat once before. The rest of the gang are almost done and I’m still trimming fat off the venison. Chris finishes off for me, slicing off the bits that I thought was taking too much meat off. It has to have all the sinew off as we’re doing carpaccio so must be as lean as possible.
Right, veg and venison done. We get the Bream ready. It’s soaked in red wine and put in the fridge, bit easy really. Well that part is. I am skipping some detail so as not to bore you all with the fine detail and to give a more general overview. Prepping done, we walk back to the cottage for teas and scones with clotted cream. The group relaxing more all the time and we are all getting on really well. One thing I really noticed was that there was not one person who I wished hadn’t been there. No one was pretentious, no one pretending they know it all, a really good mix.
Finally the pheasant is prepped. A stuffing which is a kind of mousse, walnuts, chicken breast. Some of the group attempt cutting the breast out of the pheasant, some more successfully than others. A pocket is cut into the breasts to take the stuffing, we wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge.
A good break and we’re back in the kitchen. Now the real cooking starts. Pots are boiling, veg is pureed, actually that mixer seemed to get used a lot. Sauces are being reduced on the hob. My first job was to puree the artichoke. Just doing that produced such an amazing smell. There’s always something to do and while one person does one bit, the others are kept busy.
The pheasant breasts are poached, a whole pheasant is in the oven roasting as we had one spare so it’s a nice bonus. It’s so hard to tell you exactly what we done as the afternoon was a bit of a blur. So much going on. It is basically cooking everything we prepped in the morning apart from the salmon and venison. I caramalise some walnuts to go with the salad for the pheasant which is cooled a bit to unwrap. There’s a smell of thyme and I turn to see a couple of the group shredding leaves. I don’t think I could work in a kitchen but I love the smell.
The pheasant is browned off in a pan and the oysters are prepared. A lot of laughs as six of us try to shuck the oysters. Don’t know if I was just lucky but I seem to do it quicker than anyone else. My first ever attempt so I do a little victory dance in my head. Chris is getting a smoker ready. We’re smoking the oysters with rice and brown sugar. It’s just filling up with amazing smells, sweet, savoury, herbs, it’s so great and my stomach tells me it’s ready to taste.
The cooking is finished and I plate up as you see in the photos. Okay, before Chris hunts me down and attacks me with his chef knives, I did not plate these up, Chris did. We all help prepare the platters for everyone to grab a taster and head off back to the cottage. Wine is served, the food is laid out and we tuck in.
So here it is. A hard day in the kitchen, a long day in fact which flew by. Sat with the group and ready for the final verdict. Can I just say it’s all fantastic, tastes great, looks great. The pheasant is the king of the day, an amazing sweet and savoury meat dish with the venison running a tough competition with the bream for second place. I think the feeling of satisfaction tops off the day. Knowing you helped prepare such great food which no one can fault and, if you have read my posts and tweets before, you will know I’m am my own worst critic.
Thank you Braxted, thank you Chris and thank to everyone who made it such a great day from the Braxted staff to the other guests. Oh and thanks Dad for the voucher.